CANBERRA, June 24 (Xinhua) -- Koalas become increasingly vigilant when drones are flying nearby, recent Australian research has found.

In the first study of its kind, a team from Flinders University in the Australian state of South Australia (SA) fitted 16 of 34 koalas at the Cleland Wildlife Park with heart rate monitors to measure the impact of drones on the iconic species.

Drones have become a vital tool in conservation efforts for a wide range of species, allowing scientists to track populations in a non-intrusive manner but no research had been done into how koalas respond to them until now.

The team flew drones near the koalas and found they were aware of their presence but that it had little impact.

"They showed an increase in vigilance but no increase in heart rate and no increase in breathing rate," Diane Colombelli-Negrel, a behavioral ecologist and lead author of the study, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Koalas in SA are generally faring better than on Australia's east coast where they have been declared an endangered species.

Colombelli-Negrel's team has also been using infrared cameras and acoustic software to monitor the impact of tourists on a fragile population of small penguins on Granite Island.

They have observed a high number of people shining their torches or putting their hands inside the burrows of the penguins to take photographs.

In one burrow, penguins were being disturbed several times every night.

"We have seen in the past four years a really significant increase in those events," Colombelli-Negrel said.

"We may have to think of ways to hide those birds."

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