A specialized team of emergency responders is using "its newest weapon" to track and rescue Australia's most iconic animals.
Taylor, an English Springer Spaniel, specializes in finding injured koalas. She was trained from a young pup to track droppings or fur. Smoke doesn't impact her tracking skills; once she homes in on the smell, she sits right underneath a trapped koala.
"She knows and has known from day dot that if I show her a tennis ball and say the word koala, the only thing that is going to get that game of fetch is when she finds a koala," said Ryan Tate, Taylor's trainer.
Tate trains conservation detection dogs, trained to find invasive plants or animals or threatened animals such as the koala. He travels across the country with Taylor and a team of specialists.
"The phone rings when the fires have died down and they ask the team to go into an area as quickly as possible and try to find or locate as many animals as possible, safely and get out of there," Tate said.
Normally, koalas would be able to sense the fires approaching, but experts say these fires are moving too quickly.
"Unfortunately, with fires this fast, koalas being a slow moving species that operate on a low energy budget, they don't, you know, have a lot of energy to move quickly," said Nick Boyle, the Taronga Conservation Society's Director of Animal Welfare, Conservation and Science. "They're not having that opportunity to get to the top of the tree, and even if they did, these fires are burning right to the top of the tree."
Injured animals are taken to places like the Taronga Zoo, which is currently caring for 12 koalas.
When they're out on a rescue mission, Tate and his teammates have to make sure they are not overworking themselves or their canine counterparts. If the dogs become exhausted or injured, they're trained to sit next to their handler.
"We sort of work off the principle that if I'm too hot, if I'm struggling to breath the dogs have to be out of there," Tate said. "The dogs, for me, they're a part of my family but they're [also] the soul and the heart of my business, so their safety is my number one priority."
The duo doesn't know where they are going next, but Tate says he and Taylor are prepared to take on any situation if it mean saving more koalas.