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Wild dogs and chlamydia are part of the reason koalas are in "serious trouble"

Bushfires shine light on koalas' plight
Bushfires turn world's attention to plight of koalas in Australia 05:47

Australia's koala bear population may not be extinct, but they are in "serious trouble" — and climate change is not the only reason. The Australian Koala Foundation announced this year that koala numbers in many places are in steep decline with no more than 80,000 koalas left in the country.

While fires tearing across eastern Australia have been hurting hundreds of koalas and destroying their habitat, wild dogs and chlamydia are also factors contributing to the species' decline, according to biologist and wildlife conservationist Jeff Corwin.

It is estimated that thousands of koalas die each year in Australia alone as a result of dog attacks, making it the third most common cause of death after habitat clearing and vehicle strikes, according to the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

Another leading killer of Australia's endearing koalas is chlamydia — a sexually-transmitted debilitating bacterial infection "that is wiping these animals out," according to Corwin.

The disease is exacerbated by the stress that koalas feel from habitat. They also don't respond well to the antibiotic treatments — which are the same as chlamydia-infected humans — often leading them to lose weight and die.

A 4-year-old koala seen in Sydney, Australia, on July 3, 2018. Getty

But as bushfires are becoming more common and cause large areas of their crucial habitat to be ravaged, it is unclear what the future holds for a species that was already under threat.

"Natural fires that occur are part of the ecology," Corwin told CBSN during an interview. However, "a changing climate means that these ecosystems are losing their integrity to deal with fire and they are collapsing. When they collapse, all the little dots that are connected, all the individual species and animals, collapse under flames with it." 

Corwin explained that the country's iconic animal survives mainly on a diet of eucalyptus leaves. Therefore, when fires ravage their habitats, it also takes down their food, causing them to be "pushed in peril." 

The conversation around the threats of bushfires on koalas has been occurring all around the globe recently and has helped to bring awareness on some of the issues posed by climate change

"It is a powerful, painful reminder of our responsibility as a steward," Corwin said. "The great tragedy here is that the United States used to be the pinnacle of conservation leading the world, and today we have stepped back greatly."

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