Clever Drones Are Sweeping Treetops Looking For Koalas

It's the latest line of conservation for a species on the brink.

19/10/2016 10:28 AM AEDT | Updated 19/10/2016 1:19 PM AEDT
J & C Sohns
Koalas can be shy, and tend to hide.

Koalas are notoriously shy, sleepy creatures that can hide in treetops for days at a time.

Yet as their population dwindles, councils and researchers are looking to know more about these reclusive, fluffy guys.

So fleets of drones are being sent into the skies to better understand their population numbers and movements.

Using thermal imaging, artificial intelligence and high-res photography, the Queensland University of Technology-made drones are scanning bushland in Logan, Gold Coast and Tweed council areas.

It's the same university that's currently developing an underwater bot to scan the reef for harmful crown-of-thorn sea stars while drones are also being used off South Australia to watch southern right whales nurturing their young.

Anthony Weate / QUT
Project leader Associate Professor Felipe Gonzalez looking for koalas the old fashioned way.

QUT aerospace engineer Felipe Gonzalez said a drone could search an area in 30 minutes that would have previously taken a group more than two hours to complete on foot.

"We've found thermal imaging can detect even well-camouflaged koalas effectively and our counting and tracking algorithms can allow us to differentiate the shape of a koala from a possum, bird or other animal," Gonzalez said.

Tweed Council Mayor Katie Milne said it was about preserving the species.

"We know our koalas are on the brink of extinction but we don't know exactly how close," Milne said.

"Our residents are determined to maintain our coastal koala population.

"An all-out, full-on, last-ditch effort is needed with the whole community, developers and government if we are to succeed."

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