On this page, we post some updates on OWAD activities: key events, milestones, topics for discussion, etc.

December 2017

Well what a year 2017 has been! Key highlights were our annual 'Conservation Dog Tour' which this year was across NSW, conducting the largest Koala population study of its kind to date, and the arrival of Missy who joined our team in winter. We held many workshops / demonstrations and did lots of media (ABC radio, Brisbane Times, Courier Mail, TV show Totally Wild - to name a few). Basically lots of hard work and lots of fun! New member Missy has a very bubbly personality and is quite the clown. She is a fantastic detection dog and is a real pleasure to live and work with. She comes with an impressive resume, amongst others she was the first of the detection dog in Australia trained to detect a specific plant, namely Hawkweed which is an invasive species that takes over Alpine ecosystems if not controlled in time. Her success with Hawkweed detection led to further detection dogs being trained to assist the Victorian and NSW Governments better control this invasive species. She has taken to her new gig i.e. Koala scat with much enthusiasm and proved her worth within days of joining our team. Over Christmas/New Year we and the dogs will be enjoying a couple of weeks off to relax and play in the pool to keep cool. OWAD Environment wishes everyone all the best for 2018!

Above: Missy our new team member

May 2016

What an awesome survey with Queensland Trust For Nature and AusEcology in April! We all thoroughly enjoyed this survey. The breathtaking views from some of the peaks made up for the sweat and pain of climbing the very steep hills. It was also a great playground to put the capacities of our new fieldwork car to the test, and it performed brilliantly well.

Left to right: Felicity Shapland, Olivia Woosnam & Taz, Alex Dudkowski & Shaggy

The new OWAD Environment fieldwork car (Toyota FJ Cruiser)

March 2016

  • Taz now officially detects Koala AND Quoll scats. Steve Austin himself came to spend a few days with us to coach us through the process of adding the new scents. It was a fascinating & very rewarding experience. So now, when we are conducting Koala searches, Taz also indicates on Quoll scats if there are any around. (That includes Spotted-tail, Northern and Eastern Quoll scats indiscriminately).

Above, left to right: Olivia, Taz, Alex and Steve Austin.

Above: Perfect indication on Spotted-tail Quoll scat in real field conditions.

  • Earlier this month, we attended a Koala workshop in Gunnedah (NSW). It was interesting to learn what challenges Koalas are facing in regional areas, and what is being done to ensure the survival of regional Koala populations. We gave a brief working demonstration with Taz and explained the key advantages of working with a professional conservation dog. Taz made local news on TV and several newspapers including the Namoi Valley Independent.

December 2015

A section on our work with Taz in Logan City Council aired on 7 December in the TV show 'Totally Wild'.

Early December, we also went on a 'working holiday' with Taz. This trip took us all the way to Cape Otway in Victoria, where we wanted to get an intimate understanding of the Koala situation. We met some passionate and interesting people along the way, including Dave Williams and the Maremma Sheep Dogs that Victoria Zoos is training as bandicoot bodyguards.

David Williams, Olivia Woosnam and Alex Dudkowski with one of the Maremmas being trained to guard Eastern Barred Bandicoots.

We also met Lizzie and Luke from the Conservation Ecology Centre and tasted their Spotted Ale: a delicious beer with a great cause! Drinking with a purpose, what a fantastic idea.

And finally, we met Lynn Baker from the NSW Office of Environment, who is leading the Eastern Bird Recovery Program and recently got Penny to locate the endangered birds. Like Taz, Penny is an English Springer Spaniel trained by Steve Austin. Penny and Taz were actually pen mates for a year or so! Penny is doing a fantastic job and is incredibly useful in the fight to protect the few birds that remain in the wild.

25 November 2015

And again: we have been extremely busy since our last post 3 months ago! We haven't stopped, in fact we are still going as we speak. It is late in the season to be working during the afternoon; so we have been getting up at 3am to be on site at 4:30 for sunrise, and making the most of the cooler parts of the day. What a successful first season with Taz... She has not ceased to impress us over the last few months; she is constantly breaking her own records and setting the bar higher and higher for herself. That's fantastic: that's exactly what you aim for in a dog/handler team. I push her, she pushes me, together to never cease to push each other higher & further : )

Once exciting thing since our last update, is that we are helping Federation University Australia (Melbourne) who has developed a proven method to extract DNA from scats alone. We have had many fascinating discussions about their work and its applications to conservation, and recently they made a very generous gesture: they have donated analyses of up to 20 koalas! So over the last few weeks, we have been collecting scats across SEQ and sending them to the university in the specially designed kits. This really is a game changer, as it means access to a battery of information that previously required capturing the koalas and drawing blood & taking tissue samples - which is extremely invasive as well as very costly. This new technique is a real revolution in koala conservation and in health monitoring.

