Illustration by Justine Landis-Hanley.
Chlamydia has ravaged Australia’s koala population in recent years, prompting concerns that the animals may be facing the first known sexually transmitted extinction. Numbers of our country’s least objectionable tree huggers have almost halved since 2001, largely due to the spread of the infection which just happens to be the most common human STI.
An infected koala’s symptoms range from incontinence to blindness and the development of painful cysts. These symptoms are thought to be responsible for 50% of koala deaths and, alongside widespread infertility caused by chlamydia, pose a severe threat to their cuddly future.
Deforestation is not helping. Habitats are shrinking and without medical intervention the problem will worsen.
Honestly, the levels of infection (somewhere near 80%) are impressive. It’s the sort of staggering number you’d expect from an excited pubescent who has had ten sex before. What’s more impressive is that it’s a figure maintained by animals that sleep for twenty hours a day and spend the other four eating leaves.
To put this in perspective, the average human spends four hours a day eating trans fats and sleeping, and the other twenty hours clearing old-growth forests and fucking, and still sports an infection rate of only 5%—and that’s among the rowdy drug-eating youth. Though unsure of exactly how the number stays so low, experts suspect it has little to do with education and modern medicine and more to do with sheer dumb luck and the relative scarcity of weekends.
There is some good news. A vaccine has been developed in Queensland which successfully cured koalas of chlamydia in a number of trials run late last year.
To address the simmering question: yes. You can catch chlamydia from a koala. No, it’s not easy—as long as the koala you’ve co-opted into your selfie isn’t infected and doesn’t happen to pee on you it should be fine. That said, pursuing romantic relations with a koala is ill-advised. As it always has been.
It remains to be seen whether the vaccine will be produced in sufficient quantity before we fuck the koalas or, as pressingly, before the koalas fuck themselves.