Zack – wild koala of the month for October 2015

October #KoalaOfTheMonth is Zack!  Zack is very pugnacious and always a bit ahead of the game!!

wild koala Zack

Zack is a young fellow with a lot of guts. He is pushing into dominant male Anzac’s home range – which no-one else has dared to do for years.  We are all so impressed with his courage, but worried for him as well!

wild koala Zack

Zack was first seen in October 2013.  We see a lot of young males moving around in spring each year. Most appear briefly, then disappear again, but Zack stuck around.  We’ve been seeing him on an off now for two years. We hope he can find a little home of his own near us!

wild koala Zack

Zack has a distinct, and obvious, unique nose pattern. Can you see the bright white patches in his nostrils and how they are similar both sides, but not quite the same?
Once you know a koala by their nose you’ll rarely mistake their identity, even if other features change.

wild koala Zack

When we first met Zack he looked like a 3 or 4 year old – chubby small face, big eyes, dark grey fur.

wild koala Zack
Zack when we first met him, a 3 year old

Two years later, he is now a mature male and looks every bit of it – big, broad head, lighter dove grey fur, big shoulders.

wild koala Zack
Zack in 2015, a mature 5 year old

If you are planning a trip to Melbourne, Australia, book the Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD or 3 day Great Ocean Road tour for a chance to see Zack in person!

Watch out next Monday for November #koalaOfTheMonth Pat – mother of #KoalaClancy.

How to Identify Koalas by Their Nose Patterns

Koalas can be easily and non-intrusively identified by the natural black and white markings inside their nostrils. These markings, ‘the nose pattern’ appear to stay the same throughout life, so can be a useful and reliable identifying feature. Over a 16 year study, monitoring 108 individual koalas in three locations, no two koala nose patterns have ever been seen to be identical, and no nose pattern has been seen to change substantially.

Step 1. Take a photograph of a koala’s nose. The best identification photos are taken from front-on and slightly below the koala. The focus should be on the nostrils, in good light (not too much shadow or contrast) and as close-up as possible.

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Koala Truganina

Step 2. Look at the white/pale pattern inside and around the nostrils. This is the ‘target area’ where the nose pattern exists. See the area inside the pink outline in the image below. Markings outside of the target area can vary throughout the life of the koala, so should be noted, but should not be relied upon for identification.

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Koala Truganina nose pattern target area

Step 3. Compare the first koala (Truganina) to this koala below (Pat). Look just at the target area – can you see the differences?

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Koala Pat nose pattern target area

Below is a comparison of the two koalas nose pattern target areas rotated to the same angle. Truganina on the left has a lot more white in her nose pattern. The white extends outside the nostril area in a few places, with a messy outline. Her lips have a lot of white too. There are black spots in the white. Pat, on right, has a simpler nose pattern. The white is almost totally confined inside the nostrils.  The pattern has a scalloped edge.

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Nose Pattern target areas – left: Truganina right: Pat

Step 4. Record the pattern.  There are three ways you can record nose patterns. Use just one, or two in combination, whatever works for you.  We use all three methods in tandem, and it works well.

METHOD 1: File the photograph in a folder on your computer for quick reference in future. Compare each new koala photograph to the existing photographs until you achieve a match by eye. These two photographs below are of the same koala, Truganina, 5 years apart. Can you see the match? This method works if you can see the match easily, and if there’s not a lot of koalas to choose from. It will help if you file carefully, and keep a record of each koala seen (see Tips below on how to do this)

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Koala Truganina 2013
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Koala Truganina 2009

METHOD 2: Trace the nose pattern with tracing paper over a printed photograph. This method is perfectly valid, quick and easy especially if you’re not computer savvy, or don’t have a lot of time. Take a photocopy or scan of your diagram, keep it handy in a binder to check against future photographs of the same koala. We still use this method as it is the quickest and handiest way to keep up to date.

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Koala Truganina photo with tracing overlay
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Koala Truganina photo and overlay tracing diagram

METHOD 3: Use a computer graphics program. This method is useful if there are several people using the method on the same koalas, or if you are not confident of making the comparison by eye. Simple graphics programs will do the job. Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro are fine – use the layers tools.

Powerful programs like GIMP are good too. The image below shows three nose pattern diagrams, created with GIMP, of the same koala nearly 5 years apart. Yellow layer = December 2013, pink layer = December 2013, blue layer = February 2009.  The similarity is astounding, particularly considering that the the nose is a soft tissue that changes shape.

