Australia to count koalas with drone

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Drones aren’t just for making epic travel videos. According to The Independent, the Australian government will soon be using them to conduct a mass survey of the country’s koala population, amid fears that the species may be nearing extinction. It’s part of a larger project to protect Australia’s koalas from a variety of threats, including habitat destruction, climate change, disease, and getting hit by cars.

The government will use both heat-seeking drones and sniffer dogs to document the koala population, estimated to be around 329,000 in 2016. Since then, annual bushfires and habitat loss due to deforestation, urban development, and mining have severely reduced that number. Right now the Australian Koala Foundation suspects there could be fewer than 80,000 remaining, and possibly as few as 43,000.

Susan Ley, the Australian environment minister, said, “For all our focus on koalas, scientists are telling us that there is a serious lack of data about where populations actually are, how they are faring and the best ways to help them recover after the devastating bushfires.”

This population survey is intended to answer those questions.

A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that more than 60,000 koalas were killed, injured, or displaced in the 2020-2021 bushfires.

In the report, WWF-Australia chief executive Dermot O’Gorman said, “That [60,000 figure] is a devastating number for a species that was already sliding towards extinction in Eastern Australia. We cannot afford to lose koalas on our watch.”