Bear the Dog leads fight to save koalas from Australian bushfires

Australian scientists are using sniffer dogs to rescue koalas struggling to survive damaging bushfires as they try to avoid a repeat of last year’s high death count of the native animals.

Led by Bear, a border collie and Australian cattle dog cross, Detection Dogs for Conservation saved more than 100 koalas in the country’s worst summer of fires in decades from late 2019 to early 2020. About 6,000 koalas were killed and thousands of hectares of their natural habitat destroyed.

Almost exactly a year since the first fires of that season started, Bear is back, with a focus on the northern state of Queensland.

“While it is unlikely that we will see bushfires to the scale of last year, we are still preparing for multiple fires that can impact many hectares of koala habitat during the next fire season,” said Detection Dogs founder Romane Cristescu, an ecologist at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

“In places such as Queensland and New South Wales, where populations are already declining, every koala counts,” she added.

Fires razed more than 11 million hectares (37 million acres) of bushland across Australia’s southeast during what Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the country’s “black summer”, killing at least 33 people and billions of native animals.

The Bureau of Meteorology is expecting a cooler, rainier spring for most of the country, although northern states like Queensland may experience above average temperatures.

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