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Koala sniffing dog, 'Smudge,' helps San Diego Zoo researchers in Australia

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Posted at 10:53 AM, Jan 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-21 14:30:43-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Researchers are deploying a specially-trained canine to help search for koalas in Australia affected by the country's wildfires.

The San Diego Zoo-backed team is using "Smudge," a dog trained to follow the scent of koalas, to locate the animals who have survived Australia's devastating fires in the Blue Mountains.

“We don’t know how much wildlife is left in the wake of these fires,” said Kellie Leigh, 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."

Smudge is just one of the many dogs being used to sniff out koalas in the wake of the country's fires that have decimated the wildlife population. According to CNN, the dogs are able to smell koalas and their droppings, and identify where live koalas may be located among the burnt ruins of bush land.


As Smudge and his handler, Kim, make their way through the region, they'll assess how many koalas have survived and what aid is needed to help the population recover.

The area is of the utmost importance for koalas since it contains the most genetically diverse population of the animals in the world. About 2.5 million acres of the region have been affected by the fires.

“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 out perform 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, area critical part of our team.”

Around the country, more than 15 million acres of land have been scorched, killing millions of animals.

San Diego Zoo Global has also started fund raising to support the recovery of koalas, platypuses, and other species. Information on how to support those efforts can be found here.