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Koalas are difficult to monitor, so our knowledge of their populations is patchy

We know that koalas live along most of the eastern coast, parts of the southern coast, and in areas of inland Australia.

Koalas are easy to identify. But our ability to see (or 'detect') individual koalas is extremely low and varies in different habitats, and even between different people using different monitoring methods.

High up in gum trees, they can easily go unnoticed from the ground. That means our knowledge (from technical, citizen and First Nation knowledge sources) about koala populations is patchy. This makes it difficult to estimate the current and changing status of koala populations in different regions, and across Australia.

There are community, non-government and government agency run monitoring programs helping to address this challenge. But these programs only capture a portion of the koala's population and range, which means we don't have all the information needed to develop a nationally consistent picture of this significant species.

Come into the field with us to get a sneak peek of the koala program

Watch our video

[Music plays and an image appears of a close view of trees, and the camera pans across, and text appears: The National Koala Monitoring Program]

[Image changes to show Dr Cathy Robinson talking to the camera, and text appears: Dr Cathy Robinson, Principal Research Scientist CSIRO]

Dr Cathy Robinson: So, we know that koalas are endangered and we have a koala recovery plan now

[Images move through of people in conversation amongst the trees, the group looking up into the trees, a male looking through binoculars, Cathy talking, and the group walking through the bushland]

that is really trying to work out the status and trends of koala populations involving communities and First Nation groups as part of a collaborative effort to manage koala populations and their habitats. 

[Image changes to show Dr Andrew Hoskins talking to the camera, and text appears: Dr Andrew Hoskins, Senior Research Scientist CSIRO]

Dr Andrew Hopkins: They’re really quite cryptic. 

[Images move through of a koala in a tree, koala scratch marks on the trunk of a tree, a close view of a koala sitting on a branch, and a close view of a koala sleeping in a tree]

So, they can sit up in trees quite quietly and be quite unassuming so you don’t, don’t really notice them, and that makes them really hard to monitor effectively. 

[Image changes to show a view looking up into a big gum tree, and then the image changes to show Cathy talking to a group of people]

Additionally, because this is a national koala monitoring programme we need to survey koalas right across their range. 

[Images move through of a person looking through binoculars, Andrew talking, three people looking up into the trees, a male operating a drone, and a close view of a survey map on a screen]

So we need to look for koalas in areas, not just where there’s lots of animals, where they’re easy to find in some of those coastal regions, but also in the areas where they’re less, there’s less animals, they’re less dense, and they’re much harder to survey.

[Images move through of Andrew talking, a group looking up into trees in the bushland, and two males walking through the bushland looking at trees]

We really want the National Koala Monitoring Programme to be co-designed by not just the scientists but by the whole Australian community. 

[Images move through to show a male looking through binoculars, a group walking along in the bushland, and a group talking together]

That includes Landcare, private landholders whose land we’re on, as well as the local First Nations people. 

[Images move through of Andrew talking, and then a rear view of people walking through the bushland, and text appears: Inclusive, Long-Term, Integrative]
We really want the programme to be inclusive, long-term, and the programme needs to be integrative. 

[Images move through of two females talking together in the bushland, a group of three looking at a Smartphone, a group talking in the bushland, and a close view of a male looking at a tree trunk]

It needs to be able to take all of those different types of knowledge, data, and understandings about koalas and pull them together in meaningful ways, 

[Images move through of a male and Cathy looking at a notepad together as they walk in the bushland, Andrew talking to the camera, and a map of Australia with the koalas range highlighted]

to really tell the story of the koala right across their range, everywhere from northern Australia, right through down to South Australia.

[Image changes to show William Taylor and Cathy talking together, and text appears: William Taylor, Senior QMDCL Ranger]

William Taylor: It’s really important that we get as much knowledge as we can about koalas. 

[Images move through to show a view looking up into a gum tree, a rear view of a group walking through the bush, William talking and Cathy listening, and the group in the bushland again]

We like to keep our Dreamtime stories live and if we’re finding them, it makes everybody feel good.

[Image changes to show Dr Fiona Fraser talking to the camera, and text appears: Dr Fiona Fraser, Threatened Species Commissioner]

Dr Fiona Fraser: Solid science is one of the key ingredients for threatened species conservation, through using the best available techniques, and high quality data, through this truly national programme, we will be able to better protect and conserve this iconic animal for generations to come.

[Image changes to show the Hon Tanya Plibersek talking to the camera, and text appears: The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, Minister for the Environment and Water]

Hon Tanya Plibersek MP: Placing science at the heart of koala conservation is how we maximise the chances of success. Koalas are an iconic Australian animal. We’re taking real action to protect them. Our Government’s $10 million investment in the National Koala Monitoring Programme helps us do just that. It focuses our effort where it will have the biggest benefit.

[Music plays and the image changes to show a white screen, and text appears: CSIRO, Australia’s National Science Agency]

[Image changes to show a black screen, and text appears: We would like to acknowledge all the scientists, citizen scientists, First Nations groups, and community members who are involved in koala monitoring and care, A special thanks to Queensland Murray Darling Catchment Ltd rangers and Millmerran Landcare for being part of this film, For more details about the National Koala Monitoring Program visit]

[Image changes to show the Coat of Arms, and text appears: Australian Government, Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water]

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The Australian Government has funded the development of a $10 million National Koala Monitoring Program (NKMP). 

The program aims to fill knowledge gaps for future Koala recovery and management efforts.

CSIRO is leading the co-design of the four-year program and facilitating the roll out of NKMP with the broader Australian community. The key objectives of this monitoring program are:

  • Inclusive – to enable all members of the Australian community to contribute to this national koala monitoring effort
  • Long-term – to build individual and collaborative capacity to collect robust data that can be used for evidence-based decision-making
  • Integrative - to build best-practice methods and data management systems to integrate available and new data to provide local and national insights into koala population status and trends

Resilient monitoring design for robust insights

We are gathering the most robust data

CSIRO is creating the science needed to enable the NKMP to be built upon a robust technical backbone which ensures we provide the best available insights of koala population status and trend.

To do this, we are building on the latest science of monitoring design and analysis to integrate multiple different sources of data and knowledge so that we can make this variety of different information useful and easy to use.

The NKMP will enable all community members to contribute information in ways that suit the local contexts through which they are observing koalas.

Check out the latest koala population estimates and how you can participate in counting our furry friends at National Koala Monitoring Program updates

Partnerships and koala survey methods

Collaboration is key to this program.

CSIRO is collaborating with local community groups, First Nations people and experienced koala scientists – to ensure that the NKMP is built and owned by the whole community.

Our approach is to provide the support and science which empowers citizens to monitor koalas in their local areas, and the technological and methodological advances which enable us to integrate these data into a nationally consistent picture of the koala’s population.

Over the next few years, the NKMP will be implemented across the entire species range to evaluate nationally significant issues related to the listed and non-listed koala populations. As part of this effort the NKMP team will:

  • Work with researchers, agencies, First Nation groups and citizen scientists to provide trusted evidence about koala population size, status and trends.
  • Trial innovative koala monitoring methods and /or partnership to showcase how the NKMP can be this supported by the right technology and decision-support tools through trusted two-way knowledge sharing to deliver more efficient and effective monitoring outcomes.
  • Focus on collecting, synthesising and helping to communicate credible and useful data to improve understanding of the koala across its entire range.

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