The Moreton Bay Rail Link project team and the wider community take koala conservation and protection seriously. The new rail line will cross through existing koala habitat, and is likely to have impacts on the koalas living in those areas.
It is important koalas living in, or near, the proposed rail corridor are protected from harm during construction works, and also when the rail line becomes operational. One of the ways we can protect koalas from harm is to know their location in relation to construction works.
Use of monitoring collars is 1 of the most effective ways of doing this. Koalas can be very difficult to spot when they are in their natural habitat. Sometimes, when hidden in dense foliage, they can be impossible to see. Radio-tracking allows koalas to be located relatively easily. This may be very important for a koala’s safety, particularly when vegetation clearing is occurring in close proximity to the animal’s home range.
The monitoring collar also allows information on each koala’s home range to be analysed, so the potential impacts to koalas, as a result of vegetation removal and rail construction can be properly assessed and minimised. The information gained from monitoring koala movements will also inform the rail design to help determine the most appropriate location for fauna underpasses.
The Moreton Bay Rail Link project team has engaged expert koala scientists to capture and radio collar koalas living in and around the rail corridor. This represents the highest standard of koala protection ever conducted on a major infrastructure project delivered by Transport and Main Roads.
The koala capture and research team is highly experienced and includes a veterinarian with special expertise in koala medicine. All koalas will receive a thorough veterinary examination and sick koalas will be referred immediately to appropriate wildlife veterinary facilities for treatment. Koalas from the area that are successfully rehabilitated will be returned to suitable habitat in accordance with current legislation and the detailed Koala Action Plan for the Moreton Bay Rail Link project.
All collared koalas will be re-captured every 6 months for a routine health check and collar maintenance.
Types of collars to be used on koalas within the Moreton Bay Rail Link corridor
Two types of monitoring collars will be used on koalas captured for the Moreton Bay Rail Link project: small, conventional VHF radio-collars; and bulkier bio-telemetry collars.
The bulkier bio-telemetry collars are capable of transmitting position and activity data to koala scientists at their desks using the mobile phone network. They also are able to immediately alert the koala scientists if the koala is hit by a car, or attacked by a dog. This very powerful technology will assist in protecting koalas and allows a more rapid response if koalas become sick or injured.
Conventional VHF collars will only be used on juvenile or small koalas that may not be suitable to carry bio-telemetry collars. Any collar used on koalas will incorporate a device allowing the collar to easily break or slip off if the koala becomes entrapped.
Minimising the discomfort of the collars
Well-designed monitoring collars should cause no more discomfort for koalas than a dog collar would on your pet dog.
Well-designed monitoring collars often use a smooth, water-repellant strapping and are constructed so the attachments to the collar, such as the battery and transmitter housings, do not create any sharp or potentially abrasive points or surfaces. Regular monitoring of koalas is also important to ensure any health issues are detected early, and are assessed and treated by a veterinarian.
Each monitoring collar used as part of the Moreton Bay Rail Link project monitoring program will incorporate 1 of the following features to ensure koalas do not get ‘caught up’ by the collars:
A “weak-link” or break-point incorporated into the collar that will break if subjected to a force equivalent to the koala’s body weight.
A short section of elastic (25-30mm) allowing the collar to stretch sufficiently to slide over the koala’s head.
The collar has neither 1 nor 2 above, but is sufficiently loosely applied to ensure it can easily slip off a koala’s head if it becomes entrapped.
Project approvals to undertake the monitoring program
Projects incorporating koala monitoring must have an animal ethics committee (AEC) approval, and also have a Scientific Purposes Permit from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. Researchers must report any adverse incidents that affect the health or welfare of koalas in their projects. AEC applications must be very detailed to allow committee members to fully assess any real or potential risks to koala welfare and safety. The current koala monitoring project for Moreton Bay Rail Link holds both of these approvals.
Koala capture and collaring on the Moreton Bay Rail Link project began in March 2013 and will be an ongoing process throughout the life of the project.