What Is KIDS and Why Should Koala Lovers Care?

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Upon first glance, the term “KIDS” would seemingly have something to do with children, possibly perhaps a program that helps children improve their lives or education. In reality, “KIDS” refers to “Koala Immune Deficiency Syndrome,” a disease that researchers say is similar to the human form of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and is rapidly spreading among the Australian koala population, adding to the growing threat of these marsupials becoming extinct within the next 30 years.

What Is Known about Koala Aids (KIDS)?

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Often wrongly referred to as koala bears, koalas have been frequently showing symptoms of KIDS upon arrival at the Australian Wildlife Hospital, according to a recent report on CNN.com. How prevalent has this disease become among koalas? Well, among the 700 koalas that are brought to the hospital each year, the report notes that more than half of the koalas have symptoms of KIDS. Like human AIDS, koala AIDS is not fully understood. It is believed that this virus attacks the koala immune system, leaving these majestic creatures vulnerable to cancers, infections and other health problems. Unlike human AIDS, it has been suggested that KIDS spreads by koalas simply coming into contact with each other as opposed to mating or transmitting bodily fluids.

Is Koala AIDS (KIDS) Treatable?

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Sadly, there is no available vaccine for KIDS at the moment. According to the CNN report, koalas with KIDS will die from the disease. What’s especially sad is that full-blown KIDS can ravage koalas quickly, causing them to lose weight and lead slow, painful deaths. While some researchers believe that all koalas carry this virus but not all develop the KIDS disease, they ultimately stress the need for greater preservation of koala habitats to understand the disease in greater detail. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done.

The Dire State of the Australian Koala

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According to the Australian Koala Foundation, there may be less than 43,000 koalas currently in the Australian wild. While many koalas often present symptoms of the sexually-transmitted disease chlamydia, the greatest threat to koalas is habitat loss. With the clearing of eucalypts forests where koalas live for construction, public transportation and other human needs, the Australian Koala Foundation estimates that more than 80% of koala habitats have already been destroyed. The Foundation also notes that roughly 80% of remaining koala habitats are on private land not protected by legislation. With this in mind, the Australian Koala Foundation has been urging the Australian government to declare koalas as a “vulnerable” species and provide more protection for their survival. Unfortunately, the Australian government has not done so at this point, saying that it will address the koala population at the end of 2010. Until then, who knows how much more devastation the active Australian koala population will have to sustain?