Hundreds of koalas have been burnt to a crisp in this year’s unusually devastating seasonal bushfires in the Australian grasslands. But as they struggle to survive in their scorched habitats, the slow-moving tree-dwellers are getting help from some very good dogs.
The Queensland fire agency dispatched the Border Collie-Koolie mix, who's specifically trained to sniff out koala droppings and help find live animals, to a fire-afflicted area known to be home to between 20 and 40 koalas.
“Bear indicated that there are definitely live koalas in the area, which is promising,” read a post by the local International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Another pup, Taylor, helped rescuers find eight koalas, according to CNN.
“On three occasions, she sat right beneath live animals (including a mum and joey), and then in many other instances she would alert us to fresh scat and we would notify the expert koala spotters who would then survey the canopy to spot the survivors,” Tate Animal Training Enterprises said in a Facebook post.
The dogs have some human helpers. A woman in New South Wales nabbed a koala she spotted crossing a road and getting stranded near the flames. She wrapped it up in her shirt and rushed it to a hospital.
The fires, meanwhile, show no signs of abating. Six people have died in this season’s fires, according to the BBC, and 420 homes burned down in the last two weeks. But three states said the worst is yet to come. There’s no significant rain in the forecast, and temperatures topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit Wednesday.
The fire seasons here have only been getting longer as human-caused global heating has continued to warm the planet, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. And the blazes are deadly: A local fire official warned in an interview with a local paper: “Don’t be there. If a fire occurs, you will not survive.” The fuzzy marsupials in the region, unfortunately, aren’t quite so mobile.
The already-vulnerable koala population — in rapid decline due to deforestation, climate change, and the encroaching human population that’s built over their habitats — won’t get a respite, either. The Australian government listed the animals as vulnerable in Queensland, New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory back in 2012.
But in South Australia, the furry eucalyptus-munchers are so overabundant that local governments have considered culling (read: massacring) them to preserve the balance of species in the region.