CSI koala – DNA breakthrough identifies killer wild dogs

Vulnerable koala populations have been given an added layer of protection thanks to a Queensland Government research team.

Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said a Biosecurity Queensland research project has made an exciting breakthrough for koala populations and other native species under pressure from wild dogs.

“Our team of eminent wildlife researchers at Biosecurity Queensland’s Pest Animal Research Centre have found a way to identify dogs that attack and kill koalas,” Mr Furner said.

“They found that by sampling genetic material, particularly traces of saliva from prey, they could isolate the DNA and, with subsequent genotyping, identify the predator.

“Some wild dogs are responsible for multiple koala deaths so this CSI-style approach could help wild dog management programs to specifically target and remove problem animals and improve koala population survival.”

Mr Furner said a four-year study by Australia’s leading koala conservation researchers identified wild dogs as the most significant threat to koalas.

“That study confirmed that, in the Moreton Bay region, predation by wild dogs, carpet pythons and domestic dogs accounted for 63 per cent of koala deaths,” Mr Furner said.

“Of the deaths caused by dogs, 82 per cent were caused by wild dogs while only 2 per cent were attributed to domestic dogs.

“While vehicle collisions and disease are undoubtedly important causes of koala deaths in the Moreton Bay region, the research confirms that wild dogs have not been adequately recognised as a potential major threat to koalas.”

National Wild Dog Management Coordinator Greg Mifsud said being able to identify killer wild dogs sent a message of hope.

“While there are other threats to koalas such as habitat loss and disease, research shows that dingoes and wild dogs are killing these animals and posing a direct threat to their survival,” Mr Mifsud said.

“The good news is that we do have ethical, targeted strategies that can effectively control dingoes and wild dogs that attack and kill koalas.

“This important wake-up call for the community underlines the key message that any conservation strategies that ignore wild dog predation as significant contributor to koala deaths will fail to halt population declines.”

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