15 November 2018

Koalas are one of Australia's most iconic and loved animals but sadly, being iconic isn't enough to save them from the threat of extinction.

Over the past 2 years, tree-clearing has killed an estimated 179 koalas in southeast Queensland, with numbers declining by a whopping 80%. In New South Wales, the numbers are very similar.

In an effort to save and protect these vulnerable wildlife, QUT researchers have partnered with the State Government in a high tech effort to help make better decisions on which areas need greater protection.

The two-year project, led by Dr Grant Hamilton from QUT’s Science and Engineering Faculty, will use drones and high-resolution thermal imagery to get robust estimates of koala populations to inform effective conservation decisions.  

Dr Hamilton said drone technology would provide a cheaper and more accurate survey method than what is currently available for detecting koalas and estimating their numbers.

“The primary emphasis of this project is on conservation of koalas, and we are using drones and automated imaging technology as tools to assist,” he said.

“Understanding the abundance of a species in an area is fundamental to the management of that species – and the more regularly and accurately you can monitor the health of the population, the better.”

The project is a world-first in developing a robust methodology to use drones to estimate wildlife numbers, accounting for errors in detection in complex envrionments. Researchers expect that the methods could be refined to protect other vulnerable wildlife as well.

“We need to develop this technology further but our aim is to be able to go out with a drone to a particular site, get the data and have that information within an hour.”

“The aim is to develop a methodology to help many threatened species, not just one,” Dr Hamilton said.

So far, trials have been flown in Petrie, northern New South Wales, and sites across Brisbane, with almost 100% accuracy in detection. The next stage of the project requires more research funding to helps with the costs of further testing and mapping, and to purchase additional drones to cover more ground.

QUT Science and Engineering Faculty

The QUT Science and Engineering Faculty is changing the world through education and research. Together, our researchers are solving some of the world’s most critical issues through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

With 6 schools and 23 disciplines, the QUT Science and Engineering Faculty is one of the largest university faculties anywhere in Australia. The faculty drives change through highly valued learning experiences, new research at the frontiers of STEM knowledge, and innovative solutions with real-world impact.  

Help our researchers continue this valuable work by making a gift to Save the Koalas today.

QUT's Dr Sandra Johnson and Dr Grant Hamilton with one of the koala-detecting drones.