Un-bearlievable! Every Koala Nose is Different
Koala bears can be identified by their unique ‘noseprints’ – like a fingerprint – according to new research completed by an Australian company that takes tourists on walking tours.
After years of research, Echidna Walkabout, which is partnered with UK wildlife charity Care for the Wild’s RIGHT-tourism campaign for animal-friendly tourism, has released the results, which they hope will help save the koala from extinction in the wild.
Estimates suggest that there are between around 45,000 to 80,000 koalas left in the wild, putting them on the edge of being endangered. Habitat destruction, a chlamydia outbreak and bush fires have had a massive impact on the population.
Echidna’s Janine Duffy said: “A few years ago I was looking up at one koala thinking, ‘Gee, I wish I could tell you guys apart’ and I just looked at the nose. I ran back to the other koala I’d been with before and I looked through my binoculars and I thought ‘Oh my god! They’re all different.’ I knew this could be important because I’d found a way of learning about koalas without having to touch them.
“Up until then, koalas could only be monitored by catching them and releasing them with a GPS collar. They are animals that get stressed easily, and wild ones like to keep their distance from humans. Catching and dragging them out of a tree to do research can be very harsh.”
After the initial discovery, Janine and her team have recorded the nose patterns of 108 wild koalas over 16 years, and identified that not one has changed substantially in that time.
Their research has led to important discoveries about koala behaviour, and Janine believes it could play a major step in helping the species survive.
“I’d love to see a national online koala database, with tourists and locals contributing photographs to help identify koalas and track their movements and behaviour,” she said. “It’s part of my grand dream that every koala in Australia would be known. The people who sent these photos in would be invested in that particular koala, and that’s the kind of interest that actually makes a difference in terms of saving a species.”
Chris Pitt, Campaign Manager for Care for the Wild International, said: “This is an amazing and very important discovery. Any information that can help protect wildlife is vital, but the fact that this has come from a wildlife tour operator is inspiring.
“Through our RIGHT-tourism campaign we encourage tourists to enjoy wildlife without harming it – which they can often do without realising it. A crucial part of the puzzle is for tour operators to understand their impact on the wildlife they are helping people see, and to ensure they are following the best possible standards.
“Echidna Walkabout, who we have worked with for a couple of years now, not only understand and respect the animals they see, but have clearly gone a step further. This is a wonderful example of wildlife tourism benefitting not only the lucky people who get to see the koalas, but also the koalas themselves.”
Janine added: “As a wildlife tour operator, our world revolves around wild animals. They are our life, our business future, and our passion. Ensuring they have a future is our mission, and also makes good business sense. That’s why we are working with Care for the Wild and RIGHT-tourism. Respecting animals is the future, the only future.”
Find out more about Echidna Walkabout’s research.