Automatically detecting wallabies using thermal cameras
The thermal camera developed by The Cacophony Project can automatically recognise wallabies. This can be used to make wallaby population monitoring less labour intensive and, combined with the automatic notifications, can be used as a tool to help prevent the spread of wallabies.
150 years ago 3 breeding pairs of Bennett's wallabies were introduced to South Canterbury to start a fur trade. This has now grown reportedly to a population of almost 1 million animals and they're spreading, with sightings in the Mackenzie Country and North Otago common place.
The smaller Dama wallabies were introduced in the Rotorua area in 1912 and their population has spread throughout the Bay of Plenty and Waikato. There are other isolated populations of wallabies, such as on Kawau Island.
Wallabies are a pest, fouling pasture, damaging fences and crops. They contribute to erosion, kill plantation forest seedings and stop native bush regeneration. In 2020 the New Zealand government allocated $27m to wallaby control.
Automatically detecting wallabies
The Cacophony Project Thermal Camera automatically identifies wallabies (along with several other animals). This capability was originally developed for The Otago Regional Council to help monitor wallabies migrating from South Canterbury. They have a camera mounted on the Aviemore Dam. If a wallaby is detected then an email is sent to a local ranger who can then hunt it.
In 2022 MPI contracted 2040 to measure the effectiveness of the thermal cameras at detecting Dama wallabies. The conclusion of this research was that the cameras were capable of detecting the Dama wallabies, as long as the wallabies are close enough to be seen at a reasonable resolution.
The thermal camera can be used to help monitor wallaby populations in the same way they are used to monitor other pests in NZ. This protocol outlines how to use thermal cameras to monitor pests over an area. A paper by the Department of Conservation that compares thermal cameras to trail cameras for different types of monitoring scenarios may be useful in deciding the viability of using these cameras for monitoring.
The camera can also be used as a tool to detect wallaby incursions into wallaby free areas. This is the way Otago Regional Council are using the camera on the Aviemore Dam. The camera can provide a real-time alert when a wallaby is detected which is then followed up by a mitigation response.