New South Wales on the east coast of Australia is experiencing one of the roughest wildfire seasons in memory. Thanks to the hard work of koala-sniffing dogs like Taylor and Bear, conservation groups are able to rescue the adorable marsupials from their beloved eucalyptus trees as fires rage nearby.
Bear, a border collie cross, is working with the Australian arm of the non-profit IFAW. Too high-energy as a puppy for his first family, his drive and love of work are exactly what makes him an excellent koala dog.
“Bear is a happy soul, always keen to be on the move and do something,” Romane 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, a four-year-old springer spaniel, has found 8 koalas so far this season, including a mother and joey.
Taylor was bred from working lines and all her littermates (and dad!) work in animal detection. These dogs can learn to identify any animal species from lizards and snakes and toads to birds and mammals. Besides koalas, Tayler can scent quolls, foxes, cats, rabbits, and rats. She also will mark for any nearby predators when working.
Dogs trained to find koalas trail the scent of either koala fur or koala scat. The dogs alert under the tree in question, as close to the animal as possible. Volunteers and aid workers can then spot the marsupial, scale the tree indicated, and rescue the koala in need.
When it isn’t fire season, these important dogs help scientists find and track koalas for research and conservation purposes. According to Romane, human koala spotters have a 20% accuracy rating, whereas the dogs can find a koala with 100% accuracy. Wow!
Koalas were hunted for meat and fur until the early 1920s. Though their numbers bounced back after hunters left them alone, the deforestation of Australia’s wild places has severely curtailed their habitat, as has urban encroachment. Today, less than 50,000 koalas are left in the wild, and that wild is on fire.