Innovative project safeguards Queensland’s koalas

Two koalas have been released into the wild today as part of a State Government-backed project to improve the survival rate of the threatened native species.

Innovation Minister Kate Jones today revealed two healthy koalas – Amelia and El Yungo – had been released today through the Living Koala Genome Bank project which was designed to use proven breeding strategies to protect koalas.

“Koalas are an iconic Queensland species and a hit with tourists around the world. They face serious threats from development, cars, dogs and also stress-related diseases,” she said.

“It’s vitally important we help protect our local koala population.

“This project has been a great success so far and we are pleased to be releasing two healthy koalas, Amelia and El Yungo, back into the wild today, having collected valuable information about their genetic makeup.

“Improving the genetic diversity of wild koalas is one of the best ways to ensure the future survival of this species.”

In 2017 the Palaszczuk Government awarded The University of Queensland (UQ) and Dreamworld, in partnership with Queensland University of Technology, $600,000 through the Advance Queensland Innovation Partnerships program.

This grant was to establish a hub for koala research and to start a live genome bank to tackle some of the biggest threats koalas are facing in the wild – like chlamydia.

Ms Jones said the government was investing more than half-a-billion dollars in innovation, science and technology to create jobs for Queenslanders in growth industries.

“We’re investing in science and innovation to tackle some of the biggest issues facing Queensland and the Gold Coast,” she said.

“This project is also giving our best and brightest an outlet to hone world-class animal breeding strategies – knowledge that locals will be able to export in years to come.”

The Living Koala Genome Bank project treats selected individual koalas from vulnerable populations, collects information about their genetic make-up and crossbreeds them with captive koalas.

Once healthy, koalas are released back into the wild disease-free so they can continue breeding with other koalas and continue spreading their genes.

The project is also looking into whether captive koala populations could act as reservoirs for safeguarding the genetic diversity amongst local wild populations.

This follows on from Dreamworld’s recently announced state-of-the-art koala research facility expansion, supported with $2.7 million Queensland Government funding.

Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation general manager Al Mucci was pleased to see successful results coming from the conservation efforts.

“Consistent with the project, two animals have been cleaned, treated for chlamydia and vaccinated for future infections and will be released back into the wild where they belong,” he said.

“When these koalas were first brought into our care, one had been displaced due to habitat destruction and would not have survived, so it is a very positive outcome to see them returning to the wild in healthy conditions.

Chief Investigator of the project, Associate Professor Stephen Johnston from UQ said the koalas would be moved into a soft-release enclosure in Coombabah Lakelands Conservation Area on the Gold Coast where they can be monitored.

“These animals will provide us with valuable information about how wild koalas, after spending time in captivity, thrive after being released,” he said.

The project uses breeding and molecular technologies developed by UQ alongside a chlamydia-proofing vaccination therapy developed by Queensland University of Technology in an effort to future-proof local populations.

“It is a ‘living koala genome bank’ that provides practical mechanisms to improve the genetic diversity of populations and assist in developing disease-free koalas to release into the wild,” he said.

“There are currently five joeys growing in pouches that are potential future releases of the program, who will support and potentially improve, the genetic integrity of the smaller, fragmented populations.”

City of Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate said programs such as the Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation are incredibly important in securing funds and raising awareness of conservation initiatives.

“This financial year, we started an Australian-first initiative, allowing ratepayers to volunteer funds specific to koalas. The fund has raised around $800,000 via general revenue and a further $7000 donated voluntarily,” Mr Tate said.

“We are utilising these funds to purchase koala habitat in the city.”

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