Trained spaniels find seven surviving koalas after Australian wildfires

(WWF-Australia/Veronica Joseph)

Two detection dogs have found seven surviving koalas in a burnt out Australian forest affected by wildfires.

Using their keen sense of smell to sniff out koala excrement, springer spaniels Taz and Missy helped discover the animals in the forest at Maryvale on Queensland's South Downs.

The area is one of huge swathes of the country affected by wildfires, prompting fears for the survival of the koala population in Australia.

The mid-north coast of New South Wales was home to up to 28,000 koalas before the wildfires. Credit: OWAD Environment 2020

On day one of their search, the team carrying out a survey of koala numbers in the area discovered one animal and her infant - both seeming to be in good health.

Koala conservation ecologist Olivia Woosnam said: "The joey was out of the pouch and independent.

"They were in the same tree and they were moving around and seemed okay, we did a visual check of them and we’ve got no immediate concern for their safety."

On a search that covered more than 6 miles (10km) of forest, the team found another adult male and adult female, and spotted further signs of koala life.

Missy (right) and Taz (left) helped koala experts Olivia Woosnam and Alex Dudkowski locate surviving koalas. Credit: WWF-Australia/Veronica Joseph

Despite the fire ripping through the Maryvale forest two months ago, the team said parts of the area are still smouldering.

Staff in nearby buildings have left watering stations out for the koalas, but some of the animals still appeared "malnourished and dehydrated" according to Ms Woosnam.

"There isn’t much leaf and therefore not much moisture at all, so they’d be getting thirsty."

The dogs are 372% more effective than humans at finding koalas. Credit: WWF-Australia/Veronica Joseph

Environment group WWF Australia has pledged further funding for the small canine team in the hope of finding more surviving koalas in the area.

Dr Stuart Blanch, senior manager of land clearing and restoration, for WWF Australia, said: "Finding seven koalas alive amid the destruction in just two days is an encouraging start.

"It’s great to see that some koalas are surviving the fires and they can recolonise the forest as it regrows."

The team says lush new leaf emerging in the forest provided evidence that koalas are feeding on the new growth.

Two adult koalas were spotted by the team on their search for survivors. Credit: James Bacskay/WWF-Australia koala

The wildfires in Australia have destroyed more than 2,000 homes and claimed the lives of at least 27 people since September.

An estimated billion animals are thought to have died in the crisis which has focused many on how the nation adapts to climate change.

Australia's Prime Minister has faced criticism for his initial reaction to the spread of wildfires in the country, and his conservative government have been under the spotlight for having not taking enough action on climate change.