Bear - Koala Hero: Why we need to support Bear

Bear may be a national hero, but he's just one part of an extraordinary team.

Bear has been working as one of Australia's only koala rescue dogs for the past four years at the University of the Sunshine Coast's Detection Dogs for Conservation, and has become a symbol of hope for many after the devastating Australian bushfires. But if it wasn't for the team at USC's Detection Dogs for Conservation, he might not have made it this far.

It's the mission from co-founders, Associate Professor Celine Frere and Dr. Romane Cristescu who dedicate their lives to saving animals. From rescuing unwanted dogs with behavioural issues and training them to save endagered wildlife, Celine is humble in her own heroic efforts. 

"We didn't invent anything new," she says. "Detection dogs have been done before with drug and bomb detection dogs, but we just applied it to wildlife. Dogs can be trained to locate anything if it has a smell - They can smell what we cannot see, so this is where the idea came from.

Related article: Bear - Koala Hero: How Bear became a koala rescue dog

"When you work with wildlife, you appreciate how difficult it is to obtain information from them - especially with endangered species. They're cryptic in nature so they're harder to find are often in low density. That's when I saw the dogs as being a powerful tool that would enable us to not only do research, but also to enhance conservation."

Celine doesn't find dogs who already are in conservation, but rather who need rescuing themselves. Most of the dogs Celine finds are unwanted and are destined for life in the pound or on death row.

"We give every other dog a chance," she says. "To begin with we're looking for a high energy and ball-obsessed dog who only wants to play. However, a dog who's been rescued often comes with a range of behavioural challenges that we need to work to fix. It's often doing what we call the rehabilitation process.

"There are a wide range of behavioural challenges and it's continuing work, it never stops. They always seem to come up with new things," she laughs. 

While Celine and her team may find promising dogs, the professor explains that not every pup makes it to 'graduation' - but it's for a good reason. 

"Our dogs are very different to other working dogs as they don't live in kennels - they live with us or with families.

"One dog who was in a previous training program went home to a family every night and they soon fell in love with him, so much so that he must have enjoyed that life more and his high play drive went away! It's a happy story because he was rescued and found a loving home, but we lost him because he wasn't any keen to play anymore."



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Celine says that even though some dogs may not graduate, the organisation always make sure the dog is always rehabilitated and rehomed.

"It's our responsibility and it's what we want to do," she says. "There thousands of dogs every year that are bread for work that don't end up with a purpose, so they're abandoned. A lot of them end up on death row, so we see it as our responsibility to try and rescue them first."

And this work is what Bear is a product of - the blue-eyed Australian koolie who was destined for the pound, has now become a national hero for his incredible koala rescuing skills. 

"Out of five dogs, Bear is the only one trained to only locate koala fur," Celine explains. "We train the dogs on many scents with an emphasis on one smell, like koala urine and koala fur, but they can't discriminate between the two. Only Bear will discriminate between fur and urine, he will only look for the animal.

"The environment of a koala habitat is so full of scent, so we wanted a dog that was really specialised for koalas so that we could work more efficiently in finding them."

While Celine and the USC's Detection Dogs for Conservation have already achieved so much in helping save our wildlife and animals, they can only do so much with the resources they have. 

"We rely 100 per cent on donations and grants, so to help us, you can donate directly so that we can be ready for the next bushfire season, and so that Bear can be there every day of the week for four or five months. With more funding, we will be able to train more 'Bears' and save even more."

To support Bear and his team at USC's Detection Dogs for Conservation, you can donate directly here.

Find out more of Bear's story on Bear - Koala Hero on Wednesday March 18 at 8.30pm on LifeStyle

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