The rescue and rehabilitation of koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) in southeast Queensland
Burton, E & Tribe, A 2016, Animals, vol. 6, no. 56.
Data from koalas admitted to four wildlife hospitals in southeast Queensland from 2009 to 2014 were analysed to determine how the treatment and rehabilitation of koalas could be improved. It was found that clinical outcomes varied considerably between hospitals, particularly in terms of time spent in care and euthanasia and release rates, and these findings have implications for the improvement koala rehabilitation practices.
Across the five study years, koalas were consistently admitted to the four wildlife hospitals (Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, RSPCA Wildlife Hospital, Moggill Koala Hospital, and the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary Hospital), with approximately 1600 koalas admitted in total each year. The majority (81.5%) of koalas admitted were adults and the sex ratio was almost equal. Peaks in admission occurred across all four hospitals in the months of winter to spring (July to November), as koalas are more likely to be dispersing and travelling on the ground to find mates during this time. Chlamydiosis and trauma from vehicle collision or dog attack were the most common causes of admission; however, diagnosis data were often incomplete. The vast majority of koalas spent two weeks or less in care, although some, particularly at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, spent over a year in care. Unfortunately, 65.5% of koalas admitted either were euthanised or died whilst in care. Only 27% of the koalas admitted were released.
As some admission records were either inconsistent or incomplete, the development of a consistent universal database would facilitate higher quality data collection in this field. Such a database should have dropdown menu options rather than typed entry, to make record-keeping and analysis both quicker and more accurate. At the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, 17% of koalas spent over 200 days in care receiving treatment for chlamydiosis. The possible welfare and release implications of extended time spent in care require further research. Currently, wildlife hospitals seem to be treating koalas largely based on their clinical signs rather than on the basis of diagnostic tests. This approach risks koalas with subclinical signs of chlamydiosis being released and overlooks opportunities for research.
As the koala population in southeast Queensland continues to decline, it is essential to ensure that the clinical outcomes of koalas admitted to wildlife hospitals improves. Treatment and rehabilitation methods appear to differ between wildlife hospitals; therefore, further research is needed to identify successful approaches to koala rehabilitation under different circumstances. Additionally, more post-release monitoring studies of koalas are needed, as their long-term survival, as well as the contribution of released koalas to wild populations, is unclear.
Summarised by Alexander Hendry
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