Bear, a five-year-old high-energy dog tasked with finding Koalas injured in Australia’s devastating bushfires, has rescued 100 such marsupials in the affected areas of New South Wales and Queensland.
The Australian Koolie is a part of Queensland’s University of Sunshine Coast’s (USC) ‘Detection Dogs for Conservation’ team which has been working with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and local wildlife groups to rescue koalas living in the bushfire-ravaged areas.
Bear has been on the ground since November 2019 and has so far found 100 sick or injured Koalas in the affected areas of New South Wales and Queensland, Australia’s national news agency Australian Associated Press said in a report.
The USC with a help of drone mounted with a thermal camera locate the koalas in trees and then the dog is sent in to use his sense of smell to find them.
“We’ve worked in areas post-fire with other dogs, and they were able to smell their target odours, so it didn’t surprise me that Bear could do it,” said team member Romane Cristescu.
“The catastrophic landscape is really hard for us, but for Bear it’s an opportunity for him to be out and play and do what he likes doing,” she said.
Most of the koalas which suffered a blow during the severe bushfire conditions this summer were found near the Two Thumbs Wildlife Sanctuary in the NSW alpine region, Nerriga in the southern tablelands and Kandanga in Queensland’s Gympie region, the report said.
“We’re still finding animals that are struggling to find food. They’re on the edge of starvation. If we find them, wildlife carers can plump them up. Their goal is to release them when and where they have a better chance of having food available to them,” Cristescu said.
The bushfire emergency might be out of people’s minds, but for koalas, it is not over, she said, adding that many areas of land which were badly burnt have not recovered and vegetation has not grown back.
“Some places have burnt so much for such a wide area, some species may take decades to recover,” Cristescu said.
IFAW wildlife campaigner Josey Sharrad said Bear brought the team hope during the devastation due to the bushfires starting from September 2019 until March 2020.
“He found koalas despite all those harrowing conditions. That brought us hope,” she said.
Calls for koalas to be classified as endangered are growing following one of the worst bushfire seasons on record where thousands of koalas are believed to have perished.
“We don’t want people to move on so quickly from the bushfire emergency. Every koala we can track, rescue and rehab counts to the future survival of species,” Sharrad said.
Over one billion animals are estimated to have perished in the last bushfires season, prompting the Australian government to give wildlife and environmental groups an initial cash injection of USD 50 million.
The IFAW and the USC are also working on a research looking into how resilient the species are in the hope they can help more koalas survive in the next fire season.