24 August 2015

Wow, lots has happened since our last update on this page...

Too long to list everything, but time for a quick summary! Amongst others, we did several demos and conferences with Taz including the Logan Youth Jobs & Career Expo and more recently the Queensland Trust For Nature private land conservation conference. Over the last few weeks we have met plenty of passionate people including wonderful Katrina from Koala Gardens, and many others. And we have also conducted trials on Taz's detection abilities across various groundlayer complexities - results are very exciting and go way above and beyond our expectations! Thanks to Anna from Logan Council and to Ashleigh Dale for participating in these first trials. (Results may be included in a peer-reviewed publication at some stage.)

Right now, we are conducting two large surveys simultaneously: one for Logan City Council across some private properties (mainly in the south-western portion of the LGA), the other for Ipswich City Council across the LGA on council owned lands. There is one common interest in these two projects: assessing koala presence/absence and movements within the Flinders-Karawatha corridor. This corridor is the largest remaining continuous stretch of open eucalypt forest in SEQ, totalling almost 60,000ha and approximately 60km long. It is a significant landscape feature in SEQ, but to date very little work has been conducted specifically to assess Koala presence across the feature. We are currently about mid way through those two projects and the results are looking very interesting! The results should be made public in the weeks to come, so keep your eyes peeled.

Taz is absolutely loving working 5 days a week (plus showing off on weekends!), she works [very] full days and consecutive full weeks no problems! Her drive is absolutely intact and is just stuck at max all the time. In fact she even complains on days where we rest; she may not need a rest, but I certainly do! ; ) It's hard work keeping up with her!

What else? Oh yes, Taz's first news articles, including one article today in the Brisbane Times : )

10 June 2015
We had fun putting together a video showing Taz in action.
Note, this is a patch we had never been to so we didn't know where or indeed whether there were any Koala scats at all.
Make sure you have the sound turned on, sit back and enjoy the ride!

06 June 2015
Last weekend at the Logan Eco Action Festival, Logan City Council launched a video promoting their parks and showcasing the actions they undertake to enhance them. Taz and I were invited to participate in that video. It was fun acting with Taz and she did very well, working just as well as she usually does despite the film crew and cameras! See our sequence below:

Copyright Aerial Drone Solutions 2015.

The full video is available here in High Definition. Aerial Drone Solutions did a great job filming and stitching it all together!

04 June 2015
Steve Austin, Taz's professional trainer, is very proud of us and our first achievements! So much so, that we made it onto his Facebook page wow that's quite something! See his Facebook post.

28 May 2015
Fantastic news! In early April we did our very first project with Taz, working with a community group to assess Koala presence around a property proposed for development. Taz worked really well and confirmed Koala presence across the local landscape. These results have contributed in Lockyer Valley Council's decision yesterday to reject the proposal, primarily on the grounds of protection of the natural environment. What a great outcome for our first project with Taz, she is already helping conserve Koalas : )
Lockyer Valley council turns down Adare motocross facility

26 May 2015
A little note on the place of dogs in wildlife conservation.
Detection dogs are gaining more and more support in conservation. An increasing number of ecologists see how valuable dogs are in assisting us in surveys, and many local and State governments have been using them for many years. Dogs are even starting to gain recognition at the federal level, with detection dogs recently listed as one of the recognised surveys methods in the EPBC Act referral guidelines for Koalas. Recent peer-reviewed scientific publications also highlight the key advantages of using conservation dogs: Kellie Leigh & Martin Dominick recently published an excellent paper on the effects of habitat structure on the detection performance of a wildlife detection dog, and Cristescu et al. also recently published a paper specifically on the accuracy and efficiency of Koala detection dogs.

The point is, we are far from navigating unchartered waters. Professionally trained conservation dogs have been used for many years, and they are on the way to becoming as essential to wildlife conservation as they are in other sectors such as quarantine, explosives, search & rescue or drugs. In a few years from now, it is likely that they will be as essential a 'tool' for ecologists as a handheld GPS! We are today at a turning point with conservation dogs: it is no longer novel, and the technique is now proven and widely accepted. There are many conservation dogs now sniffing around all over Australia. And there will be many more to come as the technique gains more and more support.

09 May 2015
This morning we joined Logan City Council and members of the PCYC ( in Cornubia Forest Nature Refuge. Logan Council is teaching the PCYC members about Koala conservation, the challenges, the survey methods, and what needs to be done to ensure the long term resilience and safety of Koalas in our landscape. The kids were very impressed with Taz's skills, they were very engaged and asked many pertinent questions. They asked about the pressures an independent Koala ecologist can find themselves under, we discussed how important the job of a Koala ecologist is in order to ensure the short and long term conservation of the species, how an independent ecologist must have very high ethics and never make survey results say more or less than what they should, how Taz was trained and why she is so useful for surveys, what the role of citizens is in ensuring Koalas remain in the landscape, etc. These kids will now take those messages back into the community and educate their friends, families and peers. Great program from Logan Council and the PCYC.

