An "obsessive" rescue dog with "tireless energy," Bear the dog has been aiding wildlife rescuers as they search for koalas threatened by the bushfires in New South Wales and Queensland, a wildlife rescuer group says.
Dubbed the "koala detection dog" by International Fund for Animal Welfare, Bear has been searching for koalas and other small animals that may have survived the flames.
Koalas are a "vulnerable" species, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The marsupials are also slow moving and live in eucalyptus trees that can ignite quickly, which makes them all the more vulnerable to wildfires, International Fund for Animal Welfare says. Many may have survived the flames but are stranded in scorched areas with no access to food or water, the group says.
That's where Bear's work has already paid off.
He and his handler helped in rescue efforts Friday in Ngunya Jargoon, an Indigenous Protected Area that has seen two fires in the past month, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
About 20 to 40 koalas lived in the almost 2,500 acre area of woodlands before the fires, the group said. At least two have already been saved, and Bear's tracking work has indicated there are more still alive.
"Thanks to Bear’s work, we know that there are live koalas in the area and we will continue to search to rescue any koalas who need our help," Josey Sharrad with the International Fund for Animal Welfare said in a statement.
To protect Bear as he does his work, the herding dog mix wears protective red socks. Given his high energy, International Fund for Animal Welfare said he's a better detection dog than pet.
According to Reuters, about 2.5 million acres have been affected by the bushfires across Australia’s east coast in recent weeks. At least four people have died and hundreds of homes destroyed, the new agency reported.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Australia wildfires: Dog named bear saving koalas threatened by flames