Redlands koalas have been thrown a lifeline with a potentially life-saving chlamydia vaccine trial beginning last week.
Redland City Mayor Karen Williams said Council had provided $30,000 to the joint University of the Sunshine Coast and Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital trial aimed at finding a vaccine to fight devastating chlamydia disease.
“These trials are an exciting milestone and a ground-breaking step towards hopefully helping Redlands koalas fight this disease,” she said.
“Chlamydia is a cruel disease and Council’s support of this trial shows our commitment to helping our local koala population.
“Chlamydial infections have a huge impact on koala populations, causing conjunctivitis-related blindness and severe bladder and reproductive symptoms leading to infertility and a reduced number of females in the wild able to breed.
“While vaccines have been used on healthy animals in earlier trials, this trial will be the first full evaluation of a newly developed vaccine administered to koalas already clinically diagnosed with chlamydia in an effort to halt and reverse the disease progress. It follows a smaller trial conducted in Lismore last year.”
The initial trial will be conducted over several months and include koalas suffering from chlamydia, with one group receiving the vaccine and a control group receiving the traditional treatment of antibiotics.
The koalas will then be closely monitored during their stay at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital and upon release back into local bushland.
Cr Williams said she was honoured to attend the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital earlier this week to see the chlamydia vaccine in action.
“I was lucky enough to be on hand to see Flann the koala receive his final health check after being the first koala to receive the vaccine,” she said.
“I was very impressed with what I saw and am excited by the obvious potential of this trial and I will be speaking with my Council colleagues about other ways we can support this trial.”
Cr Williams said she had met with Professor of Microbiology at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Peter Timms, last year to see how Council could be involved in the trial.
“The Redlands is known for its koalas and I am keen to see the outcomes of this trial and continue working with the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital and the University of the Sunshine Coast to find solutions that can assist our national koala population,” Cr Williams said.
Professor Timms will lead the research team for this study and said it was wonderful to see the first full vaccine trial begin.
“The koala chlamydia vaccine trial being conducted at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital in conjunction with the University of the Sunshine Coast is a very important and exciting step in the development of a chlamydial vaccine for koalas,” he said.
Dr Rosie Booth, Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital Director, said Chlamydia was a significant problem for Australian koalas.
“About 38% of koala admissions at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital from July 2014 to July 2015 were due to chlamydiosis, so this vaccine is an important first step towards reducing the number of diseased koalas we’re seeing and creating healthier koala populations in the wild,” Dr Booth said.
Professor Timms’ research team will also use Redland City Council’s $30,000 funding to support other projects to look at whether chlamydial infections can be diagnosed through fresh koala scats and begin training a second koala detection dog to support the work of local koala detection dog Maya.
Cr Williams said efforts to save koalas needed to be multi-faceted – from bushland rehabilitation projects to community education and backing the efforts of scientists.
“The threats facing koalas are complex and varied, requiring the joint efforts of all levels of government, scientific experts and our community members,” she said.
“Council is proud to be associated with this scientific trial, which complements other measures we are taking to protect Redlands koalas, including the recent commitment to a three year comprehensive education campaign to better protect koalas from domestic dog attacks.”