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Koala Truganina graphic diagram comparison over 5 years

TIPS:

  • It helps to come up with a photo file name protocol that you use the same way each time. You can name the image with the koalas name or number and date eg. K1female120515 (first female sighted on 12th May 2015).
  • If you regularly see koalas in a number of locations, it might be good to separate the nose pattern photographs from different locations, and by sex by folder. ie Nose Patterns – YouYangs – females.
  • Record keeping will help! Keep a record of when and where a koala was seen. You can do this in the image (EXIF) information on the photo, or in a simple (or detailed) datasheet – examples below:
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Basic koala observation datasheet
exampleComplexDatasheet
Detailed koala observation datasheet
  • Side-on photographs, or photos from extreme angles can distort a nose pattern. If possible, wait or move to get a front-on view.  This image below is Truganina again, but at an angle.  You can still see her distinctive nose pattern in her right nostril, but the left pattern is obscured.

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    Koala Truganina side on
  • Deep shadows under the nostril ridge, or strong light, can hide the nose pattern. Photograph with several different settings on your camera when light is strong.  In the beautiful photo below, Cloud’s nose pattern is almost completely lost in shadow. Brightening the image on a computer graphics program may reveal the pattern.
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Koala Cloud in strong shadow
  • Flaring and closing of the nostrils can appear to change a nose pattern, but in a predictable way. Look closely at the nostril shape in your photograph to determine whether the nostril is flared or closed.

This method was discovered in 1998 and documented by Janine Duffy, President of the (brand new!) Koala Clancy Foundation and founder of Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours. We have more details if you need them, or if you have tips or observations to add please contact janine@echidnawalkabout.com.au.  We will credit you!

Have you ever looked up a koala’s nose? Well, maybe you should!

Like whales, cheetahs, tigers and gorillas, koalas have individual distinguishing markings. Grab any postcard or Steve Parish wildlife calendar and have a good look at the koalas. They all have black noses. They all have some white/pink inside their nostrils – but hang on, that one looks different! You’ve got it. You’ve just seen your first koala nose pattern.

Image < Pat, see her nose pattern?

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t noticed it before. It took us a year of watching koalas to find it. Then it took about 8 years to be confident it didn’t change over a koala’s life.

Image < Raini, her nose pattern is quite different to Pat’s – white goes all the way to her lips

We first met Pat as a tiny joey clinging to her mother’s back. Frantically, we sketched her nose pattern and her mother’s before they looked away. Little did we know then that this mother-daughter pair were to become the most important koalas in our lives.

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< Pat’s mother Smoky

Pat is now 8 years old, a mother of 3 sons, and possibly a grandmother. All her sons have their nose patterns recorded, but in the way of male koalas, they have all left her and gone to live elsewhere. We keep their nose patterns on file, but with 1500 hectares of You Yangs Park to explore, there is little chance we will be lucky enough to find them again. We don’t tag or radio-collar the koalas, so we rely on finding and observing them to gain our information.

In the You Yangs we search two areas of roughly 1.5km x 1.5km each (about 200 hectares). In each area we have around +/-20 individuals we see regularly – some only twice a year, some up to 120 times a year. We estimate these two areas of the You Yangs currently have a density of 1 koala every 10 hectares.

Of Pat’s three sons, her first and third left her at around 12-13 months of age and have never been seen again. Her second son, Clancy, was different though – he stayed around Pat until he was 20 months old, and then a miracle happened! He moved into our second research area and set up home.

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<Pat with second son Clancy

Imagine our surprise as we stood looking at a ‘new’ small male koala, 2km from Clancy’s last known position, that seemed totally unconcerned by our presence. His nose pattern seemed familiar. It couldn’t be Clancy, could it? Cameras clicking madly, we checked and double-checked. He was the same size as Clancy. He had the same distinctive white spots on his back: 2 splashes on the right hip, one big one, one little one on the left. He ticked all the boxes. He was Clancy.

Image < Clancy, now at 4 years old

Clancy liked the new area, and set up home. He has grown, but his nose pattern hasn’t changed. He is now nearly 4 years old.

Back in Pat’s home, a dramatic event occurred at Christmas 2012. Pat’s mother, Smoky, died. The two females had shared a home range all their lives together, and had occasionally shared trees. On the day Smoky was found dead, Pat was only 20 metres away. Analysis of Smoky’s skull later found that she was over 15 years old.

Now 10 months after Smoky’s death, Pat is being seen less and less in her traditional home range. We don’t know why. Was proximity to her mother an important factor in Pat’s choice of home range? To complicate things further, Pat was recently seen in Clancy’s home range. What on earth would she need from him? And why, of all the 1500 hectares of You Yangs forest, would she show up 100metres from the baby who stayed with her nearly twice as long as her others?

