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Bear the “Hero Dog” wins a medal for rescuing over 100 koalas during the Black Summer bushfires

Bear, the Australian Koolie, has been awarded a medal for rescuing over 100 koalas during the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires.

Man’s best friend is also a friend to Australia’s native wildlife – especially koalas. The six-year-old rescue dog received his honour during a ceremony, the Animal Action Awards, held by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) last month (October 12) in the UK House of Lords.

The heroic canine appeared alongside his handler via a video link to thank the humans from the IFAW for recognising him and his efforts.

Bear rescue dog
Photo: beinspired.global

Bear’s handler, Dr. Romane Cristescu from the University of the Sunshine Coast, spoke of their gratitude during the acceptance speech:

“We think Bear really deserved this award. He’s been such a good boy in helping us find and rescue a lot of koalas, especially during the bushfires, but he works throughout the year to help us in our job to make a better and safer place for koalas,” Dr. Cristescu reportedly said.

“We’ll give Bear extra pats and extra play for his award.”

Bear is a member of the Detection Dogs for Conservation program run by the university. According to their website, it’s an initiative founded by Dr. Cristescu and Associate Professor Celine Frere in 2015.

The program uses dogs and their sensitive noses “to track and help rescue rare animals such as koalas, quolls and masked owls, to detect pest species, and locate threatened native plants”.

Prior to joining the group, he was a regular household pet, whose abundance of energy made him too much to handle for his owners.

“When we look for a new dog, we put the word out to all the rescue groups because often what we look for in a dog makes them difficult pets. So that high energy, obsession with playing,” Dr. Cristescu said when speaking to Newsweek.

Bear has been an active member since 2017 and specialises in finding live koalas. According to The Guardian, the Australian Koolie is the only dog in the world that’s been “trained to sniff out koala fur and faeces”.

“[Bear] was taught to drop silently to the ground at the base of a tree when he detected their smell, ensuring the habitat is not disturbed and helping his team to locate koalas that may be in need of medical treatment,” The Guardian’s article reads.

Black Summer bushfires
Photo: Selwyn Cox

When not rescuing koalas from bushfires, Bear also works alongside “local rescue groups” for their own rescue missions.

The Black Summer bushfires saw 24 million hectares of Australian land burn under intense flames. It’s believed three billion animals were killed or displaced, 3,000 homes were destroyed and 33 people lost their lives.