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Studying Koala Sounds
Koalas and cell phones—an unlikely combination? Not so in Australia where researchers are using cellular phones to study the vocalizations of these furry marsupials. Scientists have tagged koalas living on St. Bees Island off the northeast coast of Australia with tracking devices to monitor their actions. Cell phones have been placed in trees and are programmed to turn on every 30 minutes and record any noises for two minutes.
The cell phones are powered by solar energy and car batteries and can be reprogrammed as the scientists see fit. The recordings are then downloaded onto computers at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. Queensland University of Technology researchers are developing software that will recognize all these koala calls.
So, what sound does a koala make exactly? Koalas make distinctive bellows that range from short and sharp vocalizations to slow, drawn-out moans. Scientists haven’t reached any conclusions as to why koalas bellow, what they could possibly be saying and who exactly they’re talking to. Do male koalas bellow to mark territory? Or are they vocalizing to attract a mate for breeding season? Researchers hope to draw some conclusions with their non-invasive cell phone eavesdropping technique.
Scientists are hoping this study will help with koala conservation efforts by helping them pinpoint the best time to introduce a new koalas to a population or when the best time is to allow changes to koala habitat, like human development. They could also replicate vocalizations to encourage mating patterns.
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Koalas are in danger due to loss of habitat and habitat destruction. Studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Redlands and other private consultants have shown a drastic decline in the koala population since 2001. It’s believed that there are less than 20,000 koalas in the wild living in southeast Queensland. Australian governments are working to develop a balance between preserving natural koala habitat and expanding human development. Conservationists are lobbying the Australian government to declare the Queensland population as “critically endangered.”
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Koalas are tree-dwelling marsupials—not bears—who eat eucalyptus leaves and carry their babies in a pouch. Much of the eucalyptus forests are being decimated in Australia, leaving koalas with nowhere to go. Koalas are social beings who spend most of their day sleeping. They grow to an average of 20 pounds.