Seven New Joeys And A Lifeline For The Species: Some Good Koala News

There's much to celebrate in koala conservation this week, as seven new joeys pop their heads out to say hello and do their bit for a species in rapid decline.

Debuted on Wednesday, the appropriately named 'Lucky Seven' are the latest successes of the Australian Reptile Park's breeding program.

After being born at the park's NSW Central Coast sanctuary, the joeys have officially hit the six month mark and keepers couldn't be more thrilled.

Image: Australian Reptile Park

"They're sticking their heads out of the pouch, we're starting to see those drop-dead gorgeous beady eyes  and big noses," keeper Brandon Gifford said.

"But pretty soon we're going to see some radical personalities which is pretty bizarre for an animal that sleeps about 20 hours a day."

Due to high levels of disease and deforestation, koalas numbers are falling rapidly across north-eastern Australia.

Image: Australian Reptile Park

At the current rate of decline, some estimates have the species on track for extinction by 2050.

"Basically we're knocking down all their trees which takes away their food and their home," Gifford said.

"But also we're creating pocketed populations of these animals, so we're seeing diseases like chlamydia having a huge effect because they just get it right through little populations that cannot cope."

READ MORE: 'Australia's Orangutan': Urgent Calls To Protect The Vulnerable Koala

Chlamydia, which is widespread in koalas in Queensland and NSW, is the most significant disease causing death among the species.  It also leads to blindness and female infertility.

Image: Australian Reptile Park

On Tuesday, researchers announced the discovery of a koala population entirely free of the sexually transmitted infection living off the South Australian coast.

The study, conducted by the University of Adelaide, is touting Kangaroo Island as a possible lifeline for the species, where koalas appear to be living without any signs of chlamydia.

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“This last large, isolated chlamydia-free population holds significant importance as insurance for the future of the species," University of Adelaide PhD candidate Jessica Fabijan said.

"We may need our Kangaroo Island koalas to re-populate other declining populations.”

Researchers captured and tested 75 koalas from the Mount Lofty Ranges and 170 from Kangaroo Island, publishing the results in Nature Scientific Reports.

While almost 47 percent of koalas taken from the mainland were positive for chlamydia, researchers said all Kangaroo Island koalas tested negative for the disease.

An analysis of more than 13,000 state veterinary records spanning 22 years also indicated no definitive cases of chlamydia in koalas on the island.

An Kangaroo Island koala is tagged in 1998 during "Operation Koala" where the koalas who reside on the Island are caught and tagged before being sterilised. The population were eating themselves out of a home because there are no predators on the island. Image: AAP

Compared to NSW and Queensland, koala numbers in South Australia have increased in recent years. There is an estimated population of 150,000 in the Mount Lofty Ranges and about 50,000 on Kangaroo Island.

“Future-proofing South Australia’s koala health is paramount to ensuring the survival of the species in Australia, given the marked decline in the eastern states,” DEW koala spokesperson Brenton Grear said.