An intrepid 6-year-old dog helped rescue over 100 injured koalas from the Australian bush fires in 2019–2020. Now, the Australian Koolie named Bear has been named a hero, winning an award from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Bear was trained in Australia at the University of the Sunshine Coast, where their Detection Dogs for Conservation team taught the former rescue dog to use his heightened sense of smell to hunt out the injured koalas among the ashes.

Research Fellow Dr Romane Cristescu, who leads the USC team, said Bear received “extra pats and extra play” after he was honoured via video during the IFAW Animal Action Awards event in London’s House of Lords.

She said Bear’s sense of smell, along with his enthusiasm for play, made him ideal for research projects such as recognising the scent of koala fur in the bush.

IFAW, which sponsors Bear, said the dog had been “a ray of hope” as he searched burned habitat to help the USC/IFAW team and their partners to rescue over 100 koalas.

Previously, he had found himself in an animal shelter after his former owners gave him up due to behaviour issues caused by his “boundless energy and obsessive enthusiasm for play.”

Dr Cristescu, an ecologist and former veterinarian, said the USC/IFAW koala detection dog is continuing to contribute to wildlife rescues and research with the team’s other canine colleagues.

“Bear and our team are studying the effects of the 2019-20 bushfires on koala health and habitat density in collaboration with IFAW,” she said.

In addition, Bear has an ongoing day job of locating koalas for welfare rescue missions, in collaboration with local rescue groups.

“He is always happy to give a paw to find koalas as part of the Detection Dogs for Conservation’s other research activities.”