Koala Detection Dog

Koala Detection Dog Maya is the latest recruit in the fight to protect threatened koalas.


Maya, the koala detection dog

To know more about detection dogs, you can also see these pages:

Conservation Dogs

on why sniffer dogs are such powerful help in preserving wild animals, as well as how to train a detection dog and its handler, and finally the many other ways dogs get involved in conservation.

Conservation Dog Trainer

how to become a dog trainer to help wildlife through the example of Maya’s trainer.

In this “koala detection dog” page we focus on Maya’s career and achievements.

Maya’s story

Maya wasn’t always a koala detection dog. She had a life before that but we don’t know much about that. This is because Maya was abandoned in a shelter without a name or a history.

That’s probably because Maya is a bit special: she is totally obsessed with balls – or as her trainer says, she has an “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” with balls.

That might have made her too much to handle for her previous owner: we’ll never know.

But what we know is that one day Maya found herself in a very critical position: she was an obsessive dog abandoned at a shelter. And sadly, dogs with “problems” that are left at a shelter get put down…

Thankfully for Maya, what makes a less-than-perfect pet actually is the best quality for a detection dog. And so Maya was chosen to become a koala detection dog!

The amazing Gary Jackson, dog trainer extraordinaire at CaptainK9, rescued her from the pound and trained her to be the very first koala detection dog trained on koala poo!


And so on August the 27th 2011, Maya entered my life…

This is her story…


Maya in one of her favourite activities: chasing sticks at the beach!

What does it take to be a Koala Detection Dog?

We know Maya has an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with balls, a great quality for a detection dog. But as a dog that would work outdoors, in potential koala habitat, Maya had to have another, equally important quality…

Maya is very good at not chasing or barking. She lives with a cat and a few chickens, and the chicken rule the yard!

Also Maya is trained to not react to wildlife, so that when she works in pristine areas like National Parks, she is not a risk to the local wildlife.

Maya the dog, Smokey the cat and the chook-chooks

So to recap, in order to get Maya operational, she had to:

  • be discovered as the right dog with a high drive and a good nature,
  • be professionally trained for a few months,
  • be continuously trained at home, and
  • pass many tests and get many permits (animal ethics approval, scientific permits and Traditional Owners support…)

So not your normal dog! (Please note that it is not permitted to send your dog tracking native wildlife if you haven’t done all of the above…)


Maya ignoring kangaroos

Maya, Koala Detection Dog

What do you mean by “habitat”?

Habitat is the scientific way to call the space an animal needs to live a good life. It is more than just “home” because if you think of it, humans need more than their home to live. An animal habitat includes where it can find food at different times of the year, where it can rest and be protected from its predators, where it can meet friends and find romance and finally raise its young.

Maya is called a detection dog (also sometimes referred to as "sniffer dog") because she can detect, by sniffing, an odor that she was trained on. In Maya's case, she sniffs koala poo.

And Maya’s nose can beat a human's any time.

You might find it strange that Maya is trained to sniff out koala poo. The reason many people are interested in poo (beside the fact that animal poo is fascinating) is that where there is koala poo, there has been a koala.

Therefore what Maya really sniffs out is koala habitat.

And we really need to know where koala habitat is because there isn’t so much of it anymore.

And thus we really need to protect what habitat is left – koalas are already vulnerable and their population is continuously going down.


Koala poo in amongst bark and leaves is extremely easy to miss!

Maya’s abilities as a Koala Detection Dog have been tested against human performances. Maya relies on her nose, while koala ecologists rely on their eyesight. The problem with looking for koala poo with your eyes is that:

  • koala poo is very small in a very big environment, and
  • koala poo is easily hidden by leaves, barks or in long grass for example.

Whereas for Maya, the koala detection dog:

  • the cone of smell coming from koala poo is larg and spreads out with the wind, and
  • she can still smell poo even if she can’t see it! (yes, that’s a bit gross but true nonetheless!)

Maya’s achievements

Maya is super accurate (where there is koala poo, she will find it) and really really quick –  about 200 times quicker than a trained ecologist (me), actually.

What it means in real terms is that Maya will find koala poo where humans have missed it, and she will do so quicker too.

Not bad!

(She so wants to play with this ball!!!)


Maya with her reward: a tennis ball

Maya has been involved in some exciting projects so far, such as:

  • looking for koala habitat to buy land to increase National Parks,
  • studying koala recolonisation in man-made landscapes,
  • assessing koala use of protected areas.

What we hope for Maya is to influence how we look for koalas in the future. Army, Police, Border Security: they wouldn’t attempt to do their job without dogs. We hope soon no one attempts to look for koala habitat without a trained detection dog. Because each time humans survey koala habitat and make a mistake, we lose a little bit more of koalas’ home…

So Maya is now an employee of the University of the Sunshine Coast!

Maya at the University of the Sunshine Coast with her supporting team including the talented Gary Jackson from Captain K9 (Maya's trainer)

and the gorgeous Farmer Dave with Snowy (potential future detection dog)

With Maya now being part of an expert team and a University, we can ensure she stays at her best.

As well, the University has many labs where interesting further analyses of koala poo can happen, enabling us to collect much more data than just presence of poo. For example:

  • diet,
  • genetic data including sex ratio,
  • stress,
  • reproductive status,
  • health...

Maya the star

As the first koala poo detection dog ever trained, Maya has been attracting a bit of attention…

Maya on TV

Maya the koala detection dog started her media career with a part in the popular French TV show “Sept à huit” (24/8/2012) thanks to a great documentary from Loïc Grasset and Fabrice Launay.

Maya’s career on TV continued with filming the great Channel 10 kid show “Totally Wild” as well as Channel 7 and Channel 9 News.

Maya in "Totally Wild" Chanel 10

Maya in the press

The camera loves Maya! Or is it Maya who loves the camera?

She has now been in many newspapers and internet news sites (see Maya on ABC News).


The camera loves Maya!

Maya in talks and shows

Maya has taken part in several presentations and shows, such as:

  • the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland “Science in the Pub” series and AGM at Indigiscape, and
  • Logan City Council great initiatives for a greener leaving “Logan Eco Action Festival” and “Logan Conservation Incentives Day”.

Thank you Logan City Council and the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland for supporting Maya from the start!


Maya and Gary Jackson (Maya's trainer) at the LEAF, Logan Eco Action Festival 2012

Outdoor talk about Maya at Logan Conservation Incentives Day, Logan, 2012

Meet and greet Maya

Maya also had the honour of promoting detection dogs in front of bright International Master Students in Conservation, koala professionals and passionate people from the newly formed Australian Koala Alliance as well as the Australia Zoo Joey Ambassadors.


Maya demonstrates how quickly she finds koala poo in front of the Australia Zoo Joey Ambassadors

Maya, the koala detection dog is a hard working, loving and full-of-life dog. She can melt the heart of anyone she meets.

Maya is also an amazing ally for koalas and all of those who want to protect them.

We hope Maya can be an ambassador for wildlife conservation and promote the use of the best tools we have in our attempt to save species, whether these tools are canine or high tech!