Cool Country Koala Project, documenting and saving local koalas

Scientists and their koala poo-sniffing dogs are currently roaming the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales  tracking the threatened species as part of the Cool Country Koalas Project. Fieldwork taking place this week is part of a longitudinal study in the region. 

Dr Romane Cristescu, from the University of the Sunshine Coast, presented the most recent findings to the public at Bingara and Delungra last week.

The news was negative for the species in Ashford. “The most recent sightings in Ashford were in 2010,” says Dr Cristescu. “It was once a pristine habitat, but we don’t know what happened to drive the koalas away. These days, we can’t even find koala poo.”

It is too late for the robust community of Ashford, but there is still hope for the koala populations of Inverell, Delungra and Bingara.

The researchers conduct field surveys. By looking for signs of koalas in bushland they seek to better understand where koalas are living, the threats they face and how the conservation of the koala habitat can be facilitated.

Improved knowledge will help to ensure the funding for environmental projects received in the region will be used to best effect. 

She introduces her dog, Baxter, who is one of a team of dogs trained to sniff through long grass.

“We use rescue dogs who are passionate about chasing tennis balls. In order to play with the ball they must find koala scat,” she says. 

To demonstrate, Dr Cristescu throws the ball. To the command ‘find, find, find’, Baxter sniffs thorugh the long grass and stops wagging his tail when he finds a scat.

Then, he is rewarded with a tennis pall while an accurate GPS reading is taken. They find a scat under a tree across the road from the Delungra Community Hall. “We found one in the school,” she says .

How to make a difference

“One person can make a difference,” Dr Cristescu says. “That’s all you need to activate change. And anyone can get involved by reporting sightings, developing a network, planting trees and decreasing threats.” 

Threats are numerous. “Everybody loves koalas. They’re cute and have the proportions of human babies,” says Dr Cristescu, who fell in love with the creature since coming to Australia from France ten years ago.

“We love them, but don’t take responsibility for their decreasing numbers.” 

People cull the land for crops destroying habitats and run over animals with their cars, but they can also help the creatures by planting trees and understanding the signs of disease so that they can get help when they encounter a koala suffering from disease.