Koalas, the iconic symbol of Australia, are now facing a new major threat to its very existence.
Chlamydia, the sexually transmitted disease that often strikes humans, is now affecting the Australian marsupial, according to a report in BBC.
Koalas have already suffered a long-term decline in population through hunting by fur traders and a reduction in the size of its natural habitat as a result of expanding human settlements. Koalas are also subject to attacks by dogs, getting run over by automobiles or perishing in brushfires.
Now chlamydia is devastating the koala -- in some parts of Australia (the only place in the world where koalas are found in the wild), infection rates are as high as 90 percent. Chlamydia, which leads to blindness and infertility in the animals, impacts males and females, as well as their offspring.
The disease, which can be treated in humans through the application of antibiotics, can be fatal to the koalas.
Scientists are uncertain as to why chlamydia has infected the koalas in such large numbers.
Aside from chlamydia, koalas are also contracting leukemia and lymphoma at alarming rates, largely due to a “koala retrovirus” that is somewhat similar to the HIV virus that strikes humans.
However, the destruction of this beast has been an ongoing trend for more than 100 years.
In the 19th century, millions of koalas roamed all across Australia -- there are now no more than 100,000 on the entire continent, scientists estimated.
“Beginning in the 19th century, koalas were hunted mercilessly by European settlers for their soft fur pelts and were entirely helpless in the face of guns and dogs,” the Endangered Species Handbook stated.
“The major means used by professional hunters were poisoning and snaring, and, by the late 19th century, 300,000 Koala pelts a year were being shipped to the London fur market. By the early 20th century, they were almost eliminated in the southern half of the country and became extinct in South Australia in the early 1930s.”
The situation is so dire that the government said koalas now constitute a “threatened species” in the three of the country nine provinces -- Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.
Activists fear the koala could completely vanish in some parts of the country within a decade.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.