Koalas and their homes are in desperate need of protection. A fundamental part of managing any species is knowing how many there are and where they are located. Doing so efficiently plays a significant role in how much of a positive impact humans can have on endangered animals such as koalas. The key is making conservation cost-effective.
Unfortunately, koalas are facing a dire outlook, with populations declining up to 80% in certain areas due to causes such as human development, droughts, and fires, as recently witnessed in Australia. All these elements play a large part in the decline of the environment. Habitat loss is a leading factor in koalas being unable to access proper living areas and necessary resources. The first step to help manage koalas and combat habitat loss is to count them.
At the forefront of koala research and conservation is Dr. Grant Hamilton, a professor at the Queensland University of Technology. He and his team have developed a leading methodology for detecting and counting koalas by combining drone use with AI, providing much more accurate data.
Using drones to find and count koalas from the air is much more effective than walking through a forest and counting them one by one. In the past, even the most determined person could only cover a couple of hectares in one day. While concentrating on movement and objects on the ground, a person is much less likely to spot an animal that has evolved not to be seen. Because koalas are much harder to see from the ground, the aerial advantage is exceedingly helpful.
Koalas live in trees, which create a thick canopy of leaves, often making them harder to spot. Drones provide Dr. Hamilton and his team a unique platform for detection by utilizing an aerial point of view and infrared cameras to detect heat signatures. Once the koalas are located, AI machine learning algorithms can confirm how many there are in a given area. The result is data that is a lot more reliable.
However, just having the numbers may not be much help. Once the data has been compiled, Dr. Hamilton and his team analyze it to determine important trends, such as the growth in population of koalas in a given area. They can extract trends from accurate data, and then plans for aid can be made accordingly. The key is acquiring accurate, reliable numbers, quickly and efficiently.
Today, thanks to drones and other new technologies, 50 hectares can be covered autonomously in just a few hours. Researchers can map out the route the drone will take and monitor the live feed. The entire process of detecting and counting the species now takes a fraction of the time.
In the end, it is about more than just counting koalas. For koalas to thrive, their habitat needs to be protected. As the human footprint expands, the less habitat there will be for other animals. Drones and other technologies simplify the objectives that need to be achieved, making necessary work a lot faster, and much more efficient.
Saving koalas and other endangered species require quick and decisive action to prevent further decline of populations and habitat. Technology such as DJI drones will play an increasingly important role in how we go about preserving endangered species around the world.
The bushfires of 2019-2020 have further reduced koala populations across Australia, making the need to preserve this species all the more pressing. QUT is collaborating with WIRES Wildlife Rescue and the Little Ripper group, analyzing data for automated detection of koalas over large tracts of bushfire affected areas.
To contribute to these efforts, please follow the link below. All funds donated will go towards rapid and long-term monitoring of endangered animals to enable sustainable recovery.
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