Northern Rivers volunteer group, Friends of the Koala, has become a major contributor to Australian health research on threatened koala populations.
Northern Rivers volunteer group, Friends of the Koala, has become a major contributor to Australian health research on threatened koala populations. Samantha Elley

Life saving research for threatened species

ONE Northern Rivers group has been named a major contributor in Australian health research to aid the threatened koala populations.

Friends of the Koala has undertaken a Necropsy Training Workshop with one of Australia's leading researchers in koala health, veterinarian Dr Damien Higgins from the University of Sydney.

Volunteers from Friends of the Koala will now be trained to collect, document and provide tissue and other samples from the many koalas that die in care which will contribute enormously to research and helping to combat low disease resistance in stressed koala populations.

President of Friends of the Koala Ros Irwin said they were keen to contribute to future research as the mortality rate among koalas admitted into their care centre was disturbingly high.

"Around 300 koalas usually come into our care centre each year with just under 250 of those either dying or euthanised by the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital or Lismore's Keen St Vet because it's too late to help or rehabilitate them,” Dr Irwin said.

The main threats to koalas are continuing habitat loss and fragmentation, car strikes and predation by dogs according to the federal government's Threatened Species listing.

Dr Irwin said what was even worse was how highly pronounced disease was in koalas admitted into care.

With expertise spanning chlamydia, retrovirus and immune studies and research focus on ecology, pathology, disease causes and application to wildlife management, Dr Higgins also happens to be the Director of the Koala Health Hub.

He said the impact of wildlife disease varies for each creature.

"It can be the sole cause of major impacts to populations, or where other threats are involved, disease can be a mechanism that accelerates death or causes infertility,” Dr Higgins said.

The Koala Health Hub was a unique initiative that brings researchers, government and care organisations together to drive koala health and conservation forward and the Necropsy Workshop Training was an example of this.

Another important aspect of this workshop was relaying information regarding each koala's diagnosis, which was paramount to learning how best to aid the declining population.

"We know a lot about koala health in some respects, but in others there's still a lot we don't know and learning is a continual process,” Dr Higgins said.

Workshop participant and Friends of the Koala Coordinator Susannah Keogh said they are in a strong position to contribute good quality data to future research.

"I feel it's part of our responsibility as humans to understand the causes of koala suffering, population decline and to help manage this as best we can,” Ms Keogh said.

If you see a sick, injured or deal koala in the Northern Rivers, call (02) 6622 1233 Koalas-in-trouble 24hr Rescue Hotline.



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