Once seen, never forgotten. Koala of the Month: Cruiz

Its easy to assume that wild koalas have small, reliable home ranges. After all, you don’t see them moving about much do you?CRUIZ260913mrWMlowrestext

If we’ve learnt one thing over 17 years of wild koala research, its that koalas move! A lot!

We first met Cruiz in November 2008 in the Turntable region of the You Yangs. He looked big, strong and healthy. We assumed he was mature – at least 4 or 5 years old. It was exciting to have a new male on the block.

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But then he disappeared. Sadly, we filed his photos and nose pattern diagram under the “Koalas once seen, never to be seen again” file.

You should never give up on a koala, though. Out of the blue in December 2011 he re-appeared in the turntable area. He’s back, we thought. “Don’t be hasty” he thought.

We didn’t see Cruiz once in 2012. Not once. Back into The File he went.

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Cruiz in 2013

So when he showed up three times in 2013 and three times in 2014, we had learnt our lesson. We didn’t get excited. Maybe he’s a nomad. Maybe he’s in protracted negotiations with dominant male Anzac, and other residents Vincent, Zack, Kenny and Rocky.

But 2015 was a good year for Cruiz. Already we have seen him 12 times. He’s been all over the place – turntable, branding yard 2 km to the east, Branch Rd. If we simply join the dots of all his locations this year, his home range would be around 117 hectares!

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Interestingly, too, he isn’t migrating steadily from one area to another – he is regularly traversing that entire area. One day he’ll be in Branding Yard, a week later he’ll be back in Turntable.

He’s not young either – we estimate he is at least 12 years old. That’s a really good age for a wild male these days.

Every single wild koala is different. Cruiz is a special fellow.

If you come on our Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD one day tour, or our 3 day Great Ocean Road tour, you might meet him!

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.

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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.

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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.

Bungaleenee: December 2014 #koalaOfTheMonth

This is #KoalaOfTheMonth: Bungaleenee. Whilst koalas are excellent at playing Hide and Seek, Bungaleenee is not playing that game here. He is sitting on the ground hugging the tree in an attempt to cool down. The tree trunk can keep his body temperature down by up to 7 degrees.

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Some people comment that Bungaleenee’s name sounds Italian (although not usually a comment made by Italians). In fact Bungaleenee is the name of an Aboriginal Man from the Gippsland area.

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Bungaleenee lives south of males #KoalaClancy and Gurren, and shares his home range with females Babarrang, Bermborok and Mear.

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It’s a well known fact that girl koalas are cuter than boy koalas (sorry guys). However if ever there was a big male who was a little better looking than others it would have to be Koala of the Month Bungaleenee!

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Next time you’re visiting Melbourne, Australia, come our on our Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD tour and you might meet Bungaleenee!

A Miracle (Koala) Baby! The story of wild koala Misty

25th August 2015: While on Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD tour Wildlife Guide Scott’s Whats App message came through to Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours base:
“K1 (Koala sighting 1) is Misty. K4 is her joey. Both high in a Yellow Gum. Joey is laying across her front”

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It was followed by a torrent of whoops, woohoos and thumbs up as our whole Koala Research and Wildlife Guiding team celebrated.

Every year we see koala joeys, so why was this one so special? To explain we have to go back to January 2014, to a week of terrible heat. Four consecutive days over 41C (105.8F). By January 18th, the fourth day, koalas were suffering.

This photo was taken 18th January 2014 and shows the first time we met Misty. She was not a happy koala.

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This poor young girl was sitting miserably in a waterhole. And she wasn’t the only one – six other koalas were on the ground over those four days, and another six were sitting in the lower third of their trees. This is an unusually high incidence of ground and low roosting.

Misty was found at 9.45am that day, sitting with her feet in the waterhole. She was checked five times over the next five hours and she barely moved. I came past at 2pm with a lovely group of people on a Koala Conservation Day for Locals. I was shocked by her look of hopelessness.

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On this occasion I did something I would not normally do: I asked my volunteers to wait in the car, and I approached Misty with a water spray while they watched. I was hoping that my approach would make her spark up and climb a tree. It didn’t, and that’s when I really knew she was in deep trouble.

