It’s no secret that dogs have amazing olfactories. From those trained in search and rescue, to sniffing out cancers, to detecting bed bugs, or simply just knowing you’ve got treats tucked somewhere in those grocery bags, the canine nose is something to marvel at.
It’s no surprise, then, that one such hero dog is on the hunt in Australia for koalas that have survived the devastating bushfires engulfing the country.
There’s no shortage of dogs around the globe using their exceptional sense of smell for the greater good. From search-and-rescue dogs on the earthquake shattered ground in Puerto Rico, to specialized sniffers seeking out life-threatening bacteria in hospital wings, or employed at zoos as the most accurate way to determine if a polar bear is expecting.
Bear, a Border Collie-mix, was abandoned by his original owners. Today he’s found a new purpose, serving as a conservation detection dog, tracking and saving koalas injured in Australia’s bushfires alongside his handlers with IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, an organization that works to rescue individual animals, safeguard populations, preserve habitat, and advocate for greater protections.
“IFAW specifically sponsors koala detection dog Bear, but there are other dogs which the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland works with, some of which are trained to sniff for koala droppings, whereas Bear is trained to sniff out koala fur and identify where there are live koalas,” IFAW spokeswoman Clare Sterling said.
Bear was able to detect live koalas in Ngunya Jargoon, an Indigenous Protected Area where many koalas lived before wildfire destroyed 85% of its 1,000 hectares:
But Bear wasn’t always hailed a hero. Early in his life, he was adopted as a family pet. But, his super high energy and drive to work landed him back at a shelter. Thankfully, those qualities made him perfect for detection work. Today, Bear is well-loved, healthy, and very happy with a job to keep him busy.
Sussan Ley, the federal environment minister in Australia, estimates that up to 30% of the area’s koalas have been killed in the bushfires in New South Wales. According to the Australia Zoo, only about 40,000 to 100,000 koalas remain. They are now considered endangered.