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Amazing Dogs: Conservation Detection Dogs Koala Detection

So far we have learned about so many ways that dogs help us like medical detection dogscadaver dogsservice dogsemotional support dogs and conservation dogs helping science with bee detection

Koala on a branch in the forest.

There are many more examples of conservation detection dogs.  We all remember the horrific images of the fires that ravaged Australia and the certain dire impact on Koalas among other animals. Did you also know that conservation dogs played an important role then and still today in saving and protecting Koalas?  Dogs like Bear which we will learn about are responsible for saving over 100 koalas in the fires!

Conservation Dogs Protecting Australia’s Wildlife

Dr. Romane Cristescu co-founded Detection Dogs for Conservation to help protect Australia’s wildlife. In her work she pioneered  the use of detection dogs to locate koalas.  By using detection dogs to locate koala scat and therefore koalas, Dr. Cristescu’s team is able to help monitor the status of koala populations and find koalas that may be in trouble. 

Monitoring the status of koala populations with conservation dogs is crucial in the aftermath of a crisis similar to the bushfires of recent years, but it also plays a key part in policy-making says Dr. Cristescu.

Dog’s Trained to Help Koalas

This ongoing work will help to preserve the koala population for generations to come.  Dogs like the prestigious Animal Action Award Winner, 2021 Bear, are trained conservation dogs that came to the rescue for Koalas in the fire.  Bear found injured Koalas so that they could get to help and each day conservation detection dogs go out in the field supporting important koala conservation efforts by finding koalas to monitor their safety and health.  

Koala Protection and Conservation Dogs

In general Koala numbers are in decline. The prevalence of fires like the fires we saw in Australia not only were responsible for the direct loss of Koalas’ lives but also were responsible for destroying their habitat in areas that they like to live in. 

Fires of late have been the most intense in history, hotter and outside of the season.  Koalas also find it difficult to tolerate many hot days in a row and have trouble regulating heat which can cause their decline as well.  

Grey Koala bear on a branch in the forest looking into the camera.
Koala Bear numbers are in decline.

These issues threatening Koalas make their conservation of utmost importance and the role of dogs like Bear, even more important.  

Bear currently works on an important conservation dog scat detection team providing important work in ecology.  The idea to use conservation dogs for koala scat detection has been so successful that the idea took off and now several dogs are working to find fresh Koala scat leading scientists to the illusive koalas to support them and perform important work to preserve them and keep them healthy.  

Training Conservation Detection Dog

Training on scat  may be easier than cadaver dog or bee detection as we learned but like those depend on a specific routine and special and amazing dog.  The handler introduces koala scat and when the dog  smells it they get to play. the dog’s reward is playing and the dogs associate the playing reward with the koala scat. With the right dog the association happens in a few days and after that they really search for scent says Dr. Cristescu.  

What is trickier for the dog than other scent detection dogs that we have discussedDr. Romane Cristescu tells us that the dogs must drop as their signal in order to get the reward. 

Black, brown and white dog lying down on a tree in the forest.
Trained koala detection dogs needs to learn to lie down when they scent the Koala or Koala scat so as not to scare the Koala.

Trained Koala detection conservation dogs need to learn to drop as opposed to barking or other signals so that they do not scare the koala since koalas are known to be shy.  They must remain quiet and silently tell you that the koala is there.

Conservation detection dogs are trained to find koala by teaching the detection scent dogs initially with fur from the koala.  

What Type of Dog is the Best Conservation Dog for Koala Detection?

As we discuss in our other articles on scent detection dogs and conservation dogs, conservation dogs are very special and can be very hard to find but they are not one specific breed.

Dr. Romane Cristescu  indicates that training a conservation detection dog for scent is a lot of work.  The dogs need to be ball obsessed and never get distracted but at the same time not chase wildlife like rabbits and other animals deployed in national parks. 

Dogs like Bear also are both air scenting and tracking unlike certain other dogs which are only trained to track by smelling smells on the ground.  

The conservation detection dogs need to want to play but not chase, they have a high prey drive but do not chase prey.  As a conservation dog they have a duty of care to all animals.  Finding the right conservation dog, like Bear, can be a million to one proposition.  It is very difficult for conservation groups like Koala detection groups to find the right dog.  

As the Director of Conservation Dogs for research, Dr. Cristescu, looks for dogs  that are high energy and obsessed with playing.  She looks for dogs that want to play more than anything including being patted or food. 

The dogs she finds are often rescued from pounds and groups where she always asks them for the highest energy dogs.  But she indicates that often those are the most difficult to have as pets so these dogs do get a second chance.

 The dogs also need to work in challenging environments.  Australia, where dogs like Bear work, for instance, have a large amount of venomous snakes, the dogs are trained to move away quickly if they see a snake.  But conservation detection dogs like Bear may also be working in very challenging environments, with heat, dense eucalyptus, and heavy bush.  

As Dr. Cristescu says:  Every species deserves for us to fight for them in this climate but the koala has a special place in her heart.   

Do you love koalas and dogs?  You can follow Bear and her adventures on Instagram @bearthekoaladog                                                                                                                                                                          Do you know an amazing dog?  Let us know in the comments below.                               

Check out more amazing dogs in our Amazing Dogs Series:

Amazing Dog Series – The Complete Guide to Emotional Support Animals (Plus Handy Infographic comparison ESA to Service Dogs)

Amazing Dog Series: Medical Detection Dog Jobs Saving Lives and Supporting Medicine

Amazing Dogs Series: 5 Amazing Livestock Guardian Dogs and their Jobs

Amazing Dog Series: The Important Dog Job of Cadaver Dogs

K9 Veterans and All About Dogs That Serve

Koala Detection Dog FAQ

What is a conservation dog?

Conservation detection dogs are dogs that are specially trained to sniff out odors related to conservation biology, like Bee detection, protecting farm animals so that farmers do not have to kill endangered species, and protecting koalas from fire and declining numbers.

Do koalas get along with dogs?

Koalas do not normally get along with dogs but in the case of a trained koala detection dog the dogs are trained to detect koalas and not threaten them as koalas are shy.

What are some threats to Koalas

Koalas are threatened by disasters like wildfires, flooding and wildlife attacks. They are vulnerable in that they move very slow.