Science News

Frisky Koalas To Receive Birth Control Measures

Sat, 9th Oct 2004

Part of the show Spinal Injuries, and Brain Repair

It's almost the classic conundrum - "what do you do if you see an endangered animal eating an endangered plant" - but that's exactly what's happening in Mount Eccles National Park in Victoria, southern Australia. The growth of the koala population is putting too much strain on the eucalyptus trees which form their staple diet. The long term preservation of the species depends as much upon the preservation of their habitat as upon the preservation of the animals itself, so conservationists plan to put 2000 of their koalas 'on the pill' to slow down the population boom. According to Ian Walker, the project manager, the method that has been chosen is to use a matchstick-sized hormone implant that is inserted under the skin between the shoulder blades. The implant, which is also used by women all over the world, releases small amounts of female hormones to prevent pregnancy. The implants last about 6 years. The benefit of using this approach is that it is minimally invasive and completely reversible. Full fertility is restored once it is removed. Victoria is home to the largest number of wild Koalas of all states in Australia. Koala numbers in Australia have plummeted from around 7 million at the time when Europeans first arrived in Australia in the late 1700's, to as few as 100,000 now. As recently as the 1920's 3 million were shot for their fur.

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