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Studies of the oestrous cycle, oestrus and pregnancy in the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)

 

S. D. Johnston1, M. R. McGowan1, P. O’Callaghan2, R. Cox3 and V. Nicolson2

 

1School of Veterinary Science and Animal Production, University of Queensland, 4072, Australia

2Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Jesmond Road, Fig Tree Pocket, 4069, Australia

3Bioquest Ltd, North Ryde, 2113, Australia

 

ABSTRACT

As an integral part of the development of an artificial insemination programme in the captive koala, female reproductive physiology and behaviour were studied. The oestrous cycle in non-mated and mated koalas was characterized by means of behavioural oestrus, morphology of external genitalia and changes in the peripheral plasma concentrations of oestradiol and progestogen. The mean (±SEM) duration of the non-mated oestrous cycle and duration of oestrus in 12 koalas was 32.9±1.1 (n = 22) and 10.3±0.9 (n = 24) days, respectively. Although the commencement of oestrous behaviour was associated with increasing or high concentrations of oestradiol, there were no consistent changes in the morphology or appearance of the clitoris, pericloacal region, pouch or mammary teats that could be used to characterize the non-mated cycle. As progestogen concentrations remained at basal values throughout the interoestrous period, non-mated cycles were considered non-luteal and presumed anovulatory. After mating of the 12 koalas, six females gave birth with a mean (±SEM) gestation of 34.8±0.3 days, whereas the remaining six non-parturient females returned to oestrus 49.5±1.0 days later. After mating, oestrous behaviour ceased and the progestogen profile showed a significant increase in both pregnant and non-parturient females, indicating that a luteal phase had been induced by the physical act of mating. Progestogen concentrations throughout the luteal phase of the pregnant females were significantly higher than those of non-parturient females. Parturition was associated with a decreasing concentration of progestogen, which was increased above that of basal concentrations until 7 days post partum.

 

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