Cross-border koala love aimed at saving species

In an Australian first, a group of male koalas from Victoria’s Strzelecki Ranges could soon be making South Australia their home as part of a unique breeding program aimed at securing the survival of the species.

The koalas from Central Gippsland are expected to arrive at Cleland Wildlife Park and Adelaide Zoo in the coming weeks where they will join a group of disease-free male and female koalas, some of which were rescued during the 2020 Kangaroo Island bushfires.

Dubbed the ‘golden children’, the disease-free koala population at Cleland is considered to be the only sanctuary managed colony free from both Chlamydia and Koala Retrovirus in Australia and one of the very few dual disease-free populations in South Australia.

Minister for Environment and Water David Speirs said South Australia’s koala population has extremely low genetic diversity and disease is widespread among wild populations.

“For the first time ever, the South Australian Government has worked closely with the Victorian Government to secure the transfer of male koalas from the Strzelecki Ranges for a program aimed at breeding a genetically healthy population here in Adelaide,” Minister Speirs said.

“The arrival of the koalas is part of a bold new South Australian-Victorian conservation initiative, which will be a historic achievement in helping to secure the survival of koalas in Australia.

“Catastrophic events like last year’s bushfires across Australia significantly reduced koala numbers.

“That’s why this unique breeding program which will include the addition of the Strzelecki koalas will help to safeguard koala populations and provide opportunities for research as a priority for the species long-term survival.”

The collection of the koalas, to be taken from a private forest plantation, was made possible after the Victorian Government approved a permit for the South Australian Department for Environment and Water.

Director of Conservation and Wildlife with the Department for Environment and Water, Lisien Loan describes the permit process requires a robust application process to ensure the taking of the wild koalas was in the interest of conservation of the species.

“It’s also about ensuring the animal welfare considerations of the koalas meet the highest standards,” Ms Loan said.

Koala Life – an independent not-for-profit organisation set up for the conservation and research of koala diseases – is leading the efforts to establish Australia’s only specialised disease-free populations.

Koala Life Chief Executive Officer Professor Chris Daniels said translocating the Strzelecki koalas to Cleland Wildlife Park and Adelaide Zoo will enable sanctuary populations of disease-free genetically diverse animals, which will ultimately help to protect the species from future challenges.

“It’s also an important step in our scientific breeding program and significantly assist our research into the species,” Professor Daniels said.

“These koalas will form part of a breeding program that can support the long-term conservation of the species, particularly in response to natural disasters.”

Professor Daniels said the mission would not have been possible without the generous support of many partners, including Prince Albert of Monaco whose Foundation contacted Koala Life in early 2020 after the devastating summer bushfires with an offer to help the Australian koalas.

The foundation is dedicated to protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development at local and global levels and the plight of the Australian koala and Koala Life’s cause and research initiatives was something that aligned well with the Foundation.

Koala Life have also established a national partnership with Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES), Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organisation who have also generously contributed funding to this breeding program.

Donate at www.koalalife.asn.au to support ongoing research into koala genetics and disease treatment.

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