Koalas found by detection dogs in Maryvale ©Matthew Hansen

Koalas found by detection dogs in Maryvale ©Matthew Hansen

Searching for koalas with detection dogs

10 Jan 2020

Keywords
  • bushfire
  • forests
  • koalas
  • queensland
Last summer's fires saw the largest single loss of wildlife in modern history. Many struggling Australian species have now been pushed even further towards the brink of extinction. Adopt a koala today to help our precious wildlife and habitats recover from this disaster.

 

ADOPT A KOALA TODAY

 

Thanks to our supporters’ urgent donations and online furniture retailer, Koala, we’ve been able to deploy vital emergency funds to  OWAD Environment who are working with detection dogs to locate surviving koalas. Read on to find out what a typical day of detection work involves…

 

Burned forest ©WWF-Australia / Veronica Joseph

In November 2019, a 6,000-hectare fire tore through Spicers Peak Station in Maryvale,  Queensland. The fire melted road signs, saw thick tree trunks turn to ash and burned out the habitat of countless wildlife, including koalas. 

 

Detection dogs, Taz and Missy ©WWF-Australia / Veronica Joseph

 

Enter koala detection dogs, Taz (left) and her cousin Missy (right) from OWAD Environment. Taz and Missy are working Springer Spaniels. They use their nose and sense of smell to detect koala faecal pellets, known as scats. 

Olivia and Missy from OWAD Environment ©WWF-Australia / Veronica Joseph

 

Detecting scats is a very important job. This is because scats provide a trail of evidence to determine if there are surviving koalas in a bushfire-affected area and how they are utilising their habitat. Detection dogs are highly efficient and can cover a huge amount of ground compared to humans. The dogs can easily and regularly do search 100,000+ trees each day!

 

Director of OWAD Environment, Olivia works with Missy and Taz dogs on post-fire monitoring activities. This involves locating surviving koalas and assessing how they are faring in bushfire affected areas.

 

Missy indicating she has found scats ©OWAD Environment
 
When the dogs find a scat they will indicate by bringing their nose down on the scat, as Missy is showing above. By following the trail of fresh scats, Olivia and her team can quickly track and find koalas. When they find live individuals, they perform a visual check to assess their condition via binoculars. If there is an immediate concern for their health and safety, a wildlife rescuer is contacted. The location of live koalas, and of areas regularly visited by koalas - as evidenced by scats - are noted so that watering points can be installed.

 

Koalas found by detection dogs in Maryvale ©Matthew Hansen
 
Detection activities around Spicers Peak Station have just kicked off and already seven surviving koalas have been found, and there’s evidence of more survivors. Some koalas spotted looked healthy, while others appeared to be slightly underweight. Koalas in the regions would have been struggling with nutrition and thirst for the last 2-3 years prior to the fire. Although the flames did not reach canopy level in some parts of the forests here, there isn't much green leaf remaining. As old leaf also has low moisture content and is hard to digest, watering points are being installed to help keep koalas hydrated while new leaf grows back.

 

New growth after bushfires ©WWF-Australia / Veronica Joseph

 

Amazingly, two months after the fire at Spicers Peak Station the OWAD Environment team found a tree stump still smouldering. But there is also lush new leaf emerging in places and evidence that koalas are feeding on this regrowth.

Using detection dogs to map koala habitat and find survivors is a first and important step in longer term recovery. WWF had so far committed almost $1 million for immediate wildlife rescue, care and recovery and this is just the start. WWF has an ambitious global appeal to establish an Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund. This will help continue wildlife response efforts, assist with habitat restoration and future-proofing Australia.

Last summer's fires saw the largest single loss of wildlife in modern history. Many struggling Australian species have now been pushed even further towards the brink of extinction. Adopt a koala today to help our precious wildlife and habitats recover from this disaster.


 

 

ADOPT A KOALA TODAY


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