PORT MCQUARIE, Australia – A 4-year-old springer spaniel named Taylor has been performing a special kind of search and rescue effort as bushfires rage across much of Australia — she’s a detection dog who has helped locate and rescue 15 koalas from scorched regions of New South Wales this fire season.
Along with her trainer, Ryan Tate, Taylor ventures to koala habitats in regions that have been burned to search for koalas that need rescuing or relocating, which she locates by scent. Taylor sniffs for both koala fur and their fresh scat, and she’s been doing this work alongside Tate for most of her life.
In a typical day, Taylor can cover between 6 to 10 miles in the field, and she works off leash.
“In ideal conditions, where the air is still, the smell of the animal actually drops down from the tree, and Taylor can smell them,” Tate said. “She’ll sit right below them and point up to them and show us where they are.”
“In optimum conditions we have seen her recognize and hone in on a koala from 125 meters away,” Tate said. Tate and his wife, Jennifer, are both professional animal trainers, and together they run the business TATE Animal Training Enterprises, where Taylor is one of many animals they have taught to perform special jobs. From the age of 8 weeks, Taylor began training with the Tates to locate koalas and other animals and learned the concepts quite quickly, but it wasn’t until she was about 11 months old that she developed enough obedience to work in the field among wildlife.
Three years later, she is now a highly trained detection dog with well over 50 koala rescues under her belt.Working alongside Port Macquarie Koala Hospital staff, members of the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council (PMHC) and New South Wales National Parks in recent months, Taylor and Tate found themselves searching in familiar territory, but under very different conditions.
“These forests were locations we’ve already worked in many times over the years, they included some of the most genetically diverse and healthy koala populations in the world and the habitat destruction has brought more than a few tears to our eyes,” a caption on one of Tate Animal Training’s Instagram posts reads.
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For months now Port Macquarie has been burning. Taylor and Ryan have managed to get out for a few days over the last few weeks in between fires (and bringing our newborn twins home) looking for Koalas that needed rescuing or relocating. We focused on areas that were on the fringes of major fires and were part of critical Koala Habitat. We worked with the outstanding @portmacquariekoalahospital , members of the PMHC and NSW National parks. These forests were locations we've already worked in many times over the years, they included some of the most genetically diverse and healthy Koala populations in the world and the habitat destruction has brought more than a few tears to our eyes. Taylor assisted in finding 8 Koalas on our days in the field. On 3 occasions she sat right beneath live animals, (including a mum and joey), and then in many other instances she would alert us to fresh scat and we would notify the expert Koala spotters who would then survey the canopy to spot the survivors. It is a lot like solving a complex puzzle and we are very privileged to be a small part of rescuing survivors. Just like so many of the programs we are involved in, people power, volunteers and collaborative efforts to conserve habitat is what makes a real difference. If you want to be part of the solution here is what you can do: Donate to the Koala Hospital. Plant some koala feed trees. Promote organisations doing conservation work. Stay informed about what your local, state and federal government reps are doing to protect what's left of our natural environments. The extent of this tragedy is hard to get our head around. We have good friends that own a pocket of land down the road and have dedicated the past 15 years to regenerating every square inch, removing lantana and planting over 10,000 endemic trees which became home to hundreds of native animals including Koalas. Last Tuesday they lost it all. The only redeeming factor in all of this, is seeing the human spirit on the front line. Be kind to each other and open minded. The extinction rate our animals and plants are facing and the devastation of this fire event is a complex issue needing immediate attention.
At the time of that Instagram post seven weeks ago, Taylor had helped locate and rescue eight koalas. On three occasions, she sat down directly underneath live koalas (including a mom and joey).
“Then in many other instances she would alert us to fresh scat and we would notify the expert Koala spotters who would then survey the canopy to spot the survivors,” the Tates wrote. “It is a lot like solving a complex puzzle and we are very privileged to be a small part of rescuing survivors.”
Now, Taylor has helped rescue a total of 15 koalas from the recent bushfires.
Like all of the Tates’ dogs, Taylor was raised around as many different animal species as possible to get her comfortable with working around all sorts of animals.
And as springer spaniels have been bred and trained to do for hundreds of years, Taylor has mastered the “sit and flush.” This means that when she sees an animal run in front of her, she automatically sits down, whereas most dogs would be inclined to chase.
Taylor is also trained to be able to sniff out quolls, foxes, cats, rats and rabbits, as well as certain biological threats to Australian ecosystems, such as invasive plant species.