Olivia Woosnam CEnvP and Alex Dudkowski CEnvP created OWAD Environment in 2013, stemming from a desire to increase the scientific rigour of Koala studies. “We strive to collect robust data to inform land use and planning decisions properly“.
Scientifically robust data is essential for developing successful strategies to conserve or recover the species or effectively minimise detrimental impacts on the species.
Both Alex and Olivia are Certified Environmental Practitioners and, along with their professional field detection dogs, are also certified by the Conservation Division of the Australian Canine Detection Certification Council. “We were the very first professional canine-handler team to obtain certification for Koala detection in 2015- and are to date“.
Applied Koala studies often suffer from ‘subjective interpretation’ rather than being grounded in robust science.
Relying on personal biases or beliefs of ecologists and/or on models based on several assumptions and extrapolate results from statistically insignificant samples to scientifically unjustifiable broad scales is a recipe for poorly-informed decision making. This can lead to land use/planning and funding decisions that are ineffective at conserving or managing the species (hence a waste of resources) and can even precipitate the species’ demise.
Given the demise of the Koala across Eastern Australia in recent decades, it is abundantly clear that ‘the old way’ of doing things is highly ineffective. OWAD fills this gap: we strive to improve the accuracy and quality of the information on land use and planning decisions, so decisions are grounded in science and adequately informed.
The backbone for every species across the globe that is effectively managed, conserved or recovered, is a sound scientific understanding of population structure, how these populations interact, and what challenges or pressures each of these populations is facing. These factors are essential prerequisites for any species at any scale; the Koala is no exception. By combining powerful spatial tools and non-invasive genetic sampling, OWAD answers these crucial questions. See our FAQs about Koala scat analysis for more information.
Olivia’s career began in 2005 as an international environmental officer at the United Nations Environment Program in Europe, working on international environmental policy and the Sustainable Development Goals. In this role, she quickly realised that a significant limitation of high-level environmental policy-making was the lack of vital scientific data to base correctly informed decisions. There was seemingly a severe lack of scientifically robust techniques and tools to adequately inform land use and planning decisions. In search of a more scientific approach to environmental problem solving, in 2008, she refocused her career to specialise in Koala habitat management and conservation.
Alex’s core background is as an environmental engineer, specifically investigating and remediation of contaminated land and groundwater using state-of-the-art tools and techniques. He is still active in this field, where he partners with other consultancies and constantly pioneers or improves methods and technologies for more accurate delineation and targeted remediation of various contaminants.
His ecological role at OWAD is strongly tainted with his strong engineering background: he continuously seeks to reduce the ‘grey areas’ of ecology to bring the discipline to the same level of scrutiny he is used to in his engineering work. Amongst others, he has developed stringent Field Quality Assurance/Quality Control processes that we implement daily. These processes are applied to every study to ensure the field results are true and correct, with associated remediation or correction measures if an FQA/FQC test were ever to fail.
OWAD Environment works with two professional detection dogs.
Our two current dogs are ‘Pink Knockout’ aka TAZ and ‘Mistral Bowscale’ aka MISSY. Check out our media coverage videos of Taz and Missy in action.
Wrangham Pink Knockout (aka Taz) joined OWAD in early 2015. She was developed and trained by Steve Austin CCPDT. She was Australia’s very first canine to obtain certification for Koala detection in 2015, for Quoll detection in 2016, and together with her cousin Missy for two species of Underground Orchid in 2020. In 2016 she also created a landmark in Australia’s legal system by being the very first conservation canine whose evidence was legally accepted in an Australian Court case. She dug out Koala scats located several inches underground in soil compacted by bulldozers in an area cleared several weeks prior, thereby proving that the area cleared used to be utilised by Koalas. She also alerted to the presence of a live Koala located in one of the few trees still standing.
Taz has a big bold personality, is incredibly determined and highly independent-minded. We play to her strengths, and where she shines the brightest is in landscapes or ecosystems where we can let her ‘do her thing’ completely autonomously with no direction from us (other than the occasional whistle command if need be to keep her safe from dangers and/or keep her within site boundaries). When she finds a target, she stays with it until we catch up with her – even if it means waiting for us for several minutes. One of the skills she has nailed down to a fine art, is her exceptional ability to physically retrieve targets. She doesn’t merely indicate on where a target scent is located: we trained her to physically get to the object and retrieve it for us. For example when looking for Koala scats she uses her paws and nose to shuffle through the thickest of leaf litters or dense grasses, delicately plucks a scat with a ‘soft mouth’ and spits it out at the surface undamaged. Or even deposits it directly into our hands if we are quick enough. This is a major time-saver on a very regular basis on projects where time is often very limited.
With thousands of kilometres of transects under her belt on applied studies, Taz is Australia’s most experienced Koala detection dog. She set the benchmark very high for all certified Koala detection dogs, and is yet to meet her match.
Wrangham Mistral Bowscale (aka Missy) is Taz’s first-degree cousin. She was also developed and trained by Steve Austin CCPDT. The two were raised, trained and lived together for their first few years. Missy’s first job was as Australia’s first invasive weed detection dog. Her success led to the New South Wales Government setting up a formal Hawkweed Detection Dog Program. She then returned to the specialist breeder to raise a litter, before joining OWAD in 2017.
Missy has a very soft personality and is only a ‘small unit’ for her breeding. But don’t be fooled: she is a fantastic trooper and has a great work drive. She is highly flexible and easy-going by nature. She is very tolerant of taking frequent direction from us, so we tend to favour her when working in very dense ecosystems or difficult terrain where we humans are significantly slowed down and need to redirect the dog often. She obtained certification for Koala detection in 2017, Quoll in 2018, and together with Taz for Underground Orchid in 2020. When indicating on targets she is very delicate and simply places her nose directly on top of it. We purposely have not trained her to physically retrieve a target object for us, as this not always what we want or need. If we are a bit far from her when she finds a target, she comes and fetches us. She then leads us to the spot, and indicates on it once we are close. On projects we ‘pick and choose’ one or the other dog playing to their strengths & preferences and the slightly different ways we have taught them to assist us and communicate with us.
In terms of her field experience on applied projects, she is quickly catching up with her cousin. She has quickly proven her worth and is a real delight to have on our team.