Now that the wildfires in Australia finally have been contained, animals are slowly returning to their ravaged habitats. Conservation experts worry that this damaged land won't be sustainable for them.
During the blazes, an estimated half billion animals lost their lives. While the numbers were heartbreaking, there were rescuers who didn't give up hope that there were survivors to be found.
Like Bear. The blue-eyed border collie/koolie mix works with University of Sunshine Coast (USC) Detection Dogs for Conservation to sniff out sick, orphaned and injured koalas across New South Wales and Queensland. Bear was trained by USC academics and works in partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
Bear was called in to locate sick and injured koalas in habitats devastated by fires. He gained a lot of fame — including here on MNN — for his abilities during the fires and his team wants to keep him on the ground, continuing their work tracking and rescuing animals, as well as providing ecological research in the area.
"The dream of Detection Dogs for Conservation now is to put a team on the ground seven days a week across all of the fire-affected areas," says USC Detection Dogs for Conservation Associate Professor Celine Frere in the video above. "I think with the bushfires my entire team is sad, feeling a bit powerless and wanting to do more. that's the biggest frustration thinking we have the team, we have the tool. You know, help us get out there and make a difference."
The team is hoping to get more funding to continue their work. To help, visit their website.
The perfect job
Bear was purchased as a puppy from a pet shop by a family but he was a handful and became too much for them when they moved to a smaller home.
Now 6 years old, Bear "is high-energy, obsessive, doesn't like to be touched and is completely uninterested in people, which sadly means he doesn't make the ideal family pet," IFAW told the Associated Press.
"But these qualities do make him a perfect candidate for a detection dog which is exactly why he was chosen. Bear is highly focused and brilliant at focusing on one thing – his ball which is his reward, which makes him perfectly suited for the job. He also has zero prey drive which is essential for a wildlife detection dog as they need to focus purely on the scent and not the animal, ultimately ignoring the animal."
"Because they can smell what we can't see, dogs can be used to track rare animals, detect pest species and locate threatened native plants, so they have such an important role to play in conservation," Frere says.
'A Disney movie that must be made'
There are other rescue dogs trained to sniff koala scat, but Bear is trained to find fresh scat. Because of this skill, he is able to lead rescuers to save live koalas, even if they're perched high in trees.
Bear's story went viral amid the horrific news coming out of Australia. People wanted to help and wanted to read uplifting news from the area.
Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio both praised the four-footed rescuer on social media.
"This is a Disney movie that must be made – the story of Bear, the koala detection dog," Hanks said. "That's adorable. I like Bear."
Around the same time, DiCaprio posted a World Economic Forum video on Instagram that included Bear's work.
Detection Dogs for Conservation wrote a post on Facebook, amazed by all the coverage Bear is receiving.
"I am still unsure whether this is due to his awesome blue eyes, attractive red booties, or his heart warming story from abandoned dog to super star (it's the red booties though, right????) - but I do need to acknowledge there are so many more amazing people doing so much more for wildlife right now, and that deserve all the recognition in the world."
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information since it was written in January 2020.