Bio-Banking May Help Save Koalas from Extinction

“We can cryopreserve koala sperm, just like we do for humans.”

Scientists at the University of Newcastle are suggesting the bio-banking of sperm from live male koalas to help in conserving the koalas.

Photo: Piqsels

Earlier this year, the koalas were listed as an endangered species after a huge drop in their population caused by climate change, habitat loss, drought, and devastating wildfires.

The Black Summer Bushfires of 2019-2020 killed over 60,000 koalas in New South Wales. The species was already listed as vulnerable, but the bushfires, along with other factors, were the straw that broke the camel’s back and put the koala on the endangered list. It is predicted that these animals will be extinct by 2050.

Photo: Piqsels

“If the koala population dies in these kind of fire events, there is no way to bring them back or preserve their genetics,” said Ryan Witt, who co-authored the study with Lachlan Howell. The research, published in the journal Animals, found that bio-banking would make the cryopreservation of live koala genes possible by freezing sex cells (sperm).

“The frozen sperm can then be used to impregnate female koalas in breed-for-release programs, using assisted reproductive technology,” explained the researchers.

Photo: Piqsels

They further stated that the strategy would be 5 to 12 times cheaper than captive koala breeding methods that are currently being implemented. Bio-banking would also not compromise the genetic diversity of the koalas.

According to NSW environment minister, James Griffin, a record more than $200 million has been allocated for koala conservation to help double the population of these marsupials in the state. The amount of $193.3 million will go to funding 47,000 hectares of koala habitat for the next five years.

Nearly $20 million will be used to assist local communities in conserving koalas, while a further $23.2 million will be for koala support programs, including rehabilitation and relocation.

We must work together to save the koalas. IVF may be just the tool we need to do that successfully.

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