Tuesday, 25 Nov, 2008 Science
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Scientists Spy on Australian Koalas Via Mobile Phones

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By using mobile phones scientists hope to figure out what koalas say when bellowing. With the help of their gadgets researchers eavesdrop on these animals and try to make out a way of preserving the marsupial, which may become extinct due to habitat destruction.

Australian scientists observed koalas that live on St Bees Island off northeast Australia. They used satellite tracking devices in order to monitor the animal's motions. Scientists also placed mobile phones in the trees. The phones automatically turned on every 30 minutes and recorded for 2 minutes. The mobile telephones are powered by the sun and car batteries. After recording the koala bellows, the information was transmitted to a computer located at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.

"Koala bellows can go from really quite short, sharp, and quite agitated sounding bellows to long, slow, deep bellows that can last for over a minute," said researcher Bill Ellis.

He added that most of the bellowing took place at midnight and not around dawn or dusk as scientists previously believed. He mentioned that one of the study's goals was to understand whether male koalas bellow to mark out a territory and whether they bellowed in order to attract females.

Ellis outlined that during the breeding season male koalas are active at the beginning but their movements decrease and female koalas "have a spike in movement somewhere in the breeding season."

"After a male and female encounter, and we can't see what they are doing, the female lets out a high-pitched scream and immediately after the male emits a loud bellow," the researcher said.

According to the lead scientist, the study of koalas could help monitor the population of these animals by notifying wildlife officials about the best time to introduce new animals and permit alterations to koala habitats.

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