Scientists from the University of Adelaide say they've found what could be the last Australian koalas totally free of chlamydia, according to a study published recently in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
Chlamydia is rampant in the primary koala habitat in New South Wales and Queensland on the country's eastern coast. A 17-year study published in 2017 characterized the koala population as in catastrophic decline.
The disease is exacerbated by the stress that koalas feel from habitat loss, and the Australian government lists the tree-dwelling marsupials as "vulnerable."
The sexually transmitted bacterial infection, which causes blindness, female infertility and death, threatens to wipe out the species, according to the Australian Koala Foundation.
"This last large, isolated chlamydia-free population holds significant importance as insurance for the future of the species," Jessica Fabijan, an author of the study and a Ph.D. student at the University of Adelaide, said in a news release. "We may need our Kangaroo Island koalas to re-populate other declining populations."