The new app allows people to spot koalas with their phones

The new app allows people to spot koalas with their phones

Scientists believe there may be as many as 600 koalas living in Belair National Park near Adelaide, Australia, and soon visitors to the park will be able to spot some of them with just their phones.

Flinders University researchers are using a new type of solar-powered Bluetooth ear tag – designed by Dr Romane Cristescu and colleagues at the University of the Sunshine Coast – to locate, track and monitor up to 200 koalas in the park.

Developed by the CSIRO and the National Koala Monitoring Program (NKMP), the app is currently being tested with researchers. It allows people to recognize earmarks to learn important information about the individual they have encountered, while helping to provide essential data for koala demographic studies.

Universe Journalist Imma Perfetto traveled to Belair National Park with Flinders researchers Professor Karen Burke Da Silva and Dr Julian Beaman to learn more about the technology and the benefits of involving citizen scientists in koala research.

Read more: South Australia’s koala comeback: what they have to say about helping their threatened northern counterparts.

Development of solar-powered Bluetooth ear tags

The process of developing new, innovative ear tags was iterative, Cristescu said Universeand they are currently working on the fifth version of the technology.

“We started with an idea. They then assembled different parts and glued them to the koala’s ear tag – which the koala quickly glued off,” he says.

“We had several cast versions that were still not koala-proof (they tore off our antenna). The current version is 3D printed and works best so far.”

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Since the tags are solar powered, there is no need to replace them when they run out.

“We tested the tag and found it works even in cloudy weather… But it gets complicated when the koala is sleeping in a ball and the tag is hidden in fur,” says Cristescu.

The tags send a Bluetooth packet with information about the koala when it accumulates enough solar energy. According to Cristescu, the signal was chosen because almost everyone has already invested in a receiver.

“With the addition of Bluetooth capability, we can now not only identify the koala, but use an app to link all of its previous records and history,” he says.

“For the user of the app, this means you get all the gossip about the koala.”

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