Brave Dog Named Smudge Helps Rescue Koalas From Australian Wildfires

Dogs and wildlife don’t always mix. But the wildfire devastation down in Australia has left hero dogs nevertheless using their noses to help rescuers protect the estimated 1 billion animals affected by this blaze.

We already wrote about Bear and Taylor, both trained koala detection dogs who use their noses to help rescuers detect any survivors clinging to life in charred debris. But now a third canine hero, Smudge, has also donned fireproof booties to assist with this life-saving effort.

“One of the challenges we’ve faced in the Blue Mountains area is they’re really difficult habitats to survey for koalas,” one of the rescue volunteers, Dr Kellie Leigh, explained to the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy.

In some areas, rescuers can simply spot koala survivors clinging to trees, but the brush in this area is too thick for rescuers to quickly spot survivors. “The trees can be really big, the canopy can be really dense and you just can’t see them by looking,” Leigh said.

Smudge was recruited to the team after volunteers found his powerful nose could find, in just five minutes, twice as much koala scat as the human volunteers found in an hour. Working with Smudge has helped rescuers find more koalas – in just a fraction of the time.

“They’re (detection dogs) incredibly useful out here,’ said Leigh, whose team also includes other skilled human rescuers. “We’ve trialled a lot of different survey methods and the most effective by far is using the detection dogs.

Finding koala droppings help rescuers narrow their search to specific trees, because trees with scat near their trucks have a greater probability of containing a burned, frightened, and/or hungry koala clinging to the branches above. Now Smudge runs ahead in search of koala droppings, then runs back to show his fellow rescuers what he’s found.

“The dog will help us find the scats,” said Leigh, and “if we find fresh scat we can then start focusing on the canopy and doing an intense search and hopefully locate the koala.”

Watch this very good boy at work in the video below!

Koala Dogs to the Rescue

Meet Smudge, an essential member of the Australia search and rescue team. For conservationists, finding a koala hiding in a tree is nearly impossible—but not for Smudge! He's helping the team locate survivors after mega-fires blazed through the area. 🐶🇦🇺EndExtinction.org/Help

Posted by San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy on Monday, January 20, 2020

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J. Swanson is a writer, traveler, and animal-enthusiast based in Seattle, an appropriately pet-crazed city where dog or cat ownership even outweighs the number of kids. When the weather permits, she likes to get outside and explore the rest of the Pacific Northwest, always with a coffee in hand.
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