Bear the detection dog helping to track endangered quolls (Image: IFAW)
Bear the border collie-koolie cross’s high-octane personality meant his days were numbered as a pet, but a leading animal charity is harnessing his playfulness to help find endangered Australian quolls. The International Fund for Animal Welfare sponsored blue-eyed Bear through rigorous training when his skillset saw him chosen to become a frontline champion for the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Detection Dog Unit. Having gained fame for sniffing out the scent of koalas so they can be saved when loggers get to work in eucalyptus plantations, Bear is now being deployed to save some of Australia’s most precious creatures.
With their shrew-like snouts and spotted coats, quolls look like a fantasy animal designed by a class of eight year olds. In fact, they were discovered by one of Britain’s greatest explorers, Captain James Cook, on his legendary 18th Century expedition in HMS Endeavour.
As some of largest carnivorous marsupials, distantly related to the notorious Tasmanian devil, quolls are vital to the sensitive ecology of Australia, yet are being bedevilled by many modern dangers. Mining, housing development, opening land up to farming and pest control poisons have conspired against them. The arrival of predatory cats and foxes followed by cane toads, a juicy but highly toxic meal, have also taken a toll on the quoll.
Protecting and preserving the four distinct species spread across Australia has become an environmental imperative. Finding these shy, nocturnal creatures requires the endeavour of the famous sea captain and this is where Bear is sailing to the rescue of the highly nocturnal and endangered northern quoll species on the Mount Emerald windfarm in Queensland.
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Beware of quolls. Bear by quoll road sign (Image: IFAW)
Northern quolls are endangered and usually nocturnal (Image: IFAW)
Before the heat of the day takes hold and earthworks begin, Bear is out with handler Riana Gardiner. One sniff of essence of quoll and Bear drops to the ground, responding to the command of “show me” by indicating where the quoll is holed up in its den. Lots of play and exclamations of “good boy” follow, something that Bear can revel in as he was given up by his original owners because of his high energy and playfulness.
Sniffing out a quoll allows a worksite to be cordoned off or the animal relocated to a safer area. One of his recent finds saw a mother and her “joeys” protected with a works operation being halted in the area. Saving denning females is vital. Males can easily be translocated, although most die off at around the age of one because intense mating drives them to early graves.
IFAW has sponsored Bear throughout his rigorous training as part of the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Detection Dog Unit. The charity continues to cover his upkeep as a qualified detection dog.
Bear ready for action in his IFAW detection dog coat (Image: IFAW)
Endangered northern quoll after rescue (Image: 4 Elements Consulting)
Josey Sharrad, IFAW campaigner, explains: “Bear is an amazing dog. He loves to work and he just goes from strength to strength. He’s finding koalas, now quolls, so who knows what he is capable of next?
“A dog's sense of smell is up to 10,000 times better than humans. Australian animals like koalas and quolls are elusive and hard to spot with the human eye. This is why detection dogs are crucial to conservation efforts as they can smell what we can’t see.
“The ideal detection dogs often make the worst pets as they can be high-energy and obsessive, so sadly, many end up being initially abandoned.
“This is where IFAW steps in. We are working with the University of the Sunshine Coast to rescue dogs from death row and train them to be conservation dogs. It’s a win win.”