The bush fires of recent years have badly affected Australian koalas. Detection dogs are now being used to collect information about the state of health of the endangered marsupials.

In Australia, dogs not only sniff out drugs, but also koala droppings: two dogs named Bear and Billie-Jean have tracked down dozens of piles of endangered marsupials in recent years with their sensitive noses.

Samples collected from areas of Queensland particularly hard hit by the devastating bushfires of 2019 and 2020 are being analyzed alongside others to determine how natural disasters are affecting the health of koalas – and how the cute animals could be better protected in the future.

The sniffer dog team from the University of the Sunshine Coast and the animal welfare organization IFAW announced that the hormone levels and the intestinal microbiome in the legacies of the koalas were examined. Results are expected in the coming year, said Romane Cristescu, director of the sniffer dog team, the German Press Agency.

“Detection dogs can be trained in many ways and for many different smells or tracks,” explained the expert. Police dogs search for drugs or money, for example, while others are trained to sniff out wildlife trade products. “Our dogs, on the other hand, are trained to recognize the smell of koalas and quolls,” said Cristescu. There are currently only a few dozen four-legged friends specializing in koalas, but the number will probably increase significantly soon.

Studies on koala health are more important than ever after the Australian government officially upgraded koala status from vulnerable to endangered in three states in February, said IFAW researcher Wendy Simpson. “Koalas are generally a pretty resilient species. They can endure a lot, but only up to a point.”

In particular, the massive bush fires from August 2019 to March 2020 hit the cute marsupials hard. According to estimates by the environmental organization WWF, more than 60,000 of the koalas that are only native Down Under were killed, injured, driven away or traumatized. Images of animals with singed fur and burned paws went around the world.