Words by Smiley Team
After bushfires wiped out much of Australia’s koala population, scientists have found a possible way to save the species from extinction. By freezing koala sperm, research published in the scientific journal Animals suggests that conservationists could maintain their numbers.
Already an estimated 64,000 koalas were lost in the bushfires of 2019 - 2020. After the government declared koalas were officially endangered they launched a plan to protect populations.
Scientists at the University of Newcastle, Ryan Witt, Lachlan Howell and their team led the research that found IVF could prevent koala numbers from declining even further.
The process of biobanking will potentially be used to help captive koalas reproduce. While current zoos and wildlife hospitals are held back by financial constraints, frozen sperm could offer a more cost-effective way to support koalas.
“Zoo and wildlife hospital networks are set to become a vital component of Australia’s contemporary efforts to conserve the iconic and imperilled koala (Phascolarctos cinereus),” states the research.
It continues: “Managed breeding programs held across zoo-based networks typically face high economic costs and can be at risk of adverse genetic effects typical of unavoidably small captive colonies.”
But their research could resolve this. “Emerging evidence suggests that biobanking and associated assisted reproductive technologies could address these economic and genetic challenges,” the report states.
This new means of protecting koalas would be up to 12 times cheaper than current breeding methods, while not jeopardising their genetic diversity.
The species has faced numerous threats that have caused its population to halve in 20 years.
In addition to the recent discovery, other techniques have been adopted to reverse this decline. Artificial intelligence and sensor cameras track the recovery of koalas and other animals hit by bushfires in Australia, in one of the country’s most extensive post-fire surveillance programs.
Across habitats impacted by the 2019 - 2020 bushfires, more than 600 cameras are monitoring wildlife. These operate in areas including the Blue Mountains, East Gippsland, South East Queensland and Kangaroo Island.
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