Dogs who have been trained to find and save koalas in the wild are helping to rescue the animals in Australia’s devastating bushfires.
Bear, a border collie-koolie cross, is a detection dog who sniffs out live koalas during search and rescue operations in New South Wales’ Northern Rivers region, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
“IFAW specifically sponsors koala detection dog Bear, but there are other dogs which the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland works with, some of which are trained to sniff for koala droppings, whereas Bear is trained to sniff out koala fur and identify where there are live koalas,” IFAW spokeswoman Clare Sterling told CNN.
Bear was able to smell the scent of live koalas in the Ngunya Jargoon, an Indigenous Protected Area where 20-40 koalas lived before the wildfire destroyed 85% of its 1,000 hectares, according to a recent Facebook post by IFAW.
“Bear indicated there are definitely live koalas in the area, which is promising,” read the post.
Sterling told CNN that Bear is a rescue dog whose energetic temperament meant he was ideal as a detection dog.
“As a young, intelligent and high-energy dog, his energy made him less suitable as a pet and had led him to be put up for adoption again by early owners. So training him as a koala detection dog also gives him a secure future,” Sterling said.
Another detection dog, Taylor, assisted in finding eight koalas, including a mother and joey, over three days of deployment in Port Macquarie, Ryan and Jennifer Tate from Tate Animal Training Enterprises told CNN via Facebook Messenger.
“On three occasions she sat right beneath live animals, (including a mum and joey), and then in many other instances she would alert us to fresh scat (animal feces) and we would notify the expert koala spotters who would then survey the canopy to spot the survivors,” they said in a Facebook post.
Taylor is a 4-year-old Springer Spaniel who has been working as a professional conservation dog for the past three years finding koalas and other native animals, they told CNN.
“Recently with the fire situation in Australia we have been helping the Koala Hospital and Port Macquarie council locate injured or distressed koalas on the fringes of these bush fires and relocate them to safe areas or bring them in to the hospital for treatment,” the Ryans said.
More than 350 koalas were feared to have been killed by bushfires in New South Wales, according to animal experts.