New figures have shown a devastating rise in the number of koalas with chlamydia which could see the species wiped out from the Gunnedah area.
A koala conservation and care workshop held in Gunnedah on Thursday included a presentation from Associate Professor Mark Krockenberger, who said recent research showed a chlamydia infection rate of about 65 per cent in local koalas.
Dr Krockenberger said research had shown an infection rate of about 12 per cent in 2008, and 40 per cent in 2010-11, but a massive rise to about 65 per cent in the most recent studies.
"It is a major concern," he said.
"The view is that on top of all the other pressures, it might make the local populations untenable, and even extinct."
Dr Krockenberger said the impact might not be immediate, but even if infected koalas survived the infection, they were likely to have a shorter life span and fewer or no babies.
The workshop, organised by Local Land Services North West, gathered together vets, landholders, wildlife carers, researchers and other people with an interest in koalas in the Gunnedah area.
Researcher and Associate Professor Mathew Crowther said the local population was being decimated by disease.
Dr Crowther said there were also believed to be increasing koala deaths due to increasing heat and less access to water
"The Liverpool Plains is getting hotter and drier, and there is less water available," he said.
Dr Crowther said a local landholder was trialing a water system, with cameras set up to see if koalas were drinking from the water containers.
"In the last couple of days, a koala has been drinking out of the watering system, and they look like they work, but will they work in the long-term?" he said.
The workshop included a presentation from Benn Bryant from Western Plains Zoo who said he can work with local vets to make chloramphenicol available to help treat chlamydia.
It also looked at ideas to help protect the local koala population, including an identification system for koalas and a standard database that would record their medical history, a possible pledge for landholders not to cut down older trees, further investigation of watering systems, possible cost subsidies for koala carers, a koala hospital, and ongoing research and monitoring.
The workshop, held at Gunnedah Showground, also included a demonstration by Taz, the koala detector dog from Queensland, and an autopsy
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.