Tech rescue

Published 10 Sep 2018 

These four emerging technologies are bringing a new dimension to our conser vation work, and tipping the odds in the favour of our native species.

Plains-wanderer Song Meters

A Plains-wanderer illustrationIllustration by Iona Julian-Walters.

Almost by definition, critically endangered species are hard to find and monitor. The cryptic Plains-wanderer is no exception. This small ground-dwelling bird blends in seamlessly with the open plains of arid Australia, where it's generally found, thanks to its dappled fawn feathers.

So, when Bush Heritage science intern Emily Matthews saw eight Plains-wanderers during her 3 months on Boolcoomatta Station Reserve in South Australia, she was surprised to say the least.

Her sightings have led Bush Heritage to implement a Plains-wanderer Monitoring Program in collaboration with the National Plains-wanderer Recovery Team.

In Spring this year, 30 acoustic monitoring devices called ‘Song Meters’ will be deployed across Boolcoomatta and on neighbouring properties in suitable Plains-wanderer habitat. Each device will record sounds around it, and those recordings will later be analysed by a call-recognition software program.

The technology offers a cost-effective and non-invasive way of simultaneously surveying different parts of this vast landscape over long periods of time. It will improve our understanding of the birds’ preferred habitat, allow us to establish patterns around when they breed, and help us to prioritise our reserve management activities around their known whereabouts.

‘Felixer’ Grooming Traps

A feral cat illustrationIllustration by Iona Julian-Walters.

Feral cat control is one of the greatest challenges facing conservationists in Australia. Currently, Bush Heritage is trialling an exciting development in this field: a ‘grooming’ trap that targets cats’ fastidious cleaning habits. When an infrared camera spots and identifies a feral cat, the trap sprays a toxin onto its pelt, which the cat then licks off and ingests.

The traps require little effort to install, can be left unattended for long periods of time, and are a very low threat to native wildlife due to their height and the complex algorithms they use to distinguish feral cats from non-target species.

The traps that Bush Heritage is currently trialling are not armed with toxin. Instead, they are only taking photos of animals that pass them by, and classifying them as being either ‘cat’ or ‘non-cat’. Once the trial is complete, those classifications will be cross-checked against the photos to determine whether the traps are sufficiently accurate to be deployed on our reserves.

DNA analysis of rock-wallaby scats

A rock wallaby illustration.Illustration by Iona Julian-Walters.

Remote and relatively undeveloped, the far north Kimberley region of Western Australia is a stronghold for many native species. Among them is the diminutive Nabarlek, which is thought to be on the brink of extinction.

Efforts to determine how many Nabarlek remain in the wild are hampered by the fact that they look remarkably similar to other small rock-wallabies. In response to this, the Australian Museum, with funding and support from WWF-Australia, developed a new identification tool using DNA analysis of scats.

In 2016, Uunguu Rangers from the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation began collecting rock-wallaby scats as part of their regular Healthy Country monitoring program, which has been developed with support from Bush Heritage through our ongoing 8-year partnership. Later in 2016, DNA analysis of scat samples collected by the rangers from a remote island confirmed the existence of an offshore Nabarlek population.

Then, in 2017, scats collected by the rangers in the Vansittart Bay area of the Kimberley coast led to the first confirmed record of a Nabarlek on mainland Western Australia since the mid-1970s.

Satellite fire mapping

A fire mapping illustration.Illustration by Iona Julian-Walters.

Bush Heritage is using high-resolution satellite images from Sentinel satellites to greatly improve our management of fire on our reserves. The technology is allowing field staff to more clearly see how fires have moved through the landscapes they manage, including any recent planned burns or bushfires.

This information will help them to identify long unburnt and fire sensitive areas that need protecting or are atrisk from damaging bushfires. We're also providing Sentinel fire scar mapping and technical support to some of our Aboriginal partners across northern Australia. This includes providing geo-referenced high-resolution images so they're able to identify fire history in real time, wherever they are on country, as well as any threatened species, and natural and cultural values that may be under threat from those fires.

Access to this technology is helping our staff and partners to plan and implement bestpractice fire management across the country.

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