From: Reuters
Published November 25, 2008 09:47 AM

Mobile phones eavesdrop on Aussie koalas

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian scientists are using mobile telephones to eavesdrop on koalas to understand what they are saying when they bellow and how this can help conserve the marsupial which is threatened by habitat destruction.

The researchers tagged koalas on St Bees Island off northeast Australia with satellite tracking devices to monitor movements and placed mobile telephones in the trees which are programed to turn on every 30 minutes and record for two minutes.

The mobiles, charged by solar power and car batteries, record the koala bellows, then download the recordings to a computer at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.

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"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.

"Interestingly most of the bellowing seems to occur around midnight, not around dawn or dusk when we thought it might've occurred," he said on Tuesday.

Ellis said he was studying whether male koalas communicate by bellowing to each other to mark out territory and whether bellowing was used to attract females during breeding season.

"Over the breeding season males are quiet active at the start but their movements die down and females have a spike in movement somewhere in the breeding season," Ellis said.

"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," he said.

Ellis said results from his study could help manage koala populations by informing wildlife officials when is the best time to introduce new animals to a population and when is best time to allow changes to koala habitats such as urban development.

(Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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