19 July 2021


From solar ear tags the size of a five-cent coin to cardboard homes for wildlife. Bold new ideas like these are crucial to help restore species and landscapes, build their resilience, and adapt to a changing climate. That’s why WWF ran an innovation challenge as part of Regenerate Australia, the largest and most innovative wildlife recovery and landscape regeneration programs in Australia’s history. 

WWF will now provide AU$1.32 million to nine projects to help develop a proof-of-concept or in some cases run a pilot or scale-up their project. 

"One of the great things about the innovation challenge is it brings ideas that are out of the box or left field, from people who see things in a different way, from other perspectives that we're unable to see," says Darren Grover, Head of Healthy Land and Seascapes, WWF-Australia.

"They need a little bit of funding to take them from that idea stage through to reality, and that's what makes it exciting to support these creative thinkers."

Solar VHF tags for koalas

Koala ecologist Dr Romane Cristescu and her team at the University of the Sunshine Coast, are the brains behind the solar powered ear tag for koalas. They have already developed a Bluetooth koala ear tag, powered by a tiny solar panel. But Bluetooth signals only travel for 20-30 metres. 

The WWF funding will enable Dr Cristescu and PhD candidate Kye McDonald to develop the same sized ear tag but this time with very high frequency (VHF) technology which can be picked up for hundreds of metres.

"Koalas are animals that we call cryptic. They're very hard to find. We have developed such a small ear tag with Bluetooth and solar panels," says Dr Cristescu. 

“The idea behind the VHF ear tag is that we can locate koalas in the bush, which means if we know they're in danger. For instance, in a fire, we can go with a team, rescue them, put them into care during the fire and give habitats time to recover, then release those koalas back into the wild. 

The ear tags are light and because they’re powered by a solar panel there’s no need for a battery that needs changing every six months. We believe these ear tags will last for the life of the koala."

An estimated 60,000 koalas were impacted by the bushfires. As intense bushfires become more common, the VHF solar ear tag could play a crucial role in saving koalas and conserving genetic diversity.

Habitat pods for wildlife

Innovation also requires thinking outside of the box. This is what led Macquarie University wildlife researcher, Dr Alexandra Carthey to come up with the idea of habitat pods for wildlife.

“Bushfires destroy vegetation where small animals hide. Raptors arrive within minutes after a fire, while feral cats and foxes can travel many kilometres towards fires because they know the hunting will be excellent. They come in and decimate our native animals who are vulnerable and exposed in a burnt landscape," says Dr Carthey. 

“Habitat pods would give small animals somewhere to hide while the vegetation regrows. They come as a flat sheet of cardboard, which is assembled on-site and can be arranged in clusters or used to create corridors between patches of unburnt habitat.”

Funding from WWF will enable field trials of this unique idea of cardboard habitat pods for wildlife. In addition, WWF-Australia is providing funding to a further seven following projects:

  • Upscaling the South East Australia Sanctuary Operations Network (SEASON)
  • Seed enhancement technologies to restore severely burned landscapes
  • Using drones and cultural burning practices to help bushfire-proof koala habitat
  • Drone monitoring of priority koala populations in fire-prone landscapes
  • Fire for Food: Showcasing Indigenous Traditional Agriculture
  • Wombat-powered recovery: harnessing an ecosystem engineer to increase bushfire resilience
  • Restoring the nutritional landscape for eucalypt folivores

A second Innovate to Regenerate Challenge will be held later this year focusing on income-producing ideas led by communities to boost their resilience. Click here to learn more.