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Hope For Wildlife As Surviving Koalas Found In Fire-Ravaged Bush

Trained detection dogs have helped to find seven koalas alive in burnt-out forest on Queensland’s Southern Downs, and evidence of more survivors.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) group, in partnership with environmental consultants OWAD Environment, have deployed detection dogs in the bushfire-affected area of Maryvale to assess the damage to koala habitats.

They do so by sniffing out their poop.

"We used to do the gruesome and difficult job of having to scratch through the leaf litter and find koala scats, which is like looking for a needle in the haystack for us humans," OWAD Environment's Director Olivia Woosnam said.

"Dogs rely on their nose and sense of smell to scan the landscape and take us to the location of koala scats way quicker than we could do without them."

Detection dogs are 372 percent more effective than humans at finding koalas and also much faster, according to the WWF.

Olivia Woosnam and Alex Dudkowski from OWAD Environment with detection dogs, Missy (right) and Taz (left). Image: WWF-Australia/Veronica Joseph

Teams have a "narrow window" to locate surviving koalas once a bushfire has ravaged their habitat, senior manager at WWF Australia Dr Stuart Blanch told 10 daily.

"Experts tell us koalas need to be detected within one to two months, post-fire. The trouble is fire authorities generally don't allow wildlife rescuers onto a fire ground for one to two weeks for safety reasons," Blanch said.

It's a race against time.

In 2019, the WWF estimated koala numbers nationally had already fallen 95 per cent since 1788 -- from as high as an estimated 10 million to perhaps 100,000 to 200,000.

The recent bushfires have killed an estimated tens of thousands of these.

Two months ago, a massive fire front tore through Maryvale, prompting the evacuation of the the area's five-star Spicers Peak Lodge and leaving surrounding forest decimated.

It was a much more uplifting scene this week as pups Taz and Missy, both trained to sniff out koala scats, discovered seven surviving koalas in two days.

Carbonised koala scats, burnt black throughout, suggest how hot the fire burned. Image: OWAD Environment 2020

On their first morning at the Maryvale property, Woosnam said Taz located fresh koala scats and when they looked up, there was a mother and her joey.

“The joey was out of the pouch and independent. They were in the same tree and moving around and seemed okay, we did a visual check of them and we’ve got no immediate concern for their safety,” Woosnam said.

Nearby, the team found another adult male and an adult female without a joey, who appeared malnourished and dehydrated. A second male was found dead on a highway, with clear signs of road trauma.

The team's second day of searching uncovered a further three koalas, and evidence of even more survivors in the area.

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The search for surviving koalas at Maryvale is being funded by donations to the WWF and support from online furniture company, koala.com.

Blanch said the WWF and koala.com will fund additional trained dogs to search more bushland.

“Finding seven koalas alive amid the destruction in just two days is an encouraging start," he said.

"It’s great to see that some koalas are surviving the fires and they can recolonise the forest as it regrows."

The fourth koala spotted in Maryvale by detection dogs. Image: OWAD Environment 2020

The WWF has launched an ambitious global appeal for $30 million to establish a Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund that would help those on the front line recover wildlife and forests, Blanch said.

A WWF spokesperson told 10 daily $15 million has so far been raised.

National

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