“Koala Massacre”: Australia Brings Hundreds of Animal Cruelty Charges
Koalas are a protected species in Australia, and marsupials are listed as vulnerable in the states of New South Wales, Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory. Their numbers were severely affected by the catastrophic fires of 2019 that burned millions of acres across the country. Many have been saved from the wild, burned and dehydrated.
As koalas have evolved to adapt to forest fires, animals face new threats from climate change and human development, which have dislocated local populations, compromising their ability to survive the fires. In some areas, scientists say, the number of koalas has declined by as much as 80%, although it is unclear how many are left in Australia.
They are also susceptible to chlamydia, which can lead to infertility and death. Some surveys of Queensland’s koala populations have suggested that at least half of wild koalas are infected with the disease.
This shared sensitivity with humans has led some scientists to argue that studying and saving koalas may be key to developing a chlamydia vaccine for humans.
Last year, the Australian government set out to count the native marsupial population and record where they live – a daunting operation, as koalas are not easily spotted in the wild. When marsupials are high in trees, standing still and obscured by the canopy, they are easy to miss with the naked eye. The government has therefore deployed thermoguided drones, acoustic surveys and detector dogs.