Drones equipped with facial recognition technology will be used to count and identify South Australia's koala population thought decimated by recent bushfires.
Flinders University researchers will partner with the Koala Life charity and the state government to use the drones to study koalas on Kangaroo Island and in the Adelaide Hills, to get a better handle on population numbers and their movements.
"Traditionally, monitoring koala populations has involved capturing and individually marking koalas, a process that is both labour-intensive and poses potential welfare issues," Environment Minister David Speirs said.
"It is very important for us to develop non-invasive techniques to help monitor animals in a safe way, and facial recognition through drone monitoring is utilising the latest technology to achieve this.
"The ability to recognise individual members of a species in the wild will help to grow an understanding of individual movements as well as population estimates and this understanding will allow the development of meaningful management strategies."
Flinders University researcher Diane Colombelli-Negrel said koala behaviour and physiology would also be monitored during the research to test the impact of the drones and assess whether the koalas showed any signs of stress.
"Through this research, we'll be able to determine if this method really is low impact on koalas and whether it is suitable to use over the long-term into the future," she said.
"Koalas are declining in parts of Australia and while in South Australia numbers are pretty good, the recent fires have reduced the numbers dramatically."
Dr Colombelli-Negrel said it was important to understand how koala numbers were recovering after the fires which raged through both regions two summers ago, so researchers could work to reduce the impacts of events that affect their survival.
Australian Associated Press