Australia has suffered a devastating early bushfire season with fires spreading across several states. And while the impact on human life has been overwhelming, for koalas, it’s truly tragic. The bushfires have now wiped out 80% of their natural habitat, killing over 1,000 of the already vulnerable species. In fact, their numbers have dropped so low, that they were recently declared functionally extinct. However, that doesn’t mean we should give up the fight to save them. There are many rescue efforts currently underway to rescue the last surviving koalas, but there’s one particular hero who’s working extra hard—meet Bear, the koala detection dog.
Bear has been deployed to the damaged areas of Queensland, where he uses his powerful sense of smell to detect sick, displaced, orphaned, and injured koalas in burned areas. The 6-year-old border collie/Koolie mix was brought to Detection Dogs for Conservation by his former owners who couldn’t care for him anymore. Luckily, this relocation has given him a new purpose in life. “Our koala detection dog Bear is an integral part of these rescue efforts,” says Fund for Animal Welfare. “He was recently deployed to southeast Queensland and one of the hardest-hit areas of New South Wales where the bushfires decimated local koala populations. Bear is one of the few detection dogs who can locate live koalas through the scent of their fur.”
Bear’s particular training means that he is hyper-focused on the koalas’ scent, but he has no interest in attacking them once he finds them. “Bear is highly focused and brilliant at focusing on one thing— his ball which is his reward, which makes him perfectly suited for the job,” says IFAW. “He also has zero prey drive which is essential for a wildlife detection dog as they need to focus purely on the scent and not the animal, ultimately ignoring the animal.”
Although Bear is doing an amazing job, Australia’s koalas still need our help. “Devastating bushfires continue to sweep across Australia and threaten the survival of iconic species,” says IFAW. “Australia’s wildlife can’t battle this disaster alone. We must work together to save these animals before it’s too late.”