Tech and tradition helping island’s koalas survive fire

Indigenous rangers are working to protect a Queensland island’s koalas from fire, one of the biggest threats facing the marsupial residents.

Koala populations on Minjerribah, or North Stradbroke Island, are the only naturally occurring island koalas in Australia.

They have low levels of chlamydia, a disease which has devastated mainland koala populations.

Rangers from Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation are using drones to locate koalas, ahead of any planned cultural burns, hoping to protect Minjerribah’s marsupial population.

The drone uses thermal imaging to detect hot spots in the trees that the pilot can then zoom in on, keeping enough distance to leave the creature in peace while determining whether it’s a koala.

“We’re fireproofing the island so that when we do our cultural burns or when there is wildfires we can better manage where the koalas are located and help them be more protected,” the Aboriginal corporation’s senior drone operator Kiah Morgan told AAP.

A Quandamooka woman, Ms Morgan said it was important to be able to protect her country and its native wildlife while taking part in cultural burning practices.

“It’s really special … I can be out on Country and assist with the burns and looking after the environment and the native animals,” she said

Rangers can take precautions such as watering down the vegetation around koala-occupied trees, or having a water-bomber aircraft on standby in areas where there are known populations of the marsupial.

With a drone able to cover up to 50 hectares per hour, they make finding the koalas much easier and faster than a ground search, and can improve accuracy.

The blending of cultural knowledge and modern technology is important in protecting and revitalising the island’s wildlife, the corporation’s chief drone pilot Ryan Kucirek.

“To me combining cultural fire and koala drone surveys is everything,” he said.

“It enables the best protection for our wildlife. And the burns bring life back into the ground.”

The $600,000 ‘fireproofing koalas’ project is a collaboration between the conservation group WWF-Australia, Danish not-for-profit Qato Foundation and the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee corporation.

It’s an exciting project to be part of for Djarra Delaney, a Quandamooka traditional owner who is WWF-Australia’s Indigenous land management specialist.

“We want to see traditional knowledge being used to care for koalas while bringing in cutting edge technology to assist,” he said.

“Koalas are a special animal for Quandamooka people. We have a custodial responsibility to make sure they’re happy, healthy and thriving.”


Keira Jenkins
(Australian Associated Press)


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