March 18, 2024

Scent detection dog uncovers new evidence of little-known koala population in Coffs

Koala scent detection dog Max from Canines for Wildlife at work

A scent detection dog has been used to sniff out koalas on the Dorrigo Plateau, an area in which the iconic marsupial has until recently remained largely unstudied.

Max, an English springer spaniel and his handler from Canines for Wildlife, were recruited to do surveys on several private properties in Fernbrook.

The surveys were organised by the Jaliigirr Biodiversity Alliance with funding through GER’s partnership with WWF-Australia as part of a broader post-fire recovery effort to support koalas and other forest-dependent wildlife.

“We wanted to survey around Dorrigo because we believed that it could potentially be a hotspot for koalas. Most of the attention to date in terms of koala surveys has focused on the hinterland and coastal areas of Coffs. So, we know very little about what is happening with the koala population on the plateau, particularly since the 2019-2020 bushfires,” says Justin Couper, GER project lead from the Jaliigirr Biodiversity Alliance.

“We were excited to find a lot of koala activity and evidence of high occupation on the properties we surveyed. This demonstrates the good quality of the koala habitat up there and the healthy population size.”

Justin says that Fernbrook is a small part of three significant koala corridors in the region. It is believed that the Dorrigo plateau will become increasingly important for the species as climate change forces them to move to higher altitudes where temperatures are cooler.

The 70 scats collected by Max have been sent away for DNA testing.

“The samples will help us to ascertain the health and fitness of the koalas, their sex, and the potential population size. We will also be testing the level of stress hormones present in the scats which will tell us if the koalas are under stress, which in turn reduces their reproduction ability and success,” says Justin.

The results of the DNA testing will be released in a few months.

Many local organisations, researchers and government agencies have already expressed a keen interest in using the results. These include groups involved in the planned Great Koala National Park who will use it to better inform the management of Dorrigo where the western end of the park sits.

Additional funding is being sought to expand the surveys across the entire plateau.

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