Sniffing out Cooroy-to-Curra koalas

Media Release

DC189/2016

17 November 2016

Joint release with:

Mark Bailey

Queensland Minister for Main Roads, Road Safety and Ports

Ted O'Brien

Federal Member for Fairfax

Andrew Wallace

Federal Member for Fisher

  • Detection dog joins research team to better understand Koala behaviours
  • Research will help determine population density, disease presence and load, and genetic diversity to inform land offsets for future infrastructure projects
  • $6.7 billion in Australian Government funding and $1.8 billion in Queensland Government funding to upgrade the Bruce Highway between 2013–14 and 2022–23

Baxter the border collie will have a new home and role in life thanks to an innovative koala research programme funded by the Australian and Queensland Governments.

Federal Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Darren Chester said Baxter was part of a research team based at the University of the Sunshine Coast which would help shape the future design of environmental land offsets to counter-balance impacts of development on koala populations.

“Baxter will help the research team gather important information about koalas that can be used to help develop land offsets for infrastructure projects throughout Queensland,” Mr Chester said.

“His world class nose is going to be put to good use sniffing out koala scat to help complete research into selecting land offsets as part of the Section C project. The information will also be used to help develop land offsets for future infrastructure projects.”

Queensland Main Roads and Road Safety Minister Mark Bailey said the state government would use the research to improve the design of land offsets for future infrastructure projects.

“Transport and Main Roads has several research projects underway or recently completed in South East Queensland that focus on vulnerable species such as the koala,” Mr Bailey said.

“Findings will help design underpasses and barriers, to help prevent animal death and injury by vehicle strikes.”

Federal Member for Fairfax Ted O'Brien welcomed the four-year old border collie to the team.

“The research into koala populations is being conducted by a local team at the University of the Sunshine Coast and will be a valuable part of learning more about the species, their diet and habitat. The work being done here will be put to use on other large infrastructure projects for years to come,” Mr O'Brien said.

“The findings will also be published more broadly so anyone can use the research to help with their conservation efforts or mitigate impacts to koalas and other wildlife—including developers who can use it to design more successful offsets.”

Federal Member for Fisher Andrew Wallace said detection dogs were a non-invasive way to identify low-level populations of native wildlife.

“Baxter will be our ‘secret weapon’ when it comes to finding low-level wildlife populations in a non-invasive way. It is incredibly difficult to find the special type of dogs needed for this field of work, but by all accounts, the team have found a star in Baxter,” Mr Wallace said.

Geneticist and head of the Detection Dogs for Conservation team at USC Dr Celine Frere said dogs find koala scats more easily than humans and a lot of interesting information could be derived from them.

“In particular, we can determine the genetic fingerprint of koalas. This opens many doors in our understanding of koalas such as their health, the connectivity or fragmentation of the population and even their social structure,” Dr Frere said.

Ecologist and dog handler at USC Dr Romane Cristescu has been training with Baxter for several months.

“The dogs that can graduate as conservation dogs are one in a million. We need dogs that are totally obsessed by their toy—usually a tennis ball—that want to play all day, have very high energy and drive, but at the same time have a soft character and are 100 per cent safe around other animals. This is a very rare combination,” Dr Cristescu said.

The Australian Government has committed up to $307.4 million towards the $384.2 million Section C project, with the Queensland Government providing $76.8 million. The project is expected to be completed in mid-2018, weather permitting and more information about the research program is available at www.tmr.qld.gov.au/cooroytocurra.