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Artificial insemination the koala: its role in conservation biology and impact on current wildlife legislation

O’Callaghan, P & Johnston, SD 1998, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

Assisted breeding technologies, and specifically artificial insemination, present exciting prospects for the management of both captive and wild koala populations. Artificial insemination techniques have been successfully applied in previous case studies with several eutherian species in captivity, but have only recently shown success in marsupial species.

  Years of collaborative, systematic research have informed best practice in koala semen collection and preservation, identification of the most appropriate timing for insemination, and the most suitable site for the deposition of inseminate in females. The result of this research was a world-first koala birth from a process of hormone-induced ovulation and artificial insemination at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, in collaboration with The University of Queensland.

  There are seven important roles of artificial insemination that justify its importance to koala conservation:

  1. To improve knowledge of reproductive physiology and behaviour of koalas that informs the design and implementation of population management programs;
  2. To serve as a tool for genetic management, such as by increasing genetic diversity with the introduction of genetic material to one population from another population;
  3. To allow for the introduction of genetic material into a population without the need to transport or translocate a koala;
  4. To recover semen or spermatozoa from male koalas that are anatomically, physiologically or behaviourally unable to contribute genetic material without technological intervention;
  5. To inform reproductive research that will benefit other species of conservation concern;
  6. To proactively manage koala populations before it is too late; and,
  7. To improve the genetics of wild koala populations challenged by fragmentation or genetic isolation.

  Our improved understanding of assisted reproductive technologies for koalas is likely to deliver great benefits for koala conservation and recovery programs both in captivity and in the wild. The possibilities offered by these new technologies for genetic management, however, should not be considered a suitable substitute for the protection of koala habitat, which is undoubtedly the most effective strategy for the conservation of the species. Importantly, given the unprecedented ethical questions posed by these biotechnologies, relevant wildlife legislation must be reviewed and updated regularly to facilitate its appropriate application.

 

Summarised by Joanna Horsfall

 

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