Koala in tree © Shutterstock / Yatra / WWF

Koala in tree © Shutterstock / Yatra / WWF

How do you find a koala that leaves no trail? Answer revealed on Scat Chat with WWF

29 Aug 2022

Keywords
  • forests
  • koalas
  • threatened species
  • Regenerate Australia
Scat Chat with WWF-Australia, hosted by me, Carlo Ritchie. Every episode of Scat Chat with WWF I get to the bottom of all the things that animal scat - or poo - can teach us about the animals that made it. Listen now for free at wwf.org.au/scatchat.

Scat Chat body image

On the first episode of the new podcast, Scat Chat with WWF, I caught up with WWF-Australia’s Landscape Restoration Project Manager, Tanya Pritchard, to learn more about koalas, the only way I know how, through the power of scat.

 

“Hard on the outside, usually a dark colour, a dark brown or dark grey, occasionally with a little bit of yellow, and a slight ridge. Sort of cylindrical in shape like a chocolate bullet.”

 

You guessed it, we’re talking koala poo! Scat is a word scientists and WWF conservationists use when talking about the poo of wild animals.

 

According to Tanya, “There's a lot you can tell from a single scat; what [a koala has] been eating, whether it has disease, where they are in the landscape and also whether it's male or female or whether it has a joey. And all those things provide us with vital information for how we can best protect them.”

 

Koala scat is more than just excrement, it’s an extremely useful tool in conservation work. Aside from providing valuable information about the owner of the scat, it also helps conservationists locate koalas in crisis situations.

 

The catastrophic bushfires of 2019-20 devastated over a third of Australia’s bushland and impacted over 60,000 koalas. One way to find koalas after an emergency is to use koala detection dogs, specially trained to sniff out koala poo, to search for survivors. This technique increases search efficiency by 372% and was no doubt an enjoyable task for the dogs thanks to the fact that they get to play with their favourite toy after each scat find as a reward.

 

The koala sure is a fascinating creature with fascinating bowel movements to boot. Sleeping for 18-21 hours a day, koalas eat less than 50 of more than 700 different types of eucalyptus leaves and have a gut biome more complex than a cryptic crossword written on the side of a Rubik’s Cube. This complicated biome, along with the caecum, a special fibre-digesting organ, helps koalas digest eucalyptus leaves, which are toxic to most other animals. This gives them an evolutionary advantage where they don’t need to compete with many other animals for food.

 

Koala mothers help their young develop this incredible gut biome by feeding them a special form of their own poo, called ‘pap’. Isn’t nature great? Also, koala scat is regarded in many scat--circles, as the nicest smelling scat in the world. The potpourri of poop.

 

Maya, the koala detection dog ©Veronica Joseph / WWF-Australia

 

But it’s not all fragrant faeces and perfumed poo on Scat Chat with WWF. In my chat with Tanya, we also talked about the more serious threats facing the koala, how scat could help us save them from extinction, what WWF-Australia is doing, and what you (and everyone) can do to get involved.

 

Australia might have a diverse ecosystem of unique plants and animals, with the koala perhaps our most iconic of them all, but in February 2022 east coast koalas were uplisted to Endangered, which means these koalas are in danger of full-blown extinction.

 

According to Tanya, “Koala populations have been declining since Australia’s colonisation. There were over 8 million koalas across the continent. Then, in the early nineteen hundreds, millions were killed for their fur. Since that time, through a combination of habitat destruction, drought, fires, dogs, cars and disease, their numbers have continued to decline. In the last 20 years, we've seen numbers halve again to the point now where we think there may only be a hundred thousand koalas left.”

 

Koalas have a tragic past, but WWF-Australia is hopeful for a brighter future. With innovative projects like drone seeding, detection dogs, breakthroughs in medical treatment for Chlamydia and koala corridors, they hope to turn the tide on this extinction crisis.

 

“WWF-Australia has an amazing and ambitious program called Regenerate Australia,” says Tanya. “It's basically a movement that everyone in Australia can join to help us restore this amazing country, not just for koalas, but for us as well.”

 

Whether it’s planting ‘koala caviar’ trees like blue gums to provide food and habitat for koalas, bolstering the capacity of wildlife hospitals in priority areas, or working with landholders to protect and restore koala habitat on private land, there is a whole raft of initiatives underway.

 

Koala scat found by Maya the koala detection dog on the Sunshine Coast, QLD © WWF-Australia / Madeleine Smitham

 

WWF-Australia, in partnership with Currumbin Wildlife Hospital and Tweed Shire Council, is working to roll out Chlamydia vaccinations for koalas (pause for science fact: the strain of Chlamydia that koalas catch is not the same strain of Chlamydia that affects humans).

WWF-Australia is also advocating for stronger laws and protections for koalas and the places they call home. The primary aim is to double the koala population by 2050, and by virtue of that, the amount of koala scat.

 

From dung-smelling dogs, cutting-edge drones and breakthrough vaccinations, Episode 1 of Scat Chat with WWF is live now. So, why not give it a listen, hear what Tanya has to say and dive head first into the world of scat, with me, Carlo Ritchie, as I seek to discover the secrets that scat keeps.

 

Listen now on your favourite podcast platform!

 

Listen on Apple Podcast  Listen on Spotify  Listen on Google podcasts

  

Or watch the episodes on YouTube.
Looking for a way to get involved to help koalas?
  • Find out if koalas live in your backyard and how you can help them thrive again with the new My Backyard tool from WWF-Australia.
  • Adopt a koala today and support the work of WWF-Australia to double the number of koalas on the east coast.
  • Join a tree planting program to help plant koala habitat and essential koala corridors.
  • If you live in an area with koalas, get the training you’ll need to be a koala accountant – which is exactly as cute as it sounds.
  • And make sure to sign up to Regenerate Australia for more ways to help.

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