“Koala Sniffer” Dog Helps Researchers Find Koalas After Fires

Smudge Assists in San Diego Zoo Global-supported Efforts to Aid Australian Wildlife

Researchers supported by San Diego Zoo Global are looking for surviving wildlife in Australia, using the talents of a specially trained dog named Smudge. The Blue Mountains World Heritage Region of Australia was severely affected by mega-fires that blazed through the area more than two weeks ago, and Science for Wildlife researchers have been working to determine areas where koalas have survived. Assisting them in their efforts is Smudge, a dog trained to follow the scent of koalas.

 “We don’t know how much wildlife is left in the wake of these fires,” said Kellie Leigh, Ph.D., who is executive director of Science for Wildlife and a San Diego Zoo Global-supported researcher. “In many places, the fire burned so hot that it even melted metal road signs, we don’t expect to find survivors there. However, we are getting reports of koalas turning up in new locations; they are on the move due to the fires. There are likely to be unburnt patches of native habitat that would provide refuges for koalas and a range of other threatened species.

“We need to find out where koalas might have survived, and work out how many we have left—to guide search and rescue efforts, and also to plan for helping koala populations to recover,” Leigh added. “We know that wildlife detection dogs outperform humans when it comes to finding wildlife that can be hard to see, like koalas up in the tree canopy. Smudge and his handler, Kim, are a critical part of our team.”

The Blue Mountains World Heritage Region is home to the most genetically diverse population of koalas in the world, and San Diego Zoo Global is committing resources to ensure that the population is recovered. Mega-fires raced through the region over the last few weeks, devastating more than 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of habitat and threatening wildlife.

Record-breaking high temperatures and severe drought have fueled a series of wildfires that have been raging in Australia for several weeks. Nationwide, more than 15 million acres have been affected so far, with wildfires joining together in some areas to create mega-fire events. San Diego Zoo Global researchers have identified the situation as an environmental disaster.

In response to the threat facing wildlife and habitats in Australia, San Diego Zoo Global recently began a fundraising campaign to support recovery of koalas, platypuses and other species. People interested in supporting this effort can go to  EndExtinction.org/Help for more information.