Flying high for koalas on Kangaroo Island

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koalas on Kangaroo Island
Professor Grant Hamilton. Photo courtesy of QUT

QUT researchers will apply their artificial intelligence (AI) system that uses drones and infrared imaging in a collaborative project to count Kangaroo Island’s surviving koala population after the recent devastating bushfires.

This innovative technology combination will scan the trees at night to identify their signature body heat across unburnt patches and known koala locations across Kangaroo Island. 

QUT ecologist Associate Professor Grant Hamilton leads the QUT team which developed the artificial intelligence that underpins the high-tech combination, which includes an algorithm that identifies koala heat signatures in the trees.

“The drones will fly approximately 30 metres above the tree canopy of known koala habitats on Kangaroo Island and use onboard thermal cameras to collect data on koalas,” Professor Hamilton said.

“The data can then be downloaded and analysed to provide an entire population count much more quickly than traditional ground surveys.

“Our research has shown this technology and method is a faster and more accurate way to count koalas and monitor population changes over time.”

The drone thermal surveys will be carried out by Airborne Data Acquisition and analysed by Professor Hamilton’s team.

Wildlife and Habitat Bushfire Recovery Taskforce chair Dr Felicity-Ann Lewis said before the bushfires about 50,000 koalas were estimated to live on Kangaroo Island, having grown from a population of 18 that were introduced to the island in the 1920s. 

“Earlier this year it was estimated that around 5000 to 10,000 koalas remain on Kangaroo Island and the new survey will now confirm the population number,” Dr Lewis said.

A final population count is expected later this month.

The original version of this story can be found on the QUT website.

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