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 said.
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 Facebook post by IFAW.
“Bear indicated there are definitely live koalas in the area, which is promising,” read the post.
Sterling said 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 said.
“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 reportedly been working as a professional conservation dog for the past three years finding koalas and other native animals.
“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.
Koala populations are at risk, and a large portion may have died in the wildfires.
Sussan Ley, the federal environment minister, said that up to 30% may have been killed in the bush fires in New South Wales.
She says wildfires have torched up to 30% of their habitat.
According to the Australia zoo, there were only about 40,000 to 100,000 koalas remaining after "uncontrolled habitat destruction."
The animals are now considered endangered.