In some parts of Australia, up to 90 per cent of the koala population is infected with chlamydia – the disease, along with the loss of habitat, is pushing this loveable marsupial toward extinction, but, a unique facility on the Tweed Coast is playing a key role in the battle against the condition.
The newly-opened Tweed Coast Koala Research Hub, based in Pottsville, will become a temporary home for koalas selected for the first-of-its-kind chlamydia vaccine research program in NSW.
The research hub is an initiative of the NSW Government, Tweed Shire Council, Currumbin Wildlife Hospital (CWH) and the World Wildlife Fund – Australia (WWF – Australia).
The facility was officially opened on Tuesday by NSW Deputy Premier Paul Toole who was joined by Member for Tweed Geoff Provest, Mayor of Tweed Shire Chris Cherry and Currumbin Wildlife Hospital (CWH) Senior Veterinarian Dr Michael Pyne.
Chlamydia vaccine trials
The hub will accommodate koalas participating in chlamydia vaccine trials which require the animals to be held for 30 days between their first and second shots.
Constructed by Tweed Shire Council, the hub has eight koala pens and a clinic for an onsite vet nurse.
Funding for the facility, totalling $648,000, has come from the NSW State Government’s Stronger Country Communities Fund ($341,000) with the remaining funds contributed by Council.
WWF-Australia also contributed more than $200,000 towards operation of the research hub.
Endangered Tweed-Brunswick koala
The cross-border program is being undertaken by Dr Pyne who said the research hub would play a vital role in helping to treat the disease in the endangered Tweed-Brunswick koala population.
Since the program commenced in February last year, 24 koalas have been vaccinated and monitored at Pottsville before being released back into the wild.
The hub is managed by CWH and has a qualified vet nurse visiting daily with support from a qualified wildlife vet. CWH staff are supported by regular volunteers, many of whom are locals and have been trained to assist with the care of koalas at the Pottsville facility.
Dr Pyne said the Tweed Coast Koala Research Hub is making a huge difference in the lives of koalas. ‘Through this facility we’ll aim to vaccinate as many kolas as possible to ensure the species has a safe future in the area for years to come.
‘The facility offers an essential component to the larger vaccine research trial – the enclosure space where koalas are to be fully vaccinated against koala chlamydial disease prior to release.’
Ten joeys delivered
Dr Pyne said chlamydia affected the fertility of koalas and since the program’s start, his team had seen ten joeys delivered which was very encouraging for the overall koala population.
The 99-hectare site, of which the research hub is part, was purchased by the NSW Government in 2017 as part of its NSW Koala Strategy.
Mayor of Tweed Shire Chris Cherry said Council proposed the land purchase to protect existing corridors and create new linkages allowing koalas to move more safely through different habitat areas on the Tweed Coast.
‘Council, working alongside the NSW Government, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services and our many stakeholders, has taken a strong position with regards to koala habitat management,’ said Cr Cherry.
‘We welcome the positive moves by the State Government to increase areas where this iconic, much-loved yet endangered species can survive and thrive.’
WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman said the research hub would play a crucial role in protecting East Coast koalas.
‘We all remember the terrible impact of the 2019-2020 bushfires on koalas but chlamydia is a widespread and consistent threat that ultimately kills more koalas,’ said Mr O’Gorman.
‘This research hub will be vital in treating this awful disease and increasing the resilience of koalas in the Northern Rivers and south-east Queensland. It is also an amazing example of local communities, governments, NGOs and scientists working together to protect koalas at a time when they need it most.’
1,800 koala food trees planted
Council, supported by a number of community groups, has also planted more than 1,800 koala food trees adjacent to the facility to supplement the needs of koalas in rehabilitation and will maintain the land and facility.
Council will contribute $20,000 per year to the operational costs of the facility from the Tweed Coast Koala Plan of Management program. This plan directs Council’s actions and investment towards the conservation and recovery of the endangered Tweed-Brunswick koala population.
Find out more about how Council cares for our koalas at tweed.nsw.gov.au/koalas.