Koala Australia
Australia's foreign minister Julie Bishop and her Singaporean counterpart K Shanmugam feed a koala at the Singapore Zoo May 20, 2015. Reuters/Edgar Su

Griffith University researchers have revealed that Australian koalas are quick learners when it comes to learning how to use structures designed to minimise road kills. It was a world-first study conducted by the Queensland university.

The researchers have been monitoring 130 verified crossings by the marsupials in south-east Queensland using camera traps and wireless ID tags. The research also involved an eco-passage or retrofitted structure over a 30-month period.

The findings came as a surprise to professor Darryl Jones from the university's Environmental Futures Research Institute team. He said no one had a clue if the structures would keep the koalas safe from speeding cars. He also said that the study was about trying to make sure the koalas used some of the structures made for them to pass safely under roads.

“One of the main problems is that they get run over on roads all the time and when we looked at all the places they were being hit, everywhere there were big tunnels and culverts underneath roads. We expected the animals to take a while to get used to them. To our great surprise they were using them three weeks into it. Can you teach koalas new tricks? You can, that's the point,” Jones told the ABC.

Jones explained that it is very difficult to know how the koalas mastered the trick to navigate eco-passages. Even photos won’t help much as it is impossible to know “if it’s the same animal each time.”

The study findings have been published by the CSIRO in Wildlife Research. Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads were responsible for the structures and they supported the research through funding. Under the national environment law, koala population in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Queensland are listed as vulnerable.

Prior to the study, Jones felt koalas are not smart or innovative. However, he had to eat his own words when the koalas got used to the structures within three weeks.