SBDIR Koala Rescue


I was contacted by Animals Australia and James Fitzgerald from Two Thumbs Koala sanctuary to use my drone thermal imaging to find Koalas in the burned forests and surviving areas in New South Wales not decimated by the Australia bushfires.

Koalas are notoriously difficult to spot or find under daytime visible light. Even with a Thermal imaging camera performing temperature measurement is difficult. Temperature assessment on a good day from the air will result in a 5 degree +/- variable on a bad day +/- 10 degrees.

Koalas core temperature is 36.6 degrees with fur that keeps their temperature even and consistent all year round.

Termite mounds emit a surface temperature of 31.5 degrees.

During the day the Koalas will be in a tree under a dense canopy of eucalyptus leaves. This renders the termite mounds to be more readily Identifiable and can lead to false coordinates of possible Koalas being given out.

Bear the detection dog was in the field with Romaine his owner the week before and found 4 Koalas at a site near Nerriga in a valley that was untouched by fire in a valley. I was asked to see if I could find any renaming Koalas that were possibly still in the area with my Thermal Imaging Devices.

During the day it was an impossible task but at 2am in the morning they were much easily spotted by their heat signature and shape which ruled out termite mounds. On the third day and first night of flying blind in the valley at a height exceeding the tree line, 200ft, I found my first Koala using my Thermal camera drone.

James Fitzgerald was my colleague in the field. He sat under the tree until morning and the search and rescue team from the local field hospital could attend the site and tree. The koala would not come down with him at the base of the tree and scamper off. An arborist went up the tree to try and get the Koala to come down but being that the trunk of the tree was thin, the koala could not safely navigate around him. A trap was set around the tree base and the Koala was caught the following morning in this.

It was under nourished and underweight. This was mainly due to a lack of alternative eucalyptus trees and differing leaves. Whilst the food source may have seemed plentiful to us in this area, Koalas need to vary the leaves they eat from differing trees or they become full of toxins and do not move or eat if they must survive on the same leaves. This is Koala biological science. They are adapted to knowing which leaves they should eat next and so on to navigate around the issue of becoming toxified.

The Thermographic camera was set up with the temperature range between 35 and 40 degrees hoping the termite mounds would be negated from any imaging. The cameras detected the body

temperature of the koalas by capturing infrared radiation. Termite mounds were negated and only appeared faintly on the DJI Smart Controller device. The ‘White Hot‘ pallet used for the thermography on the camera detected the koala: its brightness and shape at night with a greater thermal gradient than daytime being in play. Koalas move so slowly and are almost impossible to spot with the human eye at the best of times. The Koala I found was taken back to the field hospital to join the other four and was named Aaron. He was a boy.

James currently has these at his Two Thumbs sanctuary near Cooma. Dr Karen Ford from ANU is working with James Fitzgerald to put tracking collars on the Koalas caught in the wild uninjured. When the malnourished Koalas are better, they will also be released with tracking collars.

Surprisingly, the healthy Koalas still returned to their home range even though some of it had been ravaged by fire.

I have been asked to return to help James find and save koalas some more. This time of the year is better for daytime flying and being not in fear of crashing the drone at night. The temperature range during the day goes from zero to about 15 degrees leaving about 20 degrees as a thermal barrier and making the Koalas more easily spotted using varying different Thermal Palettes.

Thermal drones are also used in building inspections. They are both attached to drones and used in handheld cameras. They can identify air pockets, moisture, and differences in temperature in crawl spaces and other areas within the house and underground. They offer greater results than manual visual inspections. This is what I do for a living.

Contact me, Richard Jones, for Thermal drone cameras when needed for Building Inspections.