Who doesn’t love a koala? As one of Australia’s most recognizable animals, this loveable marsupial is a top contender for cutest and cuddliest creature. Sadly, koala populations across Australia have been decimated in recent years. The sharp drop in numbers has been attributed to an outbreak of Chlamydia, which the animals spread to one another when fighting and mating.
Chlamydia is considered minor in most animals that are susceptible to it, but koalas are especially vulnerable to the disease. Scientists are not entirely sure why Chlamydia is proving so devastating to the koala population, but what they do know is that the earlier Chlamydia is diagnosed, the better a koala’s chances are of being successfully treated. So much so, that early diagnosis and treatment is key to helping Australia’s most vulnerable koala populations recover.
Koalas were typically tested for Chlamydia by taking swabs or blood samples. These are both invasive methods that need the koala to be knocked out with anesthetics, a stressful ordeal.
Vets now have a new tool to add to their arsenal: an ultrasound scanner. There is nothing new about the technique itself; ultrasound has been used in humans and animals alike for decades. What sets this scanner apart is that it is so powerful, and produces images in such high definition, that it can be used to scan a koala’s tiny organs without necessarily a need to sedate it.
Speaking on Australia’s Today Show, Chad Staples, Chief Curator at Featherdale Wildlife Park, said, “Chlamydia or other urinary tract issues with koalas, up until now, [have been] very hard to detect. Whereas with the use of GE ultrasound systems, we’re able to do some very in-depth scans on koalas and really find those things before they are issues.”
“This technology that GE has provided Featherdale means that we are able to see fine detail,” he added. “The machines were initially designed for people, but now veterinary versions are available allowing us to be able to do scans on little organs in koalas.”