Australia is suffering from a koalossal problem that has its origins in the country’s colonization by Britain. The British colonists brought with them a bouquet of diseases, as do most colonizers; the Spanish inadvertently wiping out most of the indigenous populations in Mexico by introducing European diseases being one of the more well-known examples.
The British brought syphilis and gonorrhea to the Aboriginal population, but they also brought chlamydia in their sheep and cattle. One of the results of that introduction is that, today, almost all Koala Bear colonies in Australia are riddled with the disease. Only a few wild populations are free of it.
Chlamydia can cause conjunctivitis, which can blind Koalas. However, the “Brown Bottom” syndrome can be even worse – I’ll leave you to guess what causes that particular ailment. “Brown Bottom” can eventually cause renal failure and infertility. Chlamydia is definitely a Koalossal problem.
Australian scientists have been working for years to develop a vaccine that is effective against chlamydia, and not harmful to the Koala. Koalas do not respond well to antibiotics, which disrupt the bacteria which they need to break down their food.
Chlamydia, however, is not the only problem faced by the Koala population. Populations in Queensland and New South Wales have fallen by at least 50% this century: The decline is so steep that the federal government has declared Koalas an endangered species. Their habitats have been destroyed by human development, and they are regularly hit by cars, and attacked by dogs. However, chlamydia remains one of their biggest killers, and is growing – a Koalossal problem.
The scientists at two Queensland universities have developed vaccines against chlamydia, and are currently testing them on wild populations. A single-shot vaccine developed by the University of the Sunshine Coast has shown good results. The vaccine proved 70% effective in a 1000 animal study. However, mass vaccination is a long way off, since the main problem is finding the Koalas, coaxing them out of the trees and getting close enough to administer the vaccine. Bluntly put, inoculating every Koala in the country would be impossible.
There is good news. Chlamydia is not as virulent as, say, COVD-19. Scientists believe that inoculating just 10% of a breeding population annually might be enough to stem infections. Now all they have to do is to figure out where that 10% are, and how to catch them.
Let’s hope the Australian scientists figure it out. A world without Koalas doesn’t “bear” thinking about, even if you’re not Australian.