Oscar the koala-sniffing dog with trainer Jim Shields.
Oscar the koala-sniffing dog with trainer Jim Shields. Contributed

Koala sniffer dog finding and saving koalas from logging

OSCAR is the world's first koala sniffer dog.

That's what NSW Forestry Corporation is calling Oscar, a Labrador who has been specifically trained to go into native forests and find live koalas.

The Forestry Corporation (under its present and previous names) has been heavily criticised over the years for not doing thorough searches of State Forests before logging operations.

In recent weeks they have been in a dispute with environmental groups over Royal Camp State Forest, south-west of Casino.

But in late July Oscar was brought to Royal Camp to complement the surveys undertaken by Forestry Corporation ecologists.

Over four days he was walked around an area of 100ha.

"When Oscar came across a live koala he alerted us by standing on his hind legs with his front legs on the tree," said Forestry Corporation's regional ecologist John Willoughby.

"He is also adept at identifying signs of koalas by finding fresh fecal pellets at the base of trees.

"We've now mapped all the trees Oscar identified and will combine this information with the rest of our survey data so we can develop accurate operational plans that exclude koala high-use areas from harvesting."

Forestry Corporation's regional manager Craig Busby said Oscar has a GPS device attached to his collar and when he gets the scent of a koala, he follows it and then waits at the base of the tree for his trainer, Jim Shields.

Oscar is six years old and Jim has been training him for four years. Royal Camp was only his second job.

"Oscar was brought in to go over harvested areas.

"Royal Camp has been actively harvested for 100 years and we'd argue that the koala populations are so healthy because of the harvesting.

"Koalas like fresh re-growth areas and Oscar actually found fresh records (of koalas) in areas that have been harvested in the past 12 months."

But NEFA activist Dailan Pugh is sceptical of using a dog to do the work of a trained ecologist.

"Forestry Corporation's hiring of an expensive consultant to bring in a dog to chase them around the forest will not help them meet their legal obligations to thoroughly search for koala scats and identify koala high-use areas," he said.

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