Detection dog for conservation, Baxter, with USC research fellow Romane Cristescu. Photo: Ashley Carter
Detection dog for conservation, Baxter, with USC research fellow Romane Cristescu. Photo: Ashley Carter

How poo-sniffing dogs can help save Coast koalas

UNIVERSITY of the Sunshine Coast researchers have partnered with Sunshine Coast Council to better understand the region's koala populations and habitats.

The three-year research partnership also examines koala health and genetic diversity in the region by using specially-trained dogs to detect koala droppings.

Baxter is “ball-obsessed”, which helps researchers use play to encourage him to find koala droppings. Photo: Ashley Carter
Baxter is “ball-obsessed”, which helps researchers use play to encourage him to find koala droppings. Photo: Ashley Carter

USC research fellow Dr Romane Cristescu said the team of five detection dogs were trained to look for koala droppings because it was easier to find than the "cryptic" animals.

"What we can do from those droppings is extract the DNA from the koala," Dr Cristescu said. "We also can look at disease that koala might carry."

Dr Cristescu said the methodology allowed researchers to monitor koalas in a "non-invasive" way.

"We don't have to catch koalas to study their health, which allows us to cover a much bigger area and be more efficient in our data collection," she said.

Baxter is one of five dogs in the USC Detection Dogs for Conservation unit. Photo: Ashley Carter
Baxter is one of five dogs in the USC Detection Dogs for Conservation unit. Photo: Ashley Carter

The data collected helps council determine which areas need to be managed to protect koala populations.

Baxter's "obsession" with his tennis ball helped researchers train him to find a scent in exchange for a reward.

"All our dogs are what we call 'ball-obsessed', and basically they want to play all day," Dr Cristescu said.

"That's great for us because when we want to do some research, they want to play."