The wildfires in Australia have been burning for months, and there are estimates that half a billion animals have lost their lives in the blazes. While the numbers are heartbreaking, there are rescuers who haven't given up hope that there are 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 has helped us locate sick and injured koalas and has recently been called to search for koalas in habitats ravaged by fires," USC Detection Dogs for Conservation Senior Research Fellow Dr. Celine Frere said in a news release.
"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."
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."
'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 has gone viral amid the horrific news coming out of Australia. People want to help and want 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."