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!

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.

Help koalas, eh? Canada can-do!

Canadians are rushing to help Melbourne’s wild koalas in greater numbers than ever before.

Since introducing our new conservation tourism program last year, our bookings from Canada have gone through the roof” says Janine Duffy of Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours. “Canada has always been a major market for us, but recent increases have set a new record.”

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wild koala Merle with guest

The popular Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD day tour visits the You Yangs Park to walk with wild koalas, which are named and studied by Echidna Walkabout researchers. The tours pay for the research, and guests help out by finding koalas and other animals.

We’ve had Canadians of all ages, out in the Bush helping our Koalas” says Janine. “I think Canadians have a ‘can-do’ attitude. So when we see a wild koala, they want to make sure it has a future!”

The growth has been across all retailers and wholesalers, with Goway and Goway Groups the major drivers: “It’s fitting – the koala has always been Goway’s signature animal” says Janine.

Contact: Janine Duffy  

+61 (0)3 9646 8249  mob:  +61 (0)427 808 747                                               

Janine@echidnawalkabout.com.au   

www.echidnawalkabout.com.au          

For images go to:  Online Images at Picasa – Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD