Chlamydia affects a large number of koalas – it’s estimated that about half of the 80,000 koalas in Australia suffer from the disease. Unfortunately, the disease tends to affect koalas much more severely than it affects humans, and it can cause blindness, infertility, and even death. Currently, to treat sick koalas, the animals are given broad-spectrum antibiotics and then released back into the wild. But new research is suggesting that it’s time to come up with a new approach.
Koalas primarily eat eucalyptus leaves. These leaves are toxic, but koalas can digest them thanks to specific microbes in their guts. Scientists are concerned that treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics could affect these important microbes, putting the species in more jeopardy.
When koala babies, or joeys, are about to wean, they receive special nutrients from their mothers that help prime their digestive systems. If the antibiotics that are given to the mother are altering these nutrients, it’s possible that the baby koalas won’t be able to digest eucalyptus leaves.
Want to help? Contribute to this project, which will be funded through crowdfunding, here. In the meanwhile, until there are answers, it’s important to continue to treat koalas for chlamydia with antibiotics. The hope is that researchers can determine whether or not the current treatment strategy is safe to continue, and if not, develop alternatives that will help save koala populations. Read more about this research here.