UQ PhD student Alex Jiang is using this toy koala on a remote-controlled car to investigate whether the humble cow is secretly destroying Australia's koala population.
UQ PhD student Alex Jiang is using this toy koala on a remote-controlled car to investigate whether the humble cow is secretly destroying Australia's koala population.

Are cows killing our koalas? New study

The humble cow could be trampling koalas to death across Australia, according to a researcher using a plush toy on a remote-controlled car to study the interaction between the two animals.

University of Queensland PhD candidate Alex Jiang is investigating how damaging cattle can be to koala populations, as increasingly the two species cohabitate throughout the country.

Conducting field research at Spicers Hidden Vale near Grandchester, west of Brisbane, Mr Jiang said for years veterinarians, farmers and wildlife carers have reported serious injury or death of koalas "due to cow trampling."

It's the first time research of this nature has been conducted.

UQ PhD student Alex Jiang is investigating whether the humble cow is secretly destroying Australia's koala population.
UQ PhD student Alex Jiang is investigating whether the humble cow is secretly destroying Australia's koala population.

 

"There are witness statements from farmers confirming that cattle have been seen chasing koalas in paddocks," he said.

"And it seems that, while koala populations are in significant decline due to deforestation and urbanisation, a substantial number of koala habitats are either bordering or overlapping cattle grazing land."

Keen to better understand the interaction between the two animals, Mr Jiang has taped a plush toy koala on a remote control car to gather data.

A toy koala soaked in koala urine and faeces was strapped to a remote control car as part of the experiment.
A toy koala soaked in koala urine and faeces was strapped to a remote control car as part of the experiment.

 

"Right now I'm spending a lot of time out in a paddock, attaching a fake koala - sprayed with koala urine and faeces - to a radio-controlled (RC) car, and driving it through herds of cattle," he said.

"I'm also driving around an RC car with a plush dog toy and a regular RC car (without a toy) too.

"If the cattle react differently to the car with the faux koala, that is, they're more aggressive than with the regular RC car, we can be confident that their reactions are because of the fake koala."

The research is expected to find that cattle are extremely hostile towards koalas, as can be seen in the attached video.
The research is expected to find that cattle are extremely hostile towards koalas, as can be seen in the attached video.

 

Mr Jiang will also be monitoring changes in koala home range size and location before, during and after sharing space with cattle, which could reflect their "distress caused by a cattle threat".

It's hoped the research will help inform future management strategies to protect vulnerable koalas from "bovine threats" to its survival, but also to facilitate emerging forms of agriculture.

 

Originally published as Are cows killing our koalas? New study


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