Infrared drone technology providing assistance to bushfire-hit koalas in Australia

SYDNEY, March 2 (Xinhua/APP): Highly specialized drone technology has been brought in on an Australian island to assist starving koalas in the aftermath of the recent bushfire crisis.

Once a home to over 50,000 koalas, it’s now estimated there are only 10,000 left on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, after wildfires tore through around 2,100 square kilometres of vegetation in January.

But while the flames are now extinguished, animal welfare groups are warning that one of Australia’s most beloved creatures is now facing a new threat.

“In the early stages of the search and rescue operation what we were finding was a lot of burnt and injured koalas that had to be taken in for veterinary care,” Head of Campaigns at Humane Society International Australia, Nicola Beynon, told Xinhua on Monday.

“Now we’re finding not so many burn victims, but more koalas that are starving in these burnt out plantations on Kangaroo Island.”

“There is absolutely no foliage left. It has all been burnt, so there’s no food source for the koalas.”

With time quickly running out, the Humane Society has looked to new technology for answers.

“This is the first time anyone has used the combination of high-tech infrared with spot lights and a 180X zoom lens camera to search and rescue for wildlife,” infrared drone pilot Douglas Thron explained.

“It is working so well we can see it will be a game changer enabling us to quickly locate and save animals.”

“Time is precious for these animals as they frequently die before they can be reached. Uptake of this technology can shave off countless hours of searching on the ground.”

Able to hover far above the trees where it does not disturb the animal, when a koala is located by the drone a ground team is then immediately sent in.

“We have a number of options depending on where in the tree it is,” Beynon said.

“If the koala is high up in the tree, we will mark it and start to build a humane trap.”

“This is an enclosure around the base of the tree in which we put water and nice fresh blue gum leaves.”

“We leave that overnight and when the koala comes down to get the gum leaves, the enclosure keeps it contained and in the morning we then take the koala into the vet station,” she added.

If the koala is more accessible and lower down the tree, an arborist is called in to swiftly retrieve the animal and offer it assistance.

“Deploying this technology is making rescue efforts much more efficient as we can quickly identify koala hot-spots and map these areas to help all the rescuers rapidly reach animals most in need,” Beynon said.

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