Hearing the koala's call

Published 17 August 2018

Sub-zero conditions are not enough to deter a hardy UNE research team dedicated to conserving koalas. They've been tramping through the bush many nights this winter spotlighting for koalas, in the hope of finding candidates to radio-track as part of an important distribution study.

"It's very hard work and freezing cold at this time of year in the New England," says project manager David Carr. "But you work up a bit of warmth when you're wrestling a koala in a post bag, trying to put an ear tag and collar on it."

The team - comprising UNE and consulting ecologists, mammal experts and GIS specialists - have caught and collared their first study subject, on the university's property Newholme, just north of Armidale. The healthy young lady will send a signal every 12 hours for the next 3-4 months, providing valuable insights into how far these vulnerable animals move and where populations might best survive.

"When coupled with three-dimensional radar images of the terrain and vegetation captured by other UNE researchers, we can build a detailed picture of where she spends her time, in what part of the tree and even how long she spends on the ground," Dave said.

DNA samples collected from the collared koalas will also be sent to the Wildlife Genomics Unit at the Australian Museum to determine their lineage.

Collectively, all this koala data will aid future conservation efforts.

"We think the Northern Tablelands is a very important area, because we have reasonably healthy koala populations and good vegetation, without the pressure of urban developments, highways and dogs," Dave said.

"The cooler New England temperatures could make the region a very important refuge for the species under climate change. The information we gather will help us plan actions such as revegetation projects."

Encountering a mother and joey last week at least warmed the hearts of the frostbitten researchers. You can see the rare footage of a koala joey calling to its Mum on the Stringybark Ecological website.