Thorneside tracking and conservation dog Taz helps in koala surveys and research | Video

TRACKER: Ecologist Olivia Woosnam with Taz, an English springer spaniel with a nose for koala scats. Photo: Cheryl Goodenough
TRACKER: Ecologist Olivia Woosnam with Taz, an English springer spaniel with a nose for koala scats. Photo: Cheryl Goodenough

AN English springer spaniel’s keen sense of smell is being used to track koalas for conservation.

Four-year-old Taz has been trained to find quoll and koala scats, which provides information about the distribution and movement of the animals.

Her owner and handler Olivia Woosnam said dogs were usually a threat to koalas, but Taz had been trained to ignore all animals.

“If we find a koala we put her (Taz) away, but she is no stress to any animal,” she said.

Ms Woosnam and her partner Alex Dudkowski are consultants, working mostly for state and local governments, including Logan and Ipswich city councils, and conservation organisations.

Ms Woosnam, an ecologist, said humans have limited capability to find scats, even in parkland that has not been mowed for a few weeks.

“Taz relies on her nose so it doesn’t matter what environment she is working in,” Ms Woosnam said.

Taz can pick up a scent from 100 to 200 metres away and trials have found her to be 357 per cent more efficient than humans.

In one survey, she found scats in less than 15 minutes on a 285 hectare property where environmental officers and consultants had been searching for over two years.

“Koala’s are good at hiding in their environment. They melt into the trunks of the trees they hang out in,” she said.

“Using Taz, within a short amount of time we can collect a lot of data about where koalas are and how they are moving through the landscape.

“This enables us to conduct large surveys that would otherwise be impossible. They would not be affordable or achievable,” said Ms Woosnam.

Koalas produce between 100 and 200 scats in 24 hours and these can be detected for up to two years, which provides valuable information.

Ms Woosnam said Taz was a highly motivated dog who got pure enjoyment from the conservation work.

She was initially trained to detect koala scats, but has since been trained to also detect spotted-tail, northern and eastern quoll scats.

Taz and her handlers receive ongoing training from one of Australia’s top trainers in detection and conservation, Steve Austin.