Nine News joined us too, Taz worked that camera really well! If it is aired, it will be on Nine News tonight.

Taz and Olivia with Nine News reporter

Anna Markula from Logan City Council (top row, middle), Alex & Olivia with Shaggy & Taz (bottom right and left), and the PCYC members

01 May 2015
Over the last few weeks, we have been training intensively with Taz across a number of Councils parks & reserves, in partnership with that Council. The purpose has been to expose Taz to a number of conditions and habitats: from parks in urban settings with lots of potential distractions (domestic dogs barking, people walking past, noisy roads, people mowing their lawn, etc.) to more natural landscapes teaming with wildlife. Nothing seems to take her focus away from the hunt for Koala poo: neither dogs barking the other side of the fence, nor kids playing and screaming in the school yard, not even falling nose to nose with an Eastern Grey Kangaroo during a search! She has also come across several Frogmouths roosting on logs during searches, and she does not care a bit.
We have been making her search in increasingly difficult forest types, gradually working our way to very dense forests and increasingly difficult groundcover complexities. Taz has no trouble pinpointing a single scat in very thick & very tall grass, helping me find it by bringing it up to the surface, and also finds scats in very thick leaf litter/bark debris. Last week she found one that was buried half way through about 1 meter of leaf litter, and she very efficiently indicated on it then helped me locate and retrieve it. These searches we are doing across this Council are 'real' searches (I am not hiding scats for her to find - the scats she finds have been deposited by wild Koalas), and for many of these parks there are no previous records of Koalas. Taz is already proving her worth: she has found Koala scats in several such parks, setting the first records of Koala presence in these areas. She is good!!!

Left to right: Shaggy, Alex and Taz in a Council park surveyed on 27 April 2015.
Shaggy is accompanying us on these surveys for general obedience training, he is only 1 year old but is already extremely obedient and very good with wildlife. Taz and Shaggy are best mates so Taz doesn't mind Shaggy being around when she works. Shaggy might be a detection dog one day, he is still a bit young right now but it is good training for him to be out there in the bush with perfect obedience to build his 'work ethics'.

02 April 2015
We have successfully completed our first survey! Taz and I helped a community group in the Lockyer Valley for a couple of days. This groups is doing a fantastic job at gathering as much info as possible to understand their local Koalas, and we were very happy to assist them. It was also good for me to test Taz in 'real conditions', and she did a fantastic job despite the hot and very wet conditions. She found Koala scats on all four properties assessed, scats I would have most likely not found without her help. There were also a lot of other animals' scats around, but Taz knows the difference and indicates only on Koala pellets.

Photo 1: Taz pausing. Photo 2: Taz indicating on a Koala scat. Photo 3: Olivia confirming another of Taz's finds. Photo 4: Let to right - Gordon Claridge, Hanneke Nooren (Presidents of the community group), Olivia Woosnam and Taz

22 March 2015
Taz is now at home with us! We spent 3 days with Steve Austin last week for the handover, it was great fun and we learned a lot about dog psychology. Taz has already settled in nicely at home, and has bonded with us even faster and stronger than we had anticipated. The day after we left Steve, we were already doing our first gig: a demo and a first 'real life' search for a local Council. She performed well and even managed to indicate at the location where a Koala had dropped scats 4 months ago - the scats had since disintegrated but she still picked up on the scent which is quite amazing (there is an official sighting record at that location so we know she didn't make it up!).
Taz and our puppy Shaggy are getting along perfectly. Taz doesn't care much about other dogs, but she is very kind and extremely patient with Shaggy who is still very much a puppy in that he wants to play all the time. She even lets him play tug-o-war with her big ears... And when she's had enough she politely lets him know.
Over the next few weeks I will be doing lots of training sessions with Taz on private properties, both 'real searches' and ones that I set up, so we get to know each other and get used to working together. We have done several sessions so far, and so far she is performing well.
Shaggy, on his end, is continuing his Koala poo training too. He will probably never have the level of drive that Taz has, but we will keep up his training so we can use him on light duty. At this stage he is not ready for fieldwork yet though.

12 March 2015
Exciting news: Taz the 3 year old English Springer Spaniel that trainer Steve Austin has been training for us over the last few months to detect Koala scats, is ready! We are leaving tomorrow morning by car, with Shaggy our 1 year old Kelpie cross, that the trainer will be able to assess and give us our thoughts on. We are spending 3-4 days with Steve, who is training both of us on Taz - this includes both theory and practice - at the end of which we obtain a Handler Certificate.
Immediately the following day, Taz will be doing a demo for a local Council: our first outing together!

Page last updated on 15 December 2017.