As fires ravage parts of the country, animals are being wiped out by the thousands.
There’s a team of five dogs with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) ready and willing to help, and one of them is named Bear.
When a family bought him as a puppy from a local pet shop, they realized they’d gotten way in over their head with such a high-energy canine.
They loved him but he was a lot to handle, IFAW spokesperson Aurore Lepastourel told Global News. As it turns out, his energetic nature would later help him become an expert in saving koalas.
The six-year-old dog was brought to the Detection Dogs for Conservation initiative at the University of the Sunshine Coast to see if he’d be a fit for the program. The initiative is run in partnership with IFAW, which was founded in Canada over 50 years ago.
“Within minutes, the team knew he was ‘the one’ they’d been looking for to train on live koalas,” Lepastourel said.
“He 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,” she added. “But these qualities do make him a perfect candidate for a detection dog, which is exactly why he was chosen.”
Bear is currently on the ground working to rescue koalas impacted by the devastating bushfires burning around Australia.
“Bear is one of the few dogs in the world able to find koala by the scent of their fur, which is a real asset to find these little survivors who are hiding in the trees,” Lepastourel said.
The highly skilled dogs do not come in contact with the koalas due to the potential for germ transfer. Instead, when Bear detects one of the animals, he will lie down at the base of the tree and wait for a human rescuer.
“Koalas tend to climb high in the trees to protect themselves from danger,” Lepastourel said. “This is also why they’re deeply affected by fires and why it is hard to find them, which requires the amazing skills of Bear.”
The IFAW sent its global disaster team to help with the wildfire relief in Australia on Wednesday.
It’s estimated that a staggering 25,000 koalas have died in the fires on Kangaroo Island alone, according to The Guardian.