Australia is having one of the worst bush fire seasons in memory. The fires have ripped through more than 6 million hectares (14.8m acres) of land in the states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria. At least 25 people have died so far and 480 million mammals, birds and reptiles are estimated to have died in NSW alone since September.
Most of the koala population are feared to have died in the fires. These adorable marsupials flee to the top of trees to escape fires, the worst place for them to be in those circumstances and difficult for rescuers to see and rescue—a task that has become easier with a pair of koala sniffing dogs.
Bear, a border collie cross, and Taylor, a springer spaniel, have become true heroes in their koala saving efforts.
Bear is working with non-profit IFAW Australia and trained to detect and rescue koalas at University of the Sunshine Coast. Bear’s high energy made him the perfect candidate and he is now part of a team doing on ground research and monitoring of koalas in the wild.
“Bear is a happy soul, always keen to be on the move and do something,” Romane Cristescu, Bear’s trainer, told Australian Geographic. “His worst nightmare is to be left behind when you go to work—luckily for him, we are allowed to bring our dogs to work every day.”
Taylor has already found eight koalas this season from the scent of either koala fur or scat. She was bred from working lines and her siblings and dad work in animal detection. Taylor can also scent quolls, foxes, cats, rabbits, and rats, and also mark for predators nearby when working.
Koala detection dogs will alert under the tree, as close to the koala’s location as possible. Volunteers and aid workers can then spot the animal, scale the tree indicated, and rescue the koala.