Big problems need big, exciting solutions. We want to Regenerate Australia at scale, and this means harnessing as much creativity as we can in order to tackle these complex problems.
As always, WWF-Australia can’t do it alone. We’re partnering alongside some amazing innovators to make our home a future-proofed haven for plants, wildlife and people! From poo-sniffing pooches to koala-spying drones and cooling sprinklers for bats, here are our top seven innovations to Regenerate Australia.
Release the hounds!
Or rather, release the English springer spaniels – like Taz and Missy, from OWAD Environment just some of the detection dogs helping with koala conservation and supported by furniture company Koala. The duo are responsible for detecting koalas, quolls and underground orchids, which helps the experts at OWAD Environment to assess threatened species for conservation projects.
English springer spaniels are particularly suited to conservation work due to their exceptionally high drive to work, trainability, gentle mouth grip and lack of interest in hunting. And to be able to do this important job, the pair had to first graduate from the Super Dog Program, also known as Early Neurological Stimulation. This program enhances their sense of smell as well as their cognitive and neurological capabilities. Basically, their superpower is being amazing at sniffing out koalas and their scats!
After the bushfires, Taz and Missy used these superpowers to detect koala presence in fire-affected landscapes. Using special detection dogs increased efficiency by 372%! In a 60km search area, Taz and Missy found ten living koalas as well as DNA profiles (via scat analysis) of another ten survivors.
Eye on Recovery
An ‘Eye on Recovery’ is a large-scale collaborative camera sensor project using innovative Google technology to measure the impact of the 2019-20 summer bushfires on Australian wildlife and help improve our management response to future fires in Australia.
Working with a network of local partners, more than 600 sensor cameras will be installed in Australian wildlife habitats ravaged by fire.
While setting up cameras in the wild isn’t new, with the support of Google.org WWF-Australia is using AI technology to dramatically increase how quickly we can process camera images. What once took humans weeks or months to sort through, can be carried out by Google AI technology in seconds.
WWF-Australia is also working with Conservation International to incorporate this AI technology into Wildlife Insights. It’s an image recognition platform that can be used to sort, analyse and share important wildlife data for conservation.
This technology will give us a chance to check in on fire-affected animal populations in a timely manner so that we can track species recovery and give the help that our native species require when they need it most.
Through our Eye on Recovery program, we’re currently keeping our eyes on the critically endangered Kangaroo Island dunnart and the brush-tailed rock wallaby.
Heat-activated cooling sprinklers
Faced with a continually warming climate, we needed a simple yet innovative way to protect some of our most vulnerable wildlife from the heat. So we thought to ourselves...when we were vulnerable little humans in the Aussie summer, how did we cool down? Sprinklers!
Alright, maybe it didn’t quite go like that. But the logic applies. For this project, we partnered with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and the City of Greater Bendigo to develop technologies to help flying fox populations survive the rapidly warming summers. Grey-headed flying foxes are a threatened species that cannot easily survive temperatures of 42 degrees or higher. So we supported the development of a remote-activated cooling system (it sounds more professional like that, huh!)
The system is triggered via an app, so when temperatures rise, a series of aerial sprinklers mounted in canopies release rain-like droplets. The system was tested over the summer of 2020-21, and the temperature in the localised area dropped by 2 degrees and allows the animals to rehydrate by licking the droplets from their own bodies. This brought it back to levels survivable for flying fox populations. As an added bonus the system helps to protect the park’s plants and trees too! The footage we captured of the trial shows the bats basking under the cool sprinklers, having a great time! The 2020-21 summer recorded zero flying fox deaths, compared to 220 deaths the previous summer. A win for the flying foxes, a win for the plants and ferns in the park and a win for any humans who enjoy the cool pockets these trees and ferns provide in the park.
Water for Wildlife
During the 2019-20 summer, WWF-Australia along with the Reece Group supported WIRES Water For Wildlife, Australia’s largest supplemental water program for native wildlife. Based on research conducted by the University of Sydney to innovate a way of ensuring wildlife had access to water in times of drought, bushfire and extreme weather conditions. The idea for TREE TROFF ® arboreal drinkers was born. It’s a play on the words ‘trough’ and ‘top’, geddit?! Like a tree-top-trough. Okay, you get it.
More than 800 of these drinkers have been installed on both public and private land throughout New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. This will help tree-dwelling animals stay hydrated in the case of future fire and drought.
So far, we’ve witnessed koalas, birds, possums, gliders and reptiles using the drinkers. This is because cameras have been installed to monitor the usage of the drinkers both by day and by night.
Down the track, we’ll be able to link Water for Wildlife with our Eye on Recovery project, allowing us to monitor the TREE TROFF®’s effectiveness in different climatic conditions. See them at work in our stunning new ad to help raise awareness of Regenerate Australia.
Tiny Solar Panels for koalas
One of the innovative projects we’re investing in to help in the event of future catastrophic fires is the Koala VHF Ear Tag project. The tiny trackers will allow rescuers to find and rescue koalas from the path of an oncoming fire.
Dr Romane Cristescu and her team at the University of the Sunshine Coast are planning to improve upon existing technology to create an incredibly light solar ear tag. Current tracking technology often relies on collars, which requires intensive and therefore costly monitoring.
The VHF (Very High Frequency) ear tag technology on the other hand would be light and, obviously, fitted in the ear, where koalas get tagged through wildlife hospital systems. The ear tag emits a signal allowing researchers or wildlife rescuers to find the koala if needed. Best of all, it would be powered by a tiny solar panel that should last the lifetime of the koala, meaning that once the tag has been fitted, the koala will not have to be captured and handled by humans for a battery change.
We’re so excited for the role the innovative Koala VHF Ear Tag project will play in protecting koala populations now and into the future.
Australia’s largest mobile wildlife hospital
To help get urgent and essential veterinary care to where it’s needed most we’ve worked with Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital Ltd to create Australia’s largest ever mobile wildlife hospital.
This innovative ‘vet-on-wheels’ can be on the ground wherever natural disasters strike. Using the facility’s high-quality equipment, vets can be on the scene to treat native animals in need, wherever they are.
Macquarie University wildlife researcher Dr Alexandra Carthey is currently trailing her brilliant invention, habitat pods! These clever flat-packed cardboard creations are designed to protect vulnerable wildlife in the aftermath of fires.
Australia’s small creatures find it particularly difficult to survive after fires because the open space of burnt areas makes them easy prey for invasive predators like foxes and cats. Habitat pods can be assembled to form tunnels between burnt areas and patches of unburnt bushland to ensure safe passage, and somewhere to hide.
Importantly, the cardboard pods will be coated in a natural wax to prevent them from breaking down too quickly, but still allow them to decompose after about a year. At this point, bush regrowth should be advanced enough to create natural hiding places for our wildlife.
These habitat pods will serve a dual purpose. At sites where it is appropriate to do so, additional native seeds can be embedded in the pods’ cardboard - enhancing vegetation regeneration further as the pods biodegrade.
Innovate with us
At WWF-Australia, we’ve been working to find long-term, innovative solutions and take action – but we can’t do it alone.
We believe everyone has a role to play over the coming decades as we work together to Regenerate Australia. It all makes a difference.
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