Brian and Geoff are undertaking a comparison of health between the San Diego Zoo’s koalas and those we are studying on St. Bees Island. As trained veterinarians, they have a lot to offer the program and were able to inspect all the koalas we caught and assess their health. In addition, they are taking back some valuable samples that we hope will help identify how differences in environmental factors might affect the health of koalas in the wild as well as in managed care.
In addition to the koalas we already have in the program, which we identify by their small numbered ear tags, we found plenty of new koalas that had moved onto the knoll (our main site) over the last few months. We caught 20 koalas for this particular project during the week (14 adult females, 1 juvenile male, and 5 adult males), and only 8 were koalas that we had caught in the past. Of the 14 females, 8 still had young joeys with them, but we are nearing the peak of the breeding season and expect that these large joeys will soon leave and their mothers will be raising a new group of pouch young in the next few months.
All the koalas on St. Bees Island were in good condition, even some of the very old females that are still rearing young. We found Natasha, a koala that has been in the project for as long as Elizabeth (since 1999), and Dr. Pye commented on how well these koalas look, even though they don’t get things quite as good as do the koalas back in San Diego.
Each koala we examined was put under anesthesia, making it very easy to safely conduct health exams and collect samples painlessly and without distress to the animal. These procedures are very short but certainly allow us to collect a lot of important data that we hope to use both to understand what factors help make the koalas at St. Bees so healthy and to enhance captive management of these fascinating animals.
I will miss the input from the San Diego Zoo team when they return home next week, but it is only a few weeks until I will be seeing more friendly faces from the Zoo down here at our great study site.