Domestic pets can be koalas’ most deadly enemies – but two spaniels trained to track them are amongst their best friends, as Myall Coast environmentalists discovered.
The two detection dogs are helping with research into koalas and - together with their trainers - gave members of the Myall Koala Environment Group a demonstration of their detective skills.
Nine members and guests met the English springer spaniels Taz and Nutmeg at The Anchorage in Winda Woppa in February 2017.
Olivia Woosnam and Alex Dudkowski demonstrated their dogs’ skills in locating koala droppings (scats) that are hard and dry with a shiny coat if fresh and look like olive stones. The outer part of the scat holds DNA, so researchers at Queensland University can diagnose diseases such as chlamydia and also zero in on a koala’s preferred tree species.
The scat findings are the best indicator of an animal's whereabouts and can indicate the size of a koala population.
A koala may pass 150 scats a day, but they are small and difficult for humans to find, often hidden in grass or leaves.
The bush litter, the age of the scats, extreme weather conditions, noise, other domestic dogs or even a recent fire are not a problem for the dogs’ detective work.
Olivia and Alex own and operate OWAD Environment, a specialist consultancy involved in many ecologically projects including koala surveys.
Olivia is a Certified Environmental Practitioner (CEnvP), a koala conservation specialist and a detecting dog handler. Alex is also a CEnvP who specialises in assessing and treating contaminated soil and groundwater.
They are the only CEnvP accredited professionals conducting surveys with conservation dogs.
Five-year-old Taz not only tracks koalas but also spotted-tail, eastern and northern quolls.
Nutmeg has almost finished her training. A new project to train twelve dogs and their trainers to become wildlife friendly will be starting soon in Port Macquarie.
The trainers will then train more trainers and dogs.
Olivia and Rex explained how the dogs are also trained to avoid snakes and dog bait, a very important skill as the dogs are working in the bush, often travelling with their trainers up to 30km a day doing their detective work.
More information can be found at: http://www.owad.com.au/21/koala-detection-dogs
Adrienne Ingram. Myall Koala and Environment Group