Aussies are being called on to help protect their local koalas by taking part in a national survey of the unique marsupial from 7–22 November.
The annual Koala Count, run by the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) with support from WWF-Australia, employs a free, GPS-enabled smartphone app, NatureMapr, to record sightings. It is the only nationwide survey of the declining species.
“Koalas need our help. Populations are declining at an alarming rate due to habitat loss and fragmentation, slumping by 40% in Queensland and by a third in NSW in just two decades,” says Dr Helen Smith, NPA’s Koala Count Coordinator.
“We developed the Koala Count to enable anyone who wants to help koalas to join other people across Australia in collecting valuable data that will be used to protect our iconic marsupial.”
“Despite koalas being such a well-known and loved species, we don’t know with absolute certainty how many remain. Our annual survey helps to identify where koalas are, what is happening to their numbers and how populations are doing year on year. With this knowledge in hand, we can take steps to help them,” says Dr Smith.
“You don’t need any special skills or expertise to take part in the Koala Count. Anyone with access to the internet or a smartphone can join. Count every day, or on just a single day – even one survey provides valuable data.”
WWF-Australia National Species Manager, Darren Grover, says people who participate in the Koala Count are contributing to efforts to save a uniquely Australian animal.
“Our much adored koalas are in trouble. As habitat shrinks they struggle for territory, and they’re also more exposed to threats like dogs and passing cars. These stresses mount up making koalas more susceptible to disease,” Mr Grover says.
“If we can protect existing habitat, and reconnect fragmented pockets of bushland, koalas stand a chance. To achieve that we need solid population information to put in front of governments and policy makers. That’s why surveys like the Koala Count, and the people who take part, are so important,” he says.
Participants are encouraged to record both the presence and absence of koalas in their local area.
“Absence data is as valuable as actual sightings as this helps to develop a more comprehensive picture of where koalas are and where they are not,” says Dr Smith.
As with previous counts, all of the records collected will be added to the publicly accessible Atlas of Living Australia, where they are then readily available for anyone who needs them. Data from previous counts has been used to help inform koala management strategies and to plan conservation projects.
To take part, people can register online at http://koalacount.org.au or via the NatureMapr app, which is available for both Apple and Android users. People who do not own a smartphone can enter their sightings directly onto the website.
“The more people who participate, the better the survey will be. It’s easy, it’s fun and best of all, you are helping to make a real difference for our national icon,” says Dr Smith.