How to catch a koala?

How to catch a koala is not very high tech but is extremely skillful.

Why do you have to catch a koala at all? It is all worth it when you consider all the questions you can then answer to improve koala conservation.


This was the core of my PhD and my master. So, poor me, I had the hard task of working with koalas for 7 years now!

I know, I know... But someone has to do it...

Actually, my best memory of all catching events I’ve ever been part of was at the very start of my work with koalas, when I was helping in someone else’s project. While my colleague was busy checking a mum koala health, someone had to baby sit! I tell you something, to be cuter than a baby koala is very very hard...

baby-koala

But anyway, back to the question: how do you catch a koala?

Catching a Koala is Never Easy

Especially for the koala, who doesn’t know why you are trying to catch it.

So the first step when you want to catch a koala is to have an extremely good reason to do so. For all my projects, the main reason we needed to catch koalas was to fit them with radio collars. Once an animal carries a radio collar they can be located over and over again.

But Catching a Koala is So Useful

When a koala carries a radio collar, it is a powerful way to know:

  • where koalas go (or in other words, what are their favourite forest types),
  • how far they move every day (and do they cross dangerous roads? Can we do something about it?),
  • the size of their home range (how much forest do we need to protect to save one koala’s home? An entire population of koalas?),
  • what tree they sit in,
  • whether different koalas share their territories or not,
  • how far young koalas go from their mum when they reach adulthood,
  • the list is endless!

Call in the Experts!!!

When you are sure you need to catch a koala because you have a valuable scientific question to answer, you call your expert team. You need professional that have lots of experience. Catching wildlife is not a matter of fun. It is a difficult task, you want to get it right, quick, and stress the koala as little as possible.

Now for the funny bit: we actually go around catching koalas with... a glass cleaning pole and a bunch of plastic bags. We are soooo high tech!

The long poles are necessary to get higher than the koala. The plastic bag is something that will be placed above the koala’s head.

What you are trying to achieve here is to create a situation where the koala will see something moving above its head and will think “Hum, this can’t be good for me”.

catching-koala

In the picture above we were catching this mum and baby koala because of fears for their safety (they were climbing close to electricity cables).

We safely relocated them in a tree in a nearby park.

A koala in a tree does not have many predators. But the most likely predator will come from above: a bird of prey. This is especially true for small koalas and for babies still on their mum’s back.

The natural behaviour to escape this predator is to climb down the tree. Which is exactly what we want the koala to do: because when it safely, in its own time, reaches the ground, the expert team can easily catch it.

Usually, the koala is immediately transferred in a large bag, in the dark it can calm down.

Then the researchers can collect many important data on the koala: sex, reproduction status (mum with baby or not), age, health, genetics... And fit the koala with its very special collar!

The koala is released in the same tree it was caught so it knows exactly where it is!

releasing-koala