Keeping track of goannas

Drones are helping researchers keep track of Rosenberg's goannas in the ACT

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The elusive Rosenberg's goanna. Photo: Matthew Higgins

The elusive Rosenberg's goanna. Photo: Matthew Higgins


New technology allows researchers to easily track the movements of these elusive reptiles.


GOANNAS aren't the friendliest of creatures, and keeping track of them certainly isn't easy. But thanks to a small high-tech Australian company, it is possible.

The company, Wildlife Drones, is using a world-first radio and GPS tracking technology on a drone to remotely collect information on the movements of rare and elusive Rosenberg's goannas in Namadgi National Park in the ACT.

"For the first time we have an innovative drone system that can not only locate radio-tagged wildlife, but also download logged GPS data at the same time," said Wildlife Drones researcher Debbie Saunders.

The goannas have been fitted with radio and GPS tags by volunteer researcher Don Fletcher and his team from the National Parks Association using equipment paid for partly by an environment grant from the ACT government.

Previously, the researchers had to navigate dense and rugged terrain to locate each individual goanna.

"If we can just fly a drone overhead and collect GPS data without having to negotiate cliffy areas and blackthorn scrub, it would save lots of time and energy and a few twisted ankles," Dr Fletcher said.

"It's been really exciting to demonstrate what our technology is capable of."

Dr Saunders said that as well as being able to radio-track and download GPS data from multiple ground-dwelling animals, the researchers were able to detect signals from a tagged goanna underground in a wombat burrow.

The new technology has become a game-changer in efforts to understand the movements of threatened and invasive species globally.

Photo: Don Fletcher

Photo: Don Fletcher

"Until now, the radio tracking of wildlife has relied on researchers walking for hours on end with their arms in the air searching for the signal of one animal at a time," Dr Saunders said.

"Researchers have also needed to constantly seek higher ground to improve signal detection.

"But with Wildlife Drones, a high point can be created almost anywhere."

Rosenberg's goannas reach up to 1.5 metres in length and are generally found in heath, open forest and woodland. They feed on carrion, birds, eggs, reptiles and small mammals. They run along the ground when pursued, as opposed to the lace monitor, which climbs trees.