Koalas are loveable, pure animals but a Queensland researcher has said there are suspicions they’re being vattacked by the country’s bovine population. You heard that right — serial-killing cows.
Alex Jiang, a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland, is hot on the trail of a murder mystery that’s left a trail of dead, trampled koalas behind.
The primary suspects in the serial killings are domestic cows, who Jiang alleges are actively murdering any koalas who enter their paddocks.
“For years veterinarians, farmers and wildlife carers across Australia have been reporting serious injury or death of koalas due to cow trampling,” Jiang said in a media release.
“This is largely based on animal autopsy evidence, mainly finding hoof prints on dead koala bodies – they’re clearly acting aggressively to these poor animals.
“There are witness statements from farmers confirming that cattle have been seen chasing koalas in paddocks.”
The thought of cows actively targeting and mowing down koalas in their sights is horrifying alone, but its effects have much broader implications on the dwindling population of one of Australia’s most-loved native animals.
“It seems that, while koala populations are in significant decline due to de-forestation and urbanisation, a substantial number of koala habitats are either bordering or overlapping cattle grazing land,” Jiang said.
“We’re keen to better understand the interactions between cattle and koalas, in order to work out the likelihood and frequency of such incidents.”
Catching a bovine serial killer in the act
To solve the issue, Jiang has created a remote-controlled koala, which he’s attached the scent of koala faeces and urine to, and is testing how cows respond to it.
“Right now I’m spending a lot of time out in a paddock, attaching a fake koala – sprayed with koala urine and faeces – to a radio-controlled (RC) car, and driving it through herds of cattle,” Jiang said.
He’s also trialling this idea with a remote-controlled plush dog toy and a remote-controlled car to see if it elicits any variance in the cows’ behaviour.
It’s not the only way Jiang’s looking into solutions for the problem.
“We’ll also be taking an online survey of wildlife carers regarding the occurrence of cattle-inflicted injuries and deaths of other animals,” Jiang said.
“And finally, I’ll be monitoring changes in koala home range size and location, before, during and after sharing space with cattle, which may reflect their distress caused by a cattle threat.
“Bulls and cows with calves tend to be more aggressive and protective than cows without calves, so these three groups of cattle will be tested separately.”
Being the first known study of how cows and koalas interact in habitats where they crossover, there’s hope it will shed light on how to better manage interactions between the two.
With any luck, it might mean one less threat for the popular native animal facing a dwindling population and little government action to fix it.