Jagger to help save local koala population

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koala conservation
Two-year-old Jagger, bred as part of the Living Koala Genome Bank pilot project.

A koala, specially bred as part of a University of Queensland-led conservation project, could turn around the fate of endangered koala colonies along Australia’s east coast.

Two-year-old Jagger, the first koala bred in the Living Koala Genome Bank pilot project, has been released into a colony at Elanora Conservation Park, on the southern Gold Coast. 

The project is a collaboration between UQ, Queensland University of Technology and the Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation and aims to boost healthy koala genes in local populations threatened by habitat loss and disease.

Associate Professor Stephen Johnston from UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences said Jagger will help safeguard future generations of local koalas against inbreeding and disease. 

“Jagger is fully vaccinated against chlamydia, is disease-free and—thanks to his diverse genetics—will help protect koalas in this population against the risks of inbreeding,” Dr Johnston said.

“He’s just one member of our recently completed pilot project, called the Living Koala Genome Bank, where we propagate koalas with high genetic merit to be released into the wild, improving genetic variation.”

The team have used proven breeding technologies in combination with an in-depth analyses of koala genetics and disease screening to help manage and conserve koala populations.

This is achieved by either incorporating valuable genetics from threatened wild koala populations into a captive population, or by providing captive breeding facilities, for the genetic exchange of wild koalas.

For the duration of our project they were able to take advantage of Dreamworld’s phenomenal wildlife precinct, where animals are housed off-exhibit in a dedicated koala breeding centre.

The results of the pilot project have been promising, with the research team hopeful the collaboration could become a model to help the long-term conservation of koalas in the wild, as well as a sustainable tourism industry.

“Excitingly, we have been able to demonstrate that zoos, in combination with expertise from universities, can significantly boost conservation outcomes,” Dr Johnston said.

“While it’s still absolutely critical to acquire and maintain good quality koala habitat, the approach we’ve taken is a very practical ‘hands on’ step forward for koala conservation management. 

“Our hope is that we can now apply our concept to other wildlife parks in Queensland and possibly northern NSW, to safeguard the future of koalas, and we’re currently consulting with government to do just that.”

Dreamworld head of Life Sciences Michele Barnes said the innovative project comes at a critical time for koala populations.

“Koala population densities have seen a rapid decline—in the order of 80 per cent—in the past 25 years,” Barnes said.

“With most east coast koalas now listed as endangered, so much more needs to be done in this space to protect them from extinction. 

“Dreamworld has a commitment to wildlife conservation, and we’re incredibly proud to be able to offer the infrastructure and skill sets required to partner with UQ and QUT on this project.”

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