Mortality rates of orphaned koala joeys could be greatly reduced by a non-invasive stress test kit being trialled by University of Queensland researchers.
Instead of having to take blood, the UQ-led research has enabled a joey’s stress levels to be measured through samples of their faecal droppings.
Dr Edward Narayan from UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences said the method speeds up what is normally a very laborious process.
“Traditional testing kits are in limited supply and are very process intensive, so it can be quite difficult to run tests like this routinely,” Dr Narayan said.
“We’ve validated an easy-to-use kit using our own in-house biological substance test that avoids invasive bloodwork.
“Instead, it seeks out specific biomarkers in koala joey faeces that are strong indicators of stress, making for a very accurate and useful rehabilitation tool.”
With the mortality rate of rehabilitating joeys steadily climbing, Dr Narayan said the stress test kit will play a critical role in slowing the rate of joey deaths.
“There is very little understood about the causes of joey mortality in care, but we know stress is a significant contributor so wildlife hospitals and carers need an easy way to test for it,” Dr Narayan said.
“The goal of this research is to provide carers with tools to understand whether their clinical intervention and care protocols are working.
“Koala joeys can be orphaned at a very delicate stage in their lives due to habitat destruction, vehicle collisions, dog attacks, bush fires and many other factors.
“These joeys need extra special care with specific diet and husbandry requirements, so a lot of work is being done to improve their care.
“Our test kit will be a vital scientific means of knowing whether the stress levels of koalas are improving with care interventions, and if needed, changes can be made quickly.”
The Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie will be one of the first conservation and rehabilitation groups to adopt the use of stress test kits.
Hospital vet Dr Shali Fischer said the test kits have the potential to revolutionise the care of recovering juvenile koalas.
“Joeys that come into care are often compromised at admission, which means it is a struggle from day one,” Dr Fischer said.
“Having the capacity to monitor cortisol levels and identify trends would help us identify what the stressors are affecting these joeys which may enable better husbandry practices to be developed.
“The development of better handling methods through the use of the stress test kit will be hugely beneficial.”
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