At least 3.1 million people die of AIDS each year, reports Yale AIDS watch, and scientists have identified a comparable disease, dubbed “Koala AIDS” or “KIDS,” which is spreading among the gentle, cuddly marsupials at an alarming rate, according to Australian wildlife health experts.
Koala Immune Deficiency Syndrome, as the disease is otherwise known, is now documented in the Wildlife Disease Database, maintained by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is worrying veterinary scientists who are seeing more and more koala victims of the disease.
“Extinction is inevitable in some areas,” Jon Hanger, a
veterinary scientist at Australia Zoo’s Wildlife Hospital, told CNN. “I certainly
hope we don’t see it across Australia. But if we don’t take the decline
seriously and pick up on the warning signs now it’s certainly a risk.”
Like human AIDS, the disease is not fully understood, but a virus weakens the victim’s immune system, leaving the koala vulnerable to cancer, infections and other health problems. The CNN report mentions that KIDS “is spread by koalas
coming into contact with each other,” suggesting that mating isn’t the only possible form of transmission.
Hanger even believes that most koalas carry the virus, but only some are predisposed to it becoming
“There is no vaccine available now and may
never be,” he added, “but what it’s saying to us is that we need to be very careful
about the way we manage the population. We have to stop destroying
habitat and fragmenting it and we’ve got to address all the causes of
According to the Australian Koala Foundation, possibly as few as 43,000 koalas remain in the wild today. In addition to KIDS and habitat loss, koalas face yet another threat: chlamydia.
This sexually transmitted disease can cause infertility,
urinary tract infections, and inflammation in the lining of the eye
that often leads to blindness, according to professors Peter Timms and Ken Beagley from Queensland University of Technology. Although no vaccine as of yet prevents KIDS, Timms and Beagley have been testing a vaccine for chlamydia in koalas.
all goes well with this trial, our future studies will evaluate the
vaccine on sick and injured koalas brought in for care, relocated
animals, and koalas in other sanctuaries,” Timms said in a press release.
“As many as 25-50 per
cent of koalas coming into care in both Queensland and NSW (New South Wales) are showing
clinical signs of the disease and it seems to be getting worse,” he added.
Despite the many serious threats to koalas, and their current population status, Australian officials still refuse to list the marsupials as being “vulnerable,” which would provide more protection. If koalas do have a future, I believe it will be thanks to dedicated researchers, possible medical breakthroughs, and tireless human supporters, seen in the following video that also documents the fate of one sick koala.