Increasing our knowledge of species and the issues that are threatening their survival is a vital part of our work.
Our team is at the forefront of groundbreaking research in the field of wildlife conservation, and our techniques and results have made significant impact in wildlife circles throughout the world.
Join our crusade to find a cure for koala disease
The Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital treats over 600 koalas each year, and is recognised internationally as the leading koala hospital.
Disease in koalas, causing significant morbidity and mortality, has been identified as a critical threatening process contributing to dramatic population decline. Although habitat loss and fragmentation are processes most implicated in koala population declines, disease is often a contributing factor to local population extirpation. In Queensland, the Premier’s recently-established Koala Taskforce identified disease as a key issue requiring significant funding.
Koala chlamydiosis is arguably the most well-recognised disease of Australian wildlife – it causes blindness, infertility, urinary tract infection and kidney failure, and sometimes pneumonia and flu-like syndromes. There is however an increasing prevalence of leukaemia, bone marrow failure, cancers and immunodeficiency syndrome presenting in koalas arriving in care at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital and other wildlife treatment facilities.
All of these diseases are suspected to be associated with a koala retrovirus infection (KoRV). KoRV is a particularly insidious virus – it has been detected in all koala populations tested to date, both captive and wild, in Queensland. It has also been detected in several koala populations sampled in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
Our hospital’s director of research and ecological services, Dr Jon Hanger, has been a pioneer in this area of koala disease research. He was the first person to isolate and genetically sequence the full genome of the KoRV in 1999.
Under Dr Jon’s leadership, the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital is committed to advancing vital research into koala disease in association with the University of Queensland and the Queensland University of Technology. Their immediate research priorities are to:
- Define distribution and prevalence of KoRV in koala populations across Australia, including Kangaroo Island.
- Better define the koala AIDS syndrome clinically, its association with KoRV infection and better define the way the virus affects the immune system.
- Define the relationship between KoRV infection/koala AIDS and chlamydial infection in terms of clinical outcomes.
- Determine the factors that influence the development of high KoRV titres (which are associated with higher risk of disease) vs low KoRV titres. Are we able to selectively breed or manage koala populations for low KoRV viraemia, and therefore low incidence of disease? Do female koalas with high KoRV titres tend to give rise to offspring that have high KoRV titres?
We are calling on all Australians to help fund this research. The Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital has the resources; all that is needed is the funding. Koala populations are declining at an alarming rate and therefore antidotes for koala diseases need to be found – and fast!
We need 6,000 Australians to become ‘KOALA CRUSADERS’. Any donation over $80 receives a limited edition Koala Crusader key ring and certificate for their valuable contribution to koala research.
“We can choose do to nothing, or we, as a nation, can come together and help fund research to save the koala,” says Dr Hanger.
Individuals or business that would like to contribute to the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital’s koala disease research fund and become a Koala Crusader, can do so by making a donation here.
To find out more, view Dr Jon Hanger’s recent interview on 60 Minutes (Nine Network) – click here.