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Researchers Use Mobile Phones To Eavesdrop On Koalas

November 25, 2008

Researchers in Australian are using mobile telephones to eavesdrop on koalas in an effort to understand what they are communicating when they bellow.

Scientists hope these understandings might help conserve the marsupial, which is threatened by habitat destruction.

Koalas on St Bees Island off northeast Australia were tagged with satellite tracking devices to monitor movements and mobile telephones were placed in the trees and programmed to turn on every 30 minutes and record for two minutes.

The phones record the koala bellows, then download the recordings to a computer at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.

Researcher Bill Ellis said koala bellows can go from short, sharp, and quite agitated sounding bellows to long, slow, deep bellows that can last for over a minute.

“Interestingly most of the bellowing seems to occur around midnight, not around dawn or dusk when we thought it might’ve occurred,” he added.

Ellis hopes to find out whether male koalas communicate by bellowing to each other to mark out territory and if bellowing is used to attract females during breeding season.

“Over the breeding season males are quiet active at the start but their movements die down and females have a spike in movement somewhere in the breeding season,” Ellis said.

He found that after a male and female encounter, and he can no longer see what they are doing, the female lets out a high-pitched scream and immediately after the male emits a loud bellow.

The study could aid in managing koala populations by informing wildlife officials of the best times to introduce new animals to a population and when is best time to allow changes to koala habitats such as urban development.

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