The Moorabool Koala Count

Addressing knowledge gaps in our local Koala populations

The Koala is an Australian icon. In recent years they have become less common in the Moorabool region. Reports of Koalas are largely anecdotal, so the actual number of Koalas is unknown. This project aims to address these knowledge gaps by using new technologies, Traditional Owner knowledge as well as a community led citizen science bio-blitz. 

What will the project accomplish?

Instead of relying on one element to conduct our survey we are employing three focus areas. Including the use of new thermal drone and machine learning technology, Traditional Owner knowledge and cultural perspectives of Wadawurrung representatives, and the empowerment of citizen scientists to collect valuable on-ground data.

Upon the completion of the pilot project we hope to not only address knowledge gaps in local Koala populations, but also to lay the foundation for what monitoring programs can involve and achieve in the future. 

New technology

Working with the Queensland University of Technology, we will conduct infrared drone surveys on over 30ha in the Moorabool region.

These surveys are processed by machine learning technology which can accurately detect Koala’s. The combination of these technologies allows us to survey large areas in a small amount of time compared to traditional ground survey methods.

This will be the first time this technology will have been used in the Moorabool region.

Traditional Owner knowledge

Wadawurrung Traditional Owners have been engaged during the initial planning of this project, and have indicated they would like to be on country while the drone surveys are taking place. 

Having Wadawurrung representatives on country at the time of surveys will ensure that information collected is done so sensitively and keeping a cultural perspective in mind. 

Citizen science

A weeklong bio-blitz will also be run during the Koala count. Similar to the Australian bird count, but utilizing the free app iNaturalist. 

We are inviting individuals, community groups and Landcare groups to join us in collecting as much Koala information as possible to fill the knowledge gaps in our landscape. To participate in the collection of data for the project, you can download iNaturalist on your phone and join our project. 

At the end of the Koala count a community BBQ will be held at Bostock reservoir. We will be joined by Koala Clancy Foundation President Janine Duffy who will be discussing Koala conservation and ecology, and also CSIRO representatives to discuss the monitoring techniques employed in this project. 

Finishing the pilot program

The pilot program of the Moorabool Koala Count wrapped up at the beginning of March. 

In that time we received we received training from the CSIRO and conducted a number of transect monitoring surveys, completed a bio-blitz, and performed 30ha of thermal drone surveys just north of Gordon

Our bio-blitz was recorded using iNaturalist during the month of February in the Moorabool region. We recorded 18 Koala observations in February compared to just 12 observations in all of 2021! A terrific effort for all of the volunteers involved, who we wouldn’t been able to do this project without.

Our transect surveys and thermal drone surveys did not detect any Koalas. But this does not mean they were unsuccessful, collecting data on where Koalas aren’t is just as valuable of where they are. All of the information collected in this project contributes to addressing the knowledge gaps we have in our local Koala populations, and will lead to better management decisions being made in the future. 

Expanding the Koala Count

We have stayed in touch with the CSIRO and are looking to expand the program throughout the catchment area, and we are looking for partners to join us. What this would involve is receiving training on how to perform transect surveys and record information correctly, and being able to commit to performing a survey twice a year. 
The survey itself is only a 500m or so walk with a partner and recording information as you go. The survey area does not need to contain Koalas, information about where Koalas are not is just as valuable to have. It can be on public land, or your own backyard, every bit of information is valuable.