A wild koala does not welcome a close approach by a human unless they are severely injured or so heat-stressed they are in danger of dying. Basically, their knowledge of impending death is so great that their fear of humans is cancelled out.  Misty was at Stage 5 of the Koala Heat Stress Scale – read about that here: When does a hot koala need help?

So when you see that beautiful photo of Sam the koala being given water by the firefighter – don’t see an appreciative wild animal being helped by a person. See a dying animal that has no choice.

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I sprayed the full bottle of water on her, standing back as far as I could and all she did was put her head up. I called Donna from Lara Wildlife Shelter and asked if she could take her into care.

My beautiful volunteers were absolutely quiet and didn’t leave the car all this time. I bet the iPhones and cameras were working overtime!

Misty stayed in care with Donna for 10 days. In that time she was weighed, thoroughly vet checked, and assessed to have nothing wrong with her. I was surprised – could a healthy young koala really be brought so low by a heatwave? Other, older koalas were still alive through this heatwave, without our help. But, interestingly, one joey was looking a bit flat too – maybe it is hard on the young?

She was released to the place she was found, healthy and well, late on 28th January 2014.

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Throughout 2014 and 2015 we have seen Misty on and off. At first, she stayed near the little waterhole. Later she was seen moving close to Nova and Elizabeth’s home area. We were thrilled that she was staying around and looking so well!

Then suddenly, in August this year, we got that beautiful message from Wildlife Guide Scott:

“K1 is Misty. K4 is her joey. Both high in a Yellow Gum. Joey is laying across her front”

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Not only has Misty survived her ordeal, she has thrived. She has done the greatest thing of all for koala conservation – she has produced the next generation. And we’ve been part of that.

We are very proud ‘grandparents’.

 

Update 2017: Misty’s first joey Lluvia, a male, thrived, and became independent at around one year old.  In July 2016 Misty’s second joey, Cuddles, a female, emerged from her pouch.  At January 2017 Cuddles is still with Misty but becoming increasingly independent.

Emma – Wild Koala of the month for August 2015!

August Koala of the month is Emma!

This dear little lady has been a friend since 29th March 2006 – can you believe that? 9.5 years!  Emma has been delighting international travellers for nearly 10 years.  Aren’t we lucky to know her?

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We are not sure exactly how old she is, but in 2006 we thought she looked around 3-4 years old.  That would make her at least 12 or 13 years old now.

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Emma has always been a small female, and has never been seen with a joey.  Though that sounds surprising, its not.  A high proportion of our wild females never raise a joey.  Of eleven females currently living in our main research area, only three have ever been seen with joeys.  A few of those females are new, so may produce young, but this has been the pattern over all of our 17 years of koala research, both in the You Yangs and Brisbane Ranges.

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We are not sure of the reason, but we can’t just assume its chlamydia.  Though the You Yangs & Brisbane Ranges populations are Chlamydia-positive, the disease rarely manifests in any way we can see.  Chlamydia could be the cause, but it could be something else.  Or it could be normal for koalas to have a low birth rate in these habitats.

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It doesn’t matter to us whether she is a mother or not – she is a valuable member of the koala community and we love her!

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
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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!

About Gurren: June 2015 Wild Koala of the Month!

Gurren is a strong male living near Koala Clancy in the You Yangs. We first met him in November 2012. He
was mature when we met him, so he’s probably about 7-9 years old now.

wild koala Gurren

Gurren has a very distinctive nose pattern! Can you see the white pattern inside his nostrils? This is
how we tell him apart from his neighbours Bungaleenee, Koala Clancy, Unaipon and Bundjalung.

He also has an unusual couple of dark spots in the fur beside his nose on his left – can you see that? Not
all koalas have that, and it can be a very useful identifying feature.

wild koala Gurren's nose pattern

June Koala of the Month Gurren had a special relationship with this lovely old lady Corrin. In 2013 & 2014
he was often seen in Corrin’s home range, and was by her side a lot, even outside of breeding season.

wild koala Corrin

We’ve found in our research that male koalas sometimes form an alliance with a high-ranking resident
female. It might be the key to achieving dominant male status.

