A talented dog is lending a paw to animal rescue efforts in areas devastated by Australia’s raging bushfires, saving koalas with her impressively strong sense of smell.
Taylor, a four-year-old English springer spaniel, has found dozens of injured marsupials by sniffing out the scent of their fur or their faeces, also known as scat.
The clever dog ventures out into the burnt-out bushland in search for the animals when her trainer Ryan Tate commands the magic words, “koala, find”.
Each time she sniffs out a koala, she is rewarded with a tennis ball or culinary treat.
Mr Tate runs the detector dog training service, Tate Animal Training Enterprises.
He said Taylor had become an expert at her niche occupation as she had been practising since she was just a few months old.
“In ideal conditions where the air is still, the smell of the animal actually drops down from the tree and Taylor can smell them,” Mr Tate said.
“She’ll sit right below them and point up to them and show us where they are.”
Mr Tate said the canine was even trained to complete her mission in difficult and windy conditions, by finding fresh faeces.
“We can let the experts know where the scats are and they will scan the canopy and usually find the animal,” Mr Tate said.
Several of the koalas found by Taylor have been treated at Port Macquarie’s Koala Hospital, a specialist facility and tourist attraction that has been overrun in the current crisis.
Ferocious and unprecedented bushfires have killed 29 people in Australia in the past few months and razed bushland equal to an area the size of Bulgaria.
Much of Australia’s koala population has been severely affected by the blazes, which continue to burn across the country’s east coast.
In the state of New South Wales alone, officials estimate koalas may have lost 30% of their eucalypt woodlands, which they use for both food and shelter.
Their heavy fur and tendency to climb higher when threatened are severe disadvantages in fast-moving bushfires.
Taylor is not the only animal working to save his fellow furry friends.
Suffering marsupials have found another unlikely saviour in Bear, a dog with obsessive compulsive disorder, who has also been helping animal rescuers by sniffing out creatures in charred bush.
The cattle dog cross-breed is ideally suited to the task as he is trained to find both wild koalas and quolls – another small Australian marsupial.
Authorities have said the full extent of the koala’s habitat damage will not be known until the fires are extinguished, which is likely several months away.
A $50m emergency wildlife recovery program launched by the federal government earlier this week will focus on the survival of the iconic native animal.
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