The Unexpected Savior of the Koalas

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Diego G.

A dog waiting for its food so it could be ready to save those animals in danger.

Australia, which is in the middle of their summer, has been burning for several months. These fires not only have been destroying the environment but also have been killing around half a billion animals that resided in the wildlife. Several species of animals, mainly the koalas, are now at risk of endangerment or even extinction. Rescuers from all over the world have been desperately trying to save as many animals as possible, but one rescuer has been contributing to the cause that may seem unique and abnormal.

Bear, the rescue dog, is a blue-eyed border collie/koolie mix who works with the University of Sunshine Coast Detective Dogs for Conservation. Why dogs? USC Detection Dogs for Conservation Senior Research Fellow Dr. Celine Frere says, “Because they can smell what we can’t see, dogs can be used to track rare animals, detect pest species and locate threatened native plants, so they have such an important role to play in conservation.” Bear, along with other dogs, was trained by USC academics and works with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

These rescue dogs have been helping the IFAW monitor the koala’s health and protection. Now, the koalas need them to be saved. Already, 350 koalas were lost last month when the fire came through a wildlife sanctuary. This year for the first time, Bear and his handler, Rianna set out to sniff out koalas through the burnt millions of acres of wasteland.

However, these dangerous settings are not easy for Bear and his other fellow dogs. IFAW states, “With winds up to 30km, the conditions were not ideal for Bear’s tracking, but he indicated possible koalas at a number of spots.” Despite the horrible conditions, Bear is unique from other rescue dogs. While other dogs are trained to sniff out koala scat, Bear can detect koalas immediately. This gives a huge boost to Bear and his handler as they could find live koalas in danger nearby and save them easily, as scat usually aren’t there to find. “Bear is one of the few detection dogs who can locate live koalas through the scent of their fur,” as IFAW states in a Facebook post. 

Being one of these specialized dogs is not an easy thing to accomplish. The dog must not be distracted by other things such as intoxicating smells and need to have a zero prey drive, which can be very difficult for many dogs. However, that is what Bear excels at, and at the end of the day, he has only one focus… his reward, a ball. 

Devastating fires continue to sweep Australia, killing thousands of animals along with homes and human property. The koala population is at close at extinction, as Bear and other people continue to fight back. More people realize we need more effort into putting these fires out. IFAW informs us that “Australia’s wildlife can’t battle this disaster alone. We must work together to save these animals before it’s too late.”