Chlamydia is a terrible disease for anyone, but even worse if you're a koala. So it's just as well these beloved marsupials have lots of people in their corner. Their latest defender is comedian John Oliver, who now has a research ward for blind koalas named after him.
Although koalas are thought to date back at least 25 million years, their survival is something of a miracle. Not only do they sleep 22 hours a day, but zoos consider them one of the most expensive animals to keep, thanks to their notorious pickiness about the gum leaves they'll eat.
Modern threats include dog attacks, cars, and – perhaps most significantly – the destruction of their habitat. However, none of these grabs the popular imagination for sheer unsexiness like chlamydia. Although to be honest, few things are as unsexy to human eyes and ears as koalas mating.
The chlamydia bacteria genus infects a wide variety of animals. The species Chlamydia pecorum infecting koalas is different from the C. trachomatis humans suffer from, but like our own is a product of getting frisky. For koalas, never having learned how to use condoms and lacking the ability to administer antibiotics, it's spreading fast, with severe consequences. Infected koalas sometimes go blind and get urinary tract infections and a condition known as wet or soggy bottom.
British comedian and US TV presenter John Oliver's engagement began when, on his HBO show Last Week Tonight, he had some fun with actor Russel Crowe's memorabilia auction. Oliver bought, among other things, Crowe's groin protector from the film Cinderella Man, which he donated to one of America's last surviving Blockbuster stores.
Crowe took the whole thing in good humor and announced he would be donating that portion of the auction's proceeds to a good cause. He selected saving koalas, and the money turned out to be enough to get a koala ward at Australia Zoo, and name after Oliver. Introducing the John Oliver Koala Chlamydia Ward.
Oliver responded on this week's show, announcing he'd now achieved his only goal for the show and would be retiring.
Twitter rapidly filled with anxious fans scared Oliver might be serious, and the koalas had cost them the only thing keeping them sane in the current political climate.
However, all signs are that Oliver was, in fact, joking, and will be back next week at the usual time, hopefully wearing a koala suit.
Efforts to save koalas go on. Australia Zoo is among the places trialing anti-chlamydia vaccines, and a paper published last year has some encouraging news.
One Russell Crowe jockstrap will only go so far, so anyone wanting to help this adorable anomaly has a wide array of places they can donate.