Euthanizing diseased koalas may be the most effective management strategy to save koalas from extinction in Queensland. A recent study published in the Journal of Wildlife Disease suggests that if 10% of terminally diseased and sterile koalas were culled while other infected koalas were treated with antibiotics, chlamydial infections could be completely eliminated and population sizes could increase within four years.
|The beloved koala relaxing in a eucalyptus tree |
Although koalas are under pressure from habitat degradation, dog attacks and road accidents, disease burden is the largest threat to its population sizes. It is estimated that 50% of the current koala population in South-East Queensland is infected with the Chlamydia spp. The sexually transmitted disease causes lesions in the genitals and eyes, leading to blindness, infertility, and ultimately death. Rhodes et al. (2011) suggest that reversing the observed population decline in Queensland koalas would require either entirely eliminating deaths from cars and dogs, complete reforestation, or reducing deaths caused by Chlamydia by 60%. It is clear that the best conservation tool is to reduce the prevalence of chlamydial infection.
In the study, Wilson et al. (2015) examined the potential impact of euthanizing koalas infected with Chlamydia. As shown in Figure 1, computer simulation models were used to project koala population sizes based on four separate intervention programs: “no intervention”, “cull only”, “treat only”, and “cull or treat”. In the “cull or treat” program, sterile and terminal koalas were euthanized, while infected kolas that were not sterile or terminal were treated with antibiotics. It was concluded that the “cull or treat” is the most successful intervention program for increasing long-term population growth and eliminating chlamydial infections.