Smudge the koala-rescue dog's crucial role in bushfire aftermath

Brooke Rolfe
·News Reporter

A crucial four-legged player in the rescue of koalas from bushfire-ravaged bushland has been revealed as an adorable dog named Smudge.

With more than 10 million hectares of land burned in the Australian bushfire crisis, the number of injured and killed wildlife has rocketed to an estimated 1.25 billion animals.

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, this includes kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, echidnas and koalas. It is believed 8400 koalas have died in the NSW fires alone.

Smudge the dog is helping rescuers find live koalas who survived the bushfires.
Smudge the dog's work is crucial in rescuers finding live koalas. Source: Facebook/San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy

Smudge helps rescuers detect up to 12 times as many koalas as they usually would.

He is currently surveying with the Australia Search and Rescue team in the NSW Blue Mountains area.

Dr Kellie Leigh, from San Diego Zoo Global, said what a team of three people could achieve in an hour, Smudge could do double the workload in just five minutes.

“We’ve trialled a lot of different survey methods and the most effective by far is using detection dogs,” Dr Leigh said in a video shared to the Facebook page of San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy.

She said Smudge helped by locating fresh koala poo, also known as scat, then alerting the team so they could search the surrounding trees for life.

“They’re incredibly useful out here,” Dr Leigh said.

In dense and complex canopies like in the Blue Mountains, Dr Leigh said it was simply “too difficult” for a human team to conduct the surveying necessary to locate surviving wildlife.

Smudge is in the Blue Mountains. He is seen sniffing for koala scats to find survivors.
The dog sniffs for koala scats to help rescuers find surviving animals. Source: Facebook/San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy

Data published on Monday by the Department of the Environment and Energy showed 49 species had seen more than 80 per cent of their known or likely habitat damaged in the fires.

For a further 65 species, at least half of their habitat was affected.

The threatened species include hundreds of plants, 16 mammals, 14 frogs, nine birds, seven reptiles, four insects, four fish and one spider species.

Millions pledged to revive wildlife

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley will visit Queensland's RSPCA Wildlife Hospital in Brisbane on Tuesday afternoon, having pledged an initial cash injection of $50 million to wildlife and environmental groups.

“The workload here over the last few months has been extraordinary and it is a tribute to the dedication of the staff at this facility,” Ms Ley said in a statement.

“Habitat loss means animals are needing to be kept for longer and that underlines the importance of the Morrison Government's initial $50 million wildlife and habitat restoration package, which seeks to identify habitat impacts and restoration strategies.”

Smudge is helping to locate injured koalas like this one who was seen on Kangaroo Island in January.
Smudge is helping to locate injured koalas. Pictured is a koala on Kangaroo Island, which has been ravaged by fires. Source: AAP

RSPCA Queensland Wildlife Hospital Chief Executive Darren Maier said more than 80 animals – including birds, koalas, kangaroos, possums, snakes, gliders and lizards – were arriving at the hospital daily.

“Now is already a peak time for the hospital and the combination of drought and fires has had an extraordinary impact,” he said.

With AAP

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