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Brilliant dogs rescue some koalas from Australian bush fires.

I love dogs, especially those trained as service animals, and I love koala bears. As bush­­fires ravaged Australia this summer, there were many human her­oes that stepped up to defend their communities. But now the world has became entranced by the service dogs saving koalas dec­imated by the blazes.  Here are some newspaper articles from late 2019-early 2020.

A burnt koala brought into a protected environment

The native animals’ homes were already burned to the ground in Queensland and most nat­ive animals in the burnt areas had died. A blue-eyed border-collie named Bear made international head­lines after helping rescuers save injured and orphaned wildlife. Bear walked around wear­ing socks to protect his four paws, and then sat very still to alert the handler when a koala was near. Already in late 2019, Bear was praised for his ability to sniff out both koala scat-droppings and fur. The animal charity International Fund for Animal Welfare/IFAW shared photos of Bear in action.

IFAW campaigner Josey Sharrad explained why Bear's job was import­ant. Now, more than ever, saving individual koalas was critical. With such an intense start to the summer bushfire season, it has been weeks and months before some/all of these fires were put out. In the meantime, wildlife continued to need to be rescued and treated, and had to remain in care for some time. The road to recovery for the burned koalas was long.

The wildlife experts trialled different survey methods and the most effective by far was using the detection dogs. The dog helped find the scats, such that the ex­perts could then start focusing on the canopy and doing an intense search to locate the koala. Bear roamed around burnt-out areas and sat very still to alert his hand­ler when a burned koala was near. The detection dogs were thus incredibly essential.

Now another hero, a specially trained dog named Smudge, was assis­ting animal rescuers in the New South Wales/NSW Blue Mountains. Smudge was also helping to save injured koalas by sniffing them out in the bush after their habitat had been devastated by fires. This dog had been spec­ially trained to track down koala scat, finding twice as much scat in five minutes as a team of three skilled searchers would in an hour. Tragically thousands koalas already died in the Blue Mountain fires alone.

BEAR located koala scat and waited for the wildlife experts to search for the koala
Note his socks, protecting his paws from the burnt ground.

Burned trees, after the Callignee fire went through,
destroying koalas' food supply and sleeping spaces

The wildlife experts knew they needed help to rescue injured koalas. Research­er Dr Kel­lie Leigh was working alongside Smudge and said dogs like him made it far eas­ier to search for koalas in dense bushland. Clearly the Blue Mountains were really diff­icult hab­it­ats to survey: the trees were big, the can­opy was dense and the koalas could not be located just by looking.

Three special dogs, Tommy, Emma and Becky, and their trainer Steve Austin, searched scorched land for injured koalas in NSW. Like other detection dogs, Austin’s team was also trained to find injured koalas by tracking the scent of their scat. So far this fire season, Austin's dogs have located 16 koalas. Experts then came in to rescue the burned animals which were treated at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital in Sydney.

Note the koala named Flash that was found in Taree in northern NSW with burns so severe, he had to be sedated before treatment. Meanwhile, heart warming footage has emerged of firefighters giving a drink of water to two koalas they rescued from catastrophic bush­fires. Lester Miles was on his way to relieve day shift crews fight­ing a blaze burning for more than a week at Spicers Gap in Maryvale, Qld, one night when he saw the koalas surrounded by flames. The Brisbane fire fighter said the koalas would have been burnt alive if they hadn't been spotted and saved. They had nowhere to go since there was fire all around them. Coming up through there, the men had to go through the fire itself. Even more dangerous, there were a lot of trees falling over.
Now a totally unplanned, unexpected saving of a koala. A gallant golden retriever has been hailed a hero after saving an aband­oned baby koala’s life, by letting it snuggle in her fur. Proud dog owner Kerry McKinnon was shocked after discovering the tiny koala joey snuggled up with her five-year-old golden retriever As­ha. The dog owner from Strathdownie in Western Victoria said the koala probably became separated from its mother during the night and wandered onto her back porch, finding comfort in Asha’s warm fur. With early morning temperatures plummeting down to 5c, Kerry McKinnon said that the helpless koala never would have made it through the night if it hadn’t been cuddled up to Asha. The retriev­­er’s heroic feat in honour of the koala has since gone viral on social media.

 Asha the golden retriever saved a baby koala's life by keeping him warm all night.

The Word Wildlife Fund said that 30,000 koalas may have perish­ed, although the final toll won't be known for months. Worse still, koalas are known to breed so slowly that it could take 100 years for the population to rebuild. This meant that every animal that was rescued from death was crucial.


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