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 a gum trees, they can easily go unnoticed from the ground.
That means our knowledge (including technical, citizen and First Nation knowledge) about koala populations is also patchy. This makes it difficult to estimate the current and changing status of koala populations in different regions, and across Australia.
There are community and state run monitoring programs helping to address this challenge. But these programs only capture a portion of the koala's range, which means we don't have all the information needed to develop a nationally consistent picture of the protected species.
Empowering communities to participate in the National Koala Monitoring Program
The Australian Government has funded the development of a coordinated National Koala Monitoring Program (NKMP).
CSIRO is leading the co-design and facilitating the roll out of NKMP with the broader koala conservation community. The key objective of the monitoring program is to connect with, and build upon existing koala monitoring efforts and implement a long-lasting program.
The program will assess and respond to changes in koala population size, health and condition across their distribution. Over time, these data will be used to support local, regional and national koala management and habitat conservation efforts.
Collaboration is key to success of the National Koala Monitoring Program.
Three case studies of collaboration
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.
Examples of partnerships through the National Koala Monitoring Program include:
1. Filling in the gaps in knowledge about Guda (Koalas) with Queensland Murray-Darling Catchments Aboriginal Rangers
The Queensland Murray Darling Basin is a region in the koala species’ range where there are gaps in our knowledge about koala populations. This large catchment contains four major river systems feeding into the Darling River and is an area that is largely an agricultural zone interspersed with numerous conservation areas. Kamilaroi / Gamilaraay people are keen to work with partners to find and learn more about Koalas (Guda) in this region
Finding and sharing knowledge about Koalas
The QMDCL Aboriginal rangers are working with CSIRO to develop cross-cultural monitoring methods to find and share information about koala population status and trends. This includes supporting QMDCL to collect koala data using structured survey techniques, such as on-ground transects and drone surveys. We are also co-designing a dashboard which allows koala data to be appropriately used and shared for Guda and country.
2. Using and comparing mixed methods to monitor Koalas within Redland City Council
Like many urban areas, koalas in the Redland City Council area face many threats including habitat fragmentation, urban development, and dog attacks. The Redland City Council has initiated a range of innovative partnerships that allow koalas to be monitored using mixed methods, providing accurate information about koala populations and ensuring that residents are engaged and have access to the latest information about koalas in their local communities.
Using and comparing mixed Koala monitoring methods
The Redland City Council are working with CSIRO and University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) to compare the benefits of using multiple methods to find and share information about Koala population status and trends in this South-east Queensland urban areas. This will be supported by Council-run community awareness programs to encourage residents to create ‘Koala-safe’ backyards and urban areas.
Data collected using USC's Bluetooth technology will be introduced to track sick or injured animals that are rehabilitated in the wildlife hospital or found using detection dogs or thermal imaging drones. This information will be added to the koala citizen science sightings collected through the Koala Watch Atlas of Living Australia program to encourage community-led engagement, environmental and education programs.
3. Practical ways to support rural landholders to monitor Koalas in the Gympie region
Gympie region, in Queensland’s Wide Bay-Burnett region, is home to widespread active koala populations. This region is experiencing significant growth accompanied by land-use changes, which in turn are impacting on koalas and their habitat.
Since 2015, a concerted local community conservation effort has gone into encouraging residents to report koala sightings, to help build a picture of Koala population distribution and trends in the region.
CSIRO has partnered with the local conservation group, Koala Action Gympie Region Inc, to help extend koala monitoring options, efforts and activities, especially in agricultural areas across this large and largely rural region.
Community field days on local rural properties have helped demonstrate drone and on-ground survey methods to allow residents to monitor koala populations over time, through koala signs and sightings. The field days also allowed the community group to encourage residents to enter koala sightings using the Wildwatch Gympie interactive website hosted by the Gympie Regional Council.
National Koala Monitoring Program
The NKMP is supported by the Australian Government’s Bushfire Recovery for Wildlife and their Habitatprogram.