Australian scientists are vaccinating wild koalas against chlamydia, which causes causes blindness, infertility, and death, in a first-of-its-kind large-scale field trial. The goal is to protect the marsupials, which have been deemed "endangered" by the Australian federal government in eastern regions of New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory. Koala populations have faced steep declines due to disease, habitat loss, and road collisions, and could potentially become extinct by 2050.
"It's killing koalas because they become so sick they can't climb trees to get food, or escape predators, and females can become infertile," said Samuel Phillips, a microbiologist at the University of the Sunshine Coast who helped to develop the vaccine.
The scientists' initial goal is to catch, vaccinate and monitor around half of the koala population in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales — that means vaccinating around 50 animals.