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Koalas face AIDS threat

The discovery of an AIDS-like virus in koalas is raising newfound fears the animal may soon face extinction. KIDS, or Koala Immune Deficiency Syndrome, decimates the koala’s ability to fight off infection and disease.

Dr. Jon Hanger, the researcher who discovered the virus points out a very sick koala with the sexually transmitted disease Chlamydia, and now her doctors fear she may have developed the retrovirus that causes koala AIDS.

"These ulcers in the mouth are one of the hallmarks of this sort of AIDS condition," Hanger said. "From the patient stand point, it has similarities with human AIDS patients that undergo a prolonged and sad decline."

He says disease now poses as great a risk to these iconic marsupials as habitat loss from development, drought and fires. "Even within protected habitat, we’re now understanding that those populations are now not secure, because disease is rife in them. And that they’re not sustainable," he said.

The Australian government estimated in 2006 that koalas numbered in the hundreds of thousands, with some areas of the country experiencing over-population.

But that was before koala AIDS and a devastating drought, and last November, the government adopted a new National Koala Conservation Strategy in order to stabilize and manage the dwindling population.


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