Koala in Australia
Credit: China News Service/Getty Images

A dog named Bear is on a mission to rescue koalas from Australia’s bushfires, which have burned millions of acres of land over the past few weeks.

An estimated 350 koalas were killed last month when a rampant blaze tore through a wildlife sanctuary. While typically their defense mechanism is to climb to the top of a tree, curl up in a ball and wait for the fire to pass, it’s an effective strategy during small and quick fires. However during severe wildfires, the koalas are specifically at risk.

This year, for the first time, the border collie-koolie has been roaming burned areas, on the lookout for any koala survivors. Bear works with his handler Rianna to sniff out any evidence of koalas still in the area.

“With winds up to 30km, the conditions were not ideal for Bear’s tracking, but he indicated possible koalas at a number of spots,” the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said in a blog post. “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.”

Bear is part of a specialized and trained pack of dogs who work for koala protection. The IFAW explained, that the pups help scientists collect data to monitor and protect the health and population of koalas and other marsupials in the Australian bush. Normally they sniff out koalas in less dangerous settings but this year, Bear was sent into more dangerous circumstances.

He was given a pair of heat-resistant booties and sent into the charred bushland. Although Bear has not find any live koalas (yet), he was able to alert search party members that there were still koalas alive in the region.

Another dog, a Springer Spaniel named Taylor, has also assisted in koala relief efforts. She found eight koalas in the burned fields of Port Macquarie.