Nov. 18 - Australian ecologists have recruited teams of citizen-scientists to help count koalas in New South Wales and Queensland. The iconic marsupial is listed as vulnerable in both states, but through programmes like the Great Koala Count, the researchers hope to keep track of the animals so they can better protect them. Rob Muir reports.
The koala spends up to 20 hours of the day asleep. It's difficult to spot, although small teams of citizen volunteers in New South Wales and Queensland have been trying to do just that. They are part of a programme organised by the National Parks Association, to count koalas. SOUNDBITE (English) CITIZEN CENSUS-TAKER SAYING: "It's a bit like a bushwalk but with fluffy things as well. It's great." But the purpose of the census - called the Great Koala Count - is serious. The koala, one of Australia's best known animals, is in decline. Between 1990 and 2010, koala numbers in New South Wales and Queenland fell by 33 and 43 percent respectively according to government figures. Disease and expanding human populations are largely to blame, but drought and Australia's ferocious bush fires are also taking a toll. Scientists say expected higher temperatures and longer droughts in the years to come are likely to put the animals at even greater risk. ...so armed with cell phone cameras and a list of questions about the immediate environment, the citizen census-takers went about their work. Professor Robert Close from the University of Western Sydney was on hand to offer advice. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR ROBERT CLOSE - UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN SYDNEY, SAYING: "You look at tall trees, small trees, heavily foliated trees as well." The Great Koala Count was organised by ecologist Grainne Cleary of the National Parks Association. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. GRAINNE CLEARY, ECOLOGIST, NATIONAL PARKS ASSOCIATION, SAYING: "We're bringing koala conservation into the 21st century. We're using a smartphone ap, making it much easier for people to contribute." SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR ROBERT CLOSE - UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN SYDNEY, SAYING: "Koalas are perhaps our most well known animal and yet we don't know distribution and numbers. Distribution particularly, I think it's a requirement for any species." ..and for this paricular species, organisers say the census also raises public awareness that the iconic koala needs protection.