A dog put up for adoption because it didn’t make a “good pet” has been retrained to save koalas from Australia’s bushfires.
In the last couple of weeks wildfires have spread across New South Wales, Queensland and the Sunshine Coast causing the deaths of at least three people and the destruction of 150 homes.
The fires are spreading so quickly that firefighters have been given broad powers under the state of emergency to control government resources, force evacuations and close roads.
But there is one fire-fighting team tasked with a very specific job: saving the injured and orphaned koala bears who are caught up in the blaze.
Bear, a border collie-Kollie cross is reportedly the only dog in the world, according to his handlers, who can find koalas by the scent of their fur alone.
Bear works alongside his handling team at the Detection Dogs for Conservation and travels around the country lending his skills to local fire departments.
Wearing protective socks to cover his paws he is deployed to safe burnt-out areas where koalas may be stranded. When he discovers a bear his signal to his handler is to sit very still beneath the tree, and wait to be rewarded with his ball.
Bear was originally a family pet, but after being diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, he was sent to a dog pound according to the Brisbane Times.
Although his condition might have meant he wasn’t a perfect house pet, staff at the Sunshine Coast University and the International Fund for Animal Welfare who rescued him, knew he’d make an ideal detection dog.
According to a post on the IFAW Facebook page, last week Bear was deployed to Australia‘s east coast – an area now declared safe but where wildfires have destroyed koala habitats.
The post said: “These devastating fires have destroyed critical koala habitat and claimed the lives of hundreds of koalas and other native wildlife, so Bear’s powerful nose is an important asset in locating survivors.
“Although he did not find any koalas in this location, we’re hopeful survivors will be found in nearby areas. Bear and team are on standby to deployed wherever needed in both New South Wales and Queensland.”
IFAW wildlife campaigner Josey Sharrad told the Brisbane Times: “Now, more than ever, saving individual koalas is critical. With such an intense start to the bushfire season, it will be many weeks and months before some of these fires are out.
“All the while, wildlife will continue to need to be rescued and treated, and might remain in care for some time. The road to recovery will be long.”
In Sydney, home to 5 million people, health authorities urged people with respiratory issues to stay indoors because the city was covered by a “hazardous” smoky haze. About 600 schools and colleges were closed across NSW.