Sadly for Gurren (and us) Corrin didn’t survive the heatwave in summer 2014. Since then Gurren has been
ranging more widely through the neighbourhood – like a lost lover searching for meaning in life. We hope
he can settle down with another lady.

wild koala Gurren

For more about our wild koalas and wild koala research project: http://www.echidnawalkabout.com.au/wildliferesearch

November Koala of the Month: Cloud

CloudKoala of the Month is Cloud!

Cloud is a wild female of approx 10 years old. She lives in the You Yangs and we have known her since 2006.

Last week she was seen sharing a tree with a much younger male koala, Darren. It is breeding season for koalas, so maybe he was suggesting some romance.  Or possibly, as it’s still early in the season, he was just ‘chatting her up’ in the hope it would lead to romance later!

CLOUD020612mrlowres2textABOUT CLOUD & OLDER FEMALE MARY:

Cloud, Koala of the Month, has always been quite elusive. From 2006 – 2008 she was only seen about 10 – 12 times each year, about once a month. She shared part of her home range with Mary, an older, high-status female. Then in 2009 Cloud was seen over 30 times from Jan to August. Why the sudden increase? We may never know.

Interestingly Koala Mary died in September 2009. From August until her death she was in koala hospital. After her death Cloud was hardly seen at all for 2 years.

But now she’s back! In 2012 we saw her over 12 times, and this year around 15 times already. Could she be taking over Mary’s old home range?

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ABOUT CLOUD & BABIES:

We’ve known Cloud for 7 years, and she’s never had a baby. There were 2 years in which we didn’t see a lot of her, so it is possible, but not likely, that she could have had a baby in one or both of those years.

It raises an interesting point though – koalas in the You Yangs do not have a high fecundity. In 2007 we had a 0% birth rate to 12 females, in 2008 a 10% birth rate (19 females). In the Brisbane Ranges population we recorded similar low birth rates. Both these populations are healthy and fairly stable (not overabundant or increasing like some populations on islands in Victoria & SA), in fair to good habitat. Is a low birth rate normal? Is it a method of ensuring population stability? Koalas are fairly long-lived, with few predators, so they don’t need a high rate of reproduction to sustain their community.

This contrasts strongly with the overabundant populations of koalas on some islands (and some mainland populations in islands of vegetation) where most females breed every year for most of their lives. These populations boom and then crash as the food source is destroyed. Phillip Island is one example – once there were koalas everywhere, and now there is only a tiny, semi-captive population in the Koala Conservation Centre.

Koalas are very vulnerable – and we don’t yet know enough about their breeding biology to prevent these crashes. We are hoping that our Koala Research can help answer some of these questions.

How does a koala climb? Part 2: the hands and feet

How does a koala climb? Part 2: the hands and feet

Koalas have tough granular skin on the  palms and soles of their hands and feet that gives them very good grip.

Their hands and feet are very muscular and strong.  Their digits are quite long, with large rounded pads at the tip of each finger/toe.  They have two opposable thumbs on each hand, which gives them a more powerful hold around a branch.

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In fact koala hands and feet are a lot like a primate’s. Click here:

Hand Facts – primate

Like us, koalas are large mammals that spend a lot of their time upright.  They live primarily in trees (as we once did, and most of our primate relatives still do) , but unlike monkeys and possums, they lack a tail and are relatively heavy and solid in their body shape.  So their means of getting around in a tree is very like a primate’s – they climb using power and intelligence, rather than lightness and agility,  to get to where they need to be.  Their hands and feet, like ours, have developed due to their lifestyle.

Watch a koala climbing up, and down on videos in this blog: Koalas climbing Part 3

how koala climbs using its fore foot

It is interesting to watch a koala handling a branch full of leaves.  They grab in exactly the way we do.   Having dextrous hands gives them a very human aspect (which might explain why we find them so appealing!)

How koalas climb koala palm

Interesting, too – koalas have individual fingerprints.  Once thought to be a primate attribute, this is another thing that koalas share with us!

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The highest chance of watching wild koalas climbing is on the Sunset Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD tour, from November to February each year.

Stay up to date with our Koala Research at Koala Clancy

Read more about how koalas climb – the claws 

 

 

 

 

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