Aussie scientists use GPS tracking collars to save koala population

Updated 2017-02-27 16:28:46 Xinhua

Australian researchers have spent the last seven months tracking 20 koalas with GPS collars in the New South Wales Southern Highlands to ensure the survival of the beloved national animal.

The State government's Saving our Species conservation project examined over 450 surveys and sourced the help of the local council, the University of Sydney and the Office of Environment and Heritage to better understand how to protect koalas.

"This project will also pinpoint the bushland corridors that koalas use to move across the landscape, creating a map to help guide future conservation efforts," New South Wales, Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton announced Monday.

Rangers who specialize in threatened species catch the animal in a bag and researchers check the animal's health in a mobile lab.

If the animal has a disease, it will be taken to the koala hospital at the University of Sydney, before releasing it back into the wild.

If deemed healthy, the animal gets collared and primed for tracking.

With only 36,000 koalas estimated to be left in the state and 3,000 left in the Southern Highlands, the population has struggled in past decades.

In the first half of the century, koala populations were vast, however the fur trade and severe wildfires in 1939 dwindled numbers to a point where many people thought koalas in the Southern Highland region were completely extinct.

"Where we are, there are lots of canyons and deep, deep gullies. The wilderness is very rugged here and we believe what has happened is there may have been a few breeding pairs that survived because the fire didn't go right into the gully," Southern Highlands Koala Sanctuary community relations officer, Thelma Johnson told Xinhua.

"It may have taken decades for them to breed back and come back over the cliff."

"There is a lot of ethics involved, to tag any wild animal in Australia. There needs to be very in depth proof it will benefit the species and have very little impact on the individual koala," Johnson said.

"If the koala had a baby, it would not be tagged."

For seven months scientists would track the koalas by satellite, plotting their territory and travelling into the wilderness to take photos and check their health.

"There is a lot we need to know about such an iconic animal, it's really important for Australian scientists and wildlife ecologists," Johnson said.

"It is very important for government and future town planning because land clearing and traffic is their biggest threats, so we need the information to start planning better."

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