In 1998 Echidna Walkabout began actively researching and monitoring hundreds of wild koalas.
They discovered that every koala has a distinct "Nose Pattern" - the natural markings inside the nostril - that remains the same throughout life. Using this non-intrusive technique the Echidna Walkabout and Koala Clancy Foundation teams are able to recognise individual wild koalas, from a distance, and without ever touching them.
Koala Research : every wild koala we encounter has their nose pattern recorded in both photographic and diagrammatic form. They are named, and monitored for as long as they live in our research area. [more about koala research]
Each Echidna Walkabout tour day, trained citizen science researchers search an agreed area of bushland in the You Yangs Regional Park. Every koala found is located on a map, GPS taken, they are photographed, the tree species & height they are sitting at and their behaviour is noted.
At the end of each year these findings are compiled, analysed and a report for the year is provided to all our Wildlife Guides, Koala Researchers and to the National Parks Service, local Field Naturalist Club and Koala-specialist Wildlife Carers and veterinarians to assist with understanding of Koalas in this particular wild habitat.
Janine and the team have recorded the nose patterns of 108 wild koalas over 16 years and not one has changed substantially in that time. They have taken over 30,000 observations, 19,000 photographs. The longest a single koala has been monitored is 9 years - her name is Pat, she is a mature female still living in the You Yangs. She has been seen over 800 times. 23% of the 108 koalas have been monitored for 5+ years. Our accuracy in the field (the number of times we can achieve a positive identification of the koala just through binoculars & camera) is 93% overall.
This research was presented - As plain as the nose on their faces: Efficacy of nostril pigment patterns in identifying individual koalas at Pathways 2014: Human Dimensions of Wildlife conference in Colorado, USA in October 2014.
The non-intrusive method of identifying koalas by their nose patterns could be a major step forward for koala protection. Using this method citizen scientists Australia-wide could collect valuable information about their local koalas, and form connections with those animals.
Echidna Walkabout and Koala Clancy Foundation's 3 step plan to save koalas from extinction:
Step 1. Publication & Education: Publication of Non-intrusive Koala Identification Method, then train and educate communities around Australia to identify their local koalas. Educate local communities around the You Yangs & Brisbane Ranges about Koala Clancy and the importance of koalas through the childrens book "Koala Clancy of the You Yangs" and through Koala Conservation Days for Locals. This step is currently underway.
Step 2. Improve Habitat: improve existing koala habitat through weed removal "Make a Home for Koala Clancy". It is critical to shore up existing habitat before moving on to new habitat - after all, where koalas live right now is obviously suitable right now.
Step 3. Tree Planting in quality sites: As climate change worsens, it is predicted that existing habitat will become marginal. Koalas will be forced to move into 'better quality' habitat, and habitat that is cooler and more humid. Fortunately, we are fairly sure we know what constitutes better quality habitat on the Western Plains: River Red Gums near water. Most of that habitat was cleared for farming many years ago, but increasingly farmers are keen to replant this habitat. Our plan is to involve travellers and locals in planting projects along creeks, gullies and drainage lines, and around dams.
What do we need?
1. Publicity of the plight of koalas and the plan we have outlined.
2. Funding for the plan.
3. Landowner involvement, particularly around the You Yangs and Brisbane Ranges. Please contact us if you own property and are willing to have trees planted
Can you help us save wild koalas?