Koalas don’t do much. They sleep 18-22 hours a day, sit around in trees, and eat heaps of eucalyptus leaves. But during their few waking hours, they manage to get chlamydia. Really. Mating is one of the only things for which koalas manage to get motivated. Surprisingly (to me, at least), koala sex involves lots of screaming, clawing, biting, and pinning the female to a tree. The males will also spar for access to females. It’s always the shy ones, right?
When I first heard about koalas getting chlamydia, I joked about them getting all doped-up on eucalyptus and having unprotected (and apparently, kinky) koala sex. I recently learned that, despite popular belief, koalas don’t get high from eucalyptus leaves. It’s a slow metabolism and nutrient-poor diet, not a psychotropic chemical, that makes them so stoned-looking. Yeah, I was disappointed to learn that too.
I joke, but chlamydia infections are becoming a major problem for the fluffy little guys. It can be transmitted sexually or vertically (mother to child), and some researchers think it can be transmitted during fighting or other close physical contact.
Humans and koalas are affected by different strains of chlamydia (humans have chlamydia trachomatis, koalas primarily have chlamydia psittaci) but both strains have the potential to make their host infertile. Conservationists are concerned that chlamydia psittaci will reduce their already-threatened numbers since it is estimated that over 80% of koalas are infected in some populations. Humans with chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics but according to some researchers, antibiotics can disrupt koala digestion, making it difficult for them to digest eucalyptus. Even if they were able to process the antibiotics, it can be difficult to treat wild koalas. Because, you know, they’re so fast.
There appears to be quite a lot of research, and differing opinions, about what is necessary to keep koalas from becoming endangered. What is clear is that encroaching human populations make them more vulnerable, and efforts are being made to mitigate this risk where possible. Koala conservation-awareness videos were even available on my Virgin Australia flight from LA (see video below).
Sadly, they did not include amusing animations of koalas mating. If you’re interested in that sort of thing (sans animation), see below.