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Thermal Drones Helping To Save Injured Wildlife After Deadly Kangaroo Island Bushfires

Wildlife warriors are using thermal drone technology to locate and rescue injured or stranded koalas on Kangaroo Island in the aftermath of the devastating bushfires.

Aerial cinematographer Douglas Thron, who is based in California, is leading the rescue mission after joining a team of wildlife carers on the bushfire ravaged island.

Using an infrared-equipped drone, rescuers are able to locate the animals more efficiently rather than carrying out the mission on foot.

Speaking to 10 daily, Tanya Jones, who has been a wildlife carer for 20 years and founded a shelter in Alice Springs, described the drone as "game changing" technology.

"The koalas are starving. They have nothing to eat, no food, water or resources left," she said.

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"Without us, they are going to die. It's as simple as that."

Thorn launched a GoFundMe campaign to help raise funds for supplies and airfares required to carry out the emergency rescue mission.

He said he spent a number of months rescuing animals in the Bahamas using drone tech before his expertise was desperately required here in Australia.

"My use of this technology has saved so many animals in Bahamas after the hurricane, in California after the fires, and now the endangered animals of Australia," he said.

Douglas Thron holds the thermal drone alongside wildlife rescuers Shai Ager and Tanya Jones. Image: Instagram

"Australia’s wildlife urgently needs to be rescued after these disastrous fires."

Experts believe as few as 5,000 koalas remain on Kangaroo Island after bushfires ripped through almost half of the landmass, decimating infrastructure, wildlife, and terrain.

Figures suggest there were as many as 50,000 to 60,000 before the inferno.

The technology works by picking up heat signals from wildlife such as koalas, which can be hard to spot among the trees and vegetation.

Thron's drone technology has been described as game changing.

Before Thorn arrived, Jones said the team was doing everything on foot.

Since then they've been able to rescue about 20 koalas within the last two weeks alone but Jones believes there are hundreds more that need salvaging.

"We were in Victoria and then we were asked to go to Kangaroo Island because they desperately needed our help," she explained.

Once spotted, the group uses a 'soft capture enclosure' which involves erecting a tarp or fabric circle around the base tree. Inside is a metal enclosure filled with gum leaves, designed to lure the koalas down.

Once trapped they are transported to the local wildlife hospital.

"The trees are far too dangerous for us to climb so we started using these methods. The trees might be 'un-climbable' but the koalas have to come down at some stage," Jones said.

We've also been catching a lot of tiny orphaned koalas this way, and they are worth their weight in gold. Without us they are going to die.

Despite the obvious mammoth task ahead, Jones is optimistic and said her job is easy, simply catch the koalas and the wildlife hospital will do the rest.

"[The wildlife hospital] is like a well-oiled machine," she added.

Currently, the group only has one drone on Kangaroo Island but another American animal rescuer and drone specialist, Gabe Ligon, is flying a second device over in the coming weeks which will speed up the rescue mission.

Smoke rises from burning hay bales on Kangaroo Island. Image: AAP

It's not just koalas that can be spotted using these devices.

Rescue missions extend to all sorts of wildlife such as kangaroos. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as investing in more drones.

"You need to specialise with these drones and Douglas is one of the best in the world," Jones said.

The drone has the ability to fly just under 2km's and has so far helped rescuers spot koalas, wombats, and wallabies across Kangaroo Valley.

In an Instagram post, Thron said: "It works amazingly well (but) there are still so many animals to save out there."

Contact the author: elyons@networkten.com.au