These are just some of the fascinating outcomes we have had from an observational citizen-science research project. All because we looked up a koala’s nose and saw something exciting.

It remains to be seen whether Pat will visit Clancy again. We’ll keep you posted.

 

If you would like more information about koala nose pattern identification, please contact us at: janine@echidnawalkabout.com.au

Wild koala happenings over the last 15 years!

Few people look up noses for a living.  We do, and we’re proud of it!  Luckily, koala’s noses are much nicer to look at than some noses…

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wild male “Bear”

In the spring of 1998 I was walking along a gully looking for wild koalas for a group that were on their way to see them.  I had located a male, who I’d seen several times before.  At least, I think I’d seen him before – I really couldn’t be 100% sure.  He looked about the same size, was in roughly the same area.  But how to tell a big male koala from another big male koala?  They all look the same really.  Or do they?

So I studied this guy – grey fur, white belly, a bit brownish on the back – like every other koala I’d seen.  Not much help.  Look at the face, I thought.  Then suddenly I saw it.  White in the black nostrils.  Different pattern in each nostril.  Bingo.

Since then, we haven’t looked back.  Turns out, we discovered a new method of identifying wild koalas.  It has never failed us through whole lifetimes of koalas. Using it we set up our Koala Research Project.

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wild female Ingrid, a survivor

Scruffy, Russell Crowe, Ingrid, Poppy, Daisy and her sons Lacka and Rudi, Bear, Clarence, Santa Barbara, Jamie and Garry Plant became part of our world.  We learned so much from them.  Then, after 7 happy years watching koalas in the Brisbane Ranges National Park, everything changed.  A bushfire ripped through our koala area, killing 90% of them.  Jamie, Bear and Ingrid were the only survivors.

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Bear, back home

We had to find another area to visit for our tours, but we continued to monitor the Brisbane Ranges koalas for a year after the fire.  Ingrid and Jamie lived full, long lives in their original home areas, even though it was burnt badly.  Bear spent 3 weeks in hospital while his burnt feet healed, and was released back home, healthy and well.  After about 6 months he left and presumably found a new home.  He gave us an experience we had never dreamed of – close interaction with a wild koala during the capture and rehabilitation process.  He demonstrated to all that he knew us, partly by giving me a “koala kiss” on our first meeting after the traumatic capture.  He then gave us the best experience of all: to release a healthy wild koala back to their home.

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the matriarch: Smoky

Our new koala research area was in the You Yangs Park, about 20 minutes away from the Brisbane Ranges.  We found a thriving koala community there!  There was the royal line: Smoky and her daughter Pat, and grandsons Pitta, Clancy and Banjo.  There were the lovers: Karen and Merle; the battles: Vegemite vanquished Tim Tam, and then Anzac beat Vegemite; the movers: Vegemite, Vincent and Clancy, who all moved east to our new research area, and Nova, who moved west.

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The Princess: Pat, with second son Clancy

There has been drought, fire and flooding.  But through it all, our knowledge of wild koalas has grown, and our relationship with them has become stronger.  With the help of our guests, we are now creating koala habitat in the You Yangs so that more wild koalas can live in safety.

We hope we have lots more to report in coming years!

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wild male Buck

To those we have loved and lost, we thank you.  Here they are:

BRISBANE RANGES:

Scruffy, Russell Crowe, Tess, Placid, Fran, Poppy, Garry Plant, Santa Barbara, Clarence, Maria, Constantine, Ingrid, Canada, Georgia and Calusa.  Note: we don’t know if Ignatius, Rudi and Lacka were in the fire zone.  We hope they survived.  Daisy was found, alive and well, a few years ago with a baby!

YOU YANGS:

Grace, Boof, Calvin, Raini, Coal, Tim Tam, Xavier, Eureka, Emily, Mary, Svea, Karen, Zelda, Ngallo, Barak,  Billibellary, Buck, Neerer, Oatsie, Vegemite and just recently, Smoky.

To those still making our lives richer today:

Aki, Aris, Anzac, Arne, Bandit, Berrijin, Benbo, Bundjalung, Bungaleenee, Clancy, Cloud, Carninje, Corrin, Cruiz, Darren, Derrimut, Elizabeth, Emma, Fairy, Kenny,  Jin Jin, Mear, Moijerre, Marpeang, Nova, Pat, Truganina, Vincent, Wathaurong, Worinyaloke, Winberry,

and to those who’ve gone AWOL, may you be well:

Barere, Felicia, Leah, Kulpendurra, Nina,  Pitta, Banjo, Sophie, Geisha, Keyeet, Parley, Tollora, Wenn, Casa, Kolain, Murrumbean and Wonga.