How to identify individual wild koalas by their natural nose markings
Identifying Individual Wild Koalas From a Distance by Their Natural Nose Markings
Koalas can be easily and non-intrusively identified by the natural black and white markings inside their nostrils.
A study documenting these markings over 22 years and across 108 individual koalas in four locations in southern Victoria showed that the nose pattern stays essentially the same throughout life. No two koala nose patterns have been seen to be identical, and no nose pattern has been seen to change substantially.
This method provides a cost-effective and reliable non-intrusive method of monitoring wild koala populations.
Take a photograph focussed on the koala’s nose in good light, using a quality DSLR camera with good zoom. Photos taken from front on, and slightly below the nose are best.
Find the target area: the nostrils and nostril ridges. Markings outside of the target area are usually a result of scarring, so can vary throughout the life of the koala. These markings should be noted, but should not be relied upon for identification.
Compare the nose pattern to known koalas in the area.
Take particular note of points. Points are distinctive areas in the nose pattern, see red circled areas below. There are usually several points on a nose pattern. A point can be missing, due to lighting, angle, low resolution of photo, or a point can appear – due to dirt or scarring. But analysis of several points in combination will provide an identification.
Side-on photographs, or photos from extreme angles can distort a nose pattern. If possible, wait or move to get a front-on view.
Deep shadows under the nostril ridge, or strong light, can hide the nose pattern. Photograph with several different settings on your camera when light is strong.
Flaring and closing of the nostrils can appear to change a nose pattern, but in a predictable way. Look closely at the nostril shape in your photograph to determine whether the nostril is flared or closed.
More details here: How to identify Koalas by their nose patterns
This method was discovered in 1998 and documented by Janine Duffy, President of the Koala Clancy Foundation and founder of Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours. Presentations on the method can be seen here:
Wildlife Tourism Conference, Geelong, Australia 2015: https://www.wildlifetourism.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/JDuffy-KoalaNoses.pdf
Echidna Walkabout Blog 2015: https://echidnawalkabout.wordpress.com/2015/07/14/how-to-identify-koalas-by-their-nose-patterns/
Pathways Conference, Colorado USA, 2014: https://www.traveldailynews.asia/koala-research-shows-how-australia-tourism-is-leading-the-w
National Geographic, USA video 2009: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PpOdgsLl6g
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