Going to new heights down under to save koalas - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Going to new heights down under to save koalas

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Koalas are among the most popular attractions at the zoo, but in the wild their numbers are dwindling. Now a high-tech tool could help with their conservation.

Tucked away in the high trees in Queensland, Australia, it's not easy to see koalas lounging. Even if you look really hard with the naked eye, it's tough to spot the cute creatures. So now researchers at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia are getting out from down under and getting a tree top view of the threatened species.

The university launched the technology using heat-seeking drones. A split screen helps researchers on the ground distinguish koalas from other animals. Researchers estimate there are as few as 45,000 left in the wild. The drones can help better monitor the population and keep an accurate count.

"So this will drastically reduce the manpower, will greatly increase the area that can be covered to survey koalas, and in areas where people may not be able to walk through because of dense undergrowth," Australia Zoo veterinarian Amber Gillett said.

The Australian Koala Foundation says while the state and federal governments need to work to save the koala habitat, the drones can be used as a tool to aid in conservation.

"Every single tree in Australia right now needs to be protected, and unless that happens I can promise you koalas will go to extinction," Deborah Tabart of the Australian Koala Foundation said.

A National Geographic article lists drones or similar instruments being used to monitor endangered animals for illegal trafficking in Africa and Asia. Images from drones are also helping researchers collect better data and conditions of animals such as killer whales.

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