The past few weeks of bush fires have created a nightmare in Australia. Smoke has clogged the Sydney skyline, and state governments have issued terrifying warnings essentially urging residents to flee or risk death.
The toll on wildlife has been equally heavy. Roughly 2.5 million acres of forest have burned, destroying crucial habitat and incinerating animals unable to escape the flames. This is all patently terrible news, but allow me to offer you a brief moment of respite in this garbage world ablaze. Amidst the carnage, there are dogs. Searching for koalas.
Some very good boys and girls are out roving the burned out forests of New South Wales in search of fellow furry travellers who have survived the fires. Koalas have been hard hit by the blazes with hundreds feared dead. The iconic marsupials are considered vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and have seen their population decline due to human encroachment and climate change.
The fires (which are tied to climate change) are only exacerbating the problem by reducing habitat. In the short term, the fires mean forage that koalas rely on has been burned up, and water sources are likely polluted. Harrowing videos of koalas with singed fur and burned feet have also emerged on social media, providing a visceral reminder of their struggles.
That’s why rescuers have sprung into action, including koala detection dogs. Yes, there are dogs that search specifically for koalas. The UK's International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has deployed Bear, an “obsessive” Border Collie-Koolie mix, to sniff around for koalas in the outback. Another dog, Taylor, has been deployed by TATE Animal Training for similar purposes. Both dogs are using their high powered noses to hunt for koalas. Or more specifically, they’re hunting for the most telltale sign of live animals there is: fresh poo.
Under less trying circumstances, conservationists have used poo sniffing dogs to help map wildlife sanctuaries and the presence of threatened animals. But for Bear and Taylor, it’s looking for koalas that may be in need in the freshly burned-out landscape. IFAW described the Ngunya Jargoon Indigenous Protected Area Bear was patrolling as a “blackened, smouldering crematorium” in a blog post. Though the dog and his handler didn’t find any koalas, there were signs of koalas in the area. Taylor, meanwhile, has had more luck, turning up eight koalas near Port Macquarie about 230 miles north of Sydney.
In addition to the good boys and girls out on the search koalas, people have also jumped into the fray to save the suffering marsupials. That includes a woman who literally gave a koala the shirt off her back after it emerged from a burning forest and then doused its singed fur with water.
Fire danger continues to be very high to severe for the next 24 hours before New South Wales and its koalas finally get a reprieve.
Featured image: Fiona Clark Photography