In the midst of Australia’s wildfire tragedy, many people are stepping up to help save wildlife, and dogs have a special role. Detector dogs are using their tracking capabilities to find and rescue koalas from danger.
The Australian bushfires
Australia is currently undergoing one of its worst fire seasons ever, with over 17.9 million acres of land in flame since the start of September 2019. After one of the hottest and driest years on record, every state and territory is experiencing bushfires, especially the southeast coast near Sydney.
With the spread of these fires, the effect on Australia’s wildlife has been devastating. Scientists estimate that over 800 million animals have died from the fires or indirectly from dehydration, starvation, or habitat loss. Thousands of firefighters and volunteers have stepped up to rescue animals in danger and fight the bushfires, even rescue dogs!
Rescue dogs saving koalas
These four-legged heroes have a special job: rescuing koalas from the bushfires. These dogs use their strong sense of smell to help find, locate, and save koalas in danger. Multiple groups are sponsoring these koala-sniffing dogs around Australia. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Friends of the Koala Inc., TATE Animal Training Enterprises, and Detection Dogs for Conservation are training dogs to identify the smell of koala fur to find and save koalas.
When they are in danger, koalas tend to climb high up in trees to protect themselves. This makes it hard for humans to find them and leaves them vulnerable to the fire. Detector dogs can help humans locate the koalas by using their strong senses to sniff out koala fur. If it is not too windy, these dogs are able to identify their smell from the trees and find koalas trying to escape the fires.
In difficult conditions such as strong winds, these dogs search for koala poop to find clues as to where a koala has been. The handler of the dog will then come and look in the trees for the endangered koala.
Once a koala has been found, the dog will lie down next to the tree to indicate to their handler where it is located. It is important that the dogs do not touch the koalas to avoid the any transfer of germs.
The importance of protecting koalas
So far, dozens of koalas have been saved by these brave rescue dogs and more dogs are rising to the challenge as the fires are projected to continue until at least March. Koalas are vital to Australian wildlife, but the fires have put them in danger of extinction. It is estimated that more than 25,000 have died in the fires on Kangaroo Island alone, so every koala saved counts.
You can help fund these koala-saving rescue dogs by donating to IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare. They are taking donations to supply lifesaving food, medications, and shelter for koalas and other animals endangered by the wildfires as well as deploying rescue dogs and their handlers. Everyone, even dogs, can come together to help save Australia’s wildlife.