Belfast dog Harlso uses head to raise £40,000 for fire-ravaged wildlife in Oz
A Belfast dog that became an internet star has helped to raise more than £40,000 for animals affected by the Australian bushfires.
The owners of Harlso the Balancing Hound were moved by harrowing images of the damage caused by the wildfires raging in recent weeks.
Paul Lavery and Jennifer Scott had been contacted by followers of Harlso who are living Down Under.
They have been thrilled by the support so far.
All the money will go to a charity run by the family of the late Australian television personality and environmentalist Steve Irwin.
Paul explained: "We were contacted by some of Harlso's followers in Australia to see if we would be interested in trying to raise funds for Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors.
"They are dealing with immense devastation to wildlife and habitats Down Under and although we were reluctant to use Harlso to raise money in the past, we thought we would at least try to do something to help the situation.
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"Initially we were apprehensive as none of the other 'animal' pages seemed to be doing anything like it and money can be tight in January, so we weren't sure people would get behind it.
"I had a chat with Jennifer and we decided we would have been happy to try to raise what we could, and once we set up the fundraiser through Harlso's Facebook page, the money quickly went up to over £1,000 in donations.
"Within 24 hours we'd gone past £10,000, and we simply weren't expecting that."
Harlso, a five-year-old dachshund, boasts thousands of fans around the world for his unique balancing acts, and last year he was a winner in the internet 'Oscars', picking up a Webby Award in the Best Social Animal category.
He even has his own 2020 calendar after picking up a cult following for his videos and photos uploaded on Facebook, Twitter and on his own website. Tapping into his worldwide appeal has helped the cause of wildlife in Australia.
"We had no idea the money being donated was going to keep on rising and rising," said Paul, with the total now standing at almost £41,000.
"It's amazing to see the power social media can have.
"All the money will be going directly to Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors, a charity run by the family of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin.
"It's going to take years for any sort of normality to return, and we're delighted Harlso has been able to contribute."
Paul said other popular animal sites across social media started sharing the fundraiser, causing donations to really start to increase. He added: "I don't really like the term 'social media influencer' and have never seen Harlso as one, but on this occasion it's lovely to see he has managed to influence people in a good way."
"People across the world seem to have bought into it, but it's the scale of what has been going on in Australia that has probably been the biggest motivation," he said. "It's sad to see so many animals suffer and if Harlso can help a few of them recover, that's great.
"We'll keep the fundraiser open until next Monday, and after that all donations will be going directly to where they're needed in Australia to help treat, care for and rehabilitate hundreds of thousands of animals affected by the bushfires."
A billion animals wiped out already
It is estimated that over one billion animals have perished as a result of the bush fires which have ravaged Australia over the past months.
Experts are also warning that the devastation will not end once the fires finally burn out.
Huge numbers of mammals, birds, reptiles and other species have already been killed — a figure that excludes fish, frogs, bats and insects.
On Monday the UK Government announced a $50m donation to help rescue and protect wildlife affected by the crisis. Environment groups also released a list of fauna species for which they hold immediate concerns.
The list is far from exhaustive, and animals that have survived still face death due to the destruction of their natural environment, which they rely on for food and shelter.
Around 244 species of mammals are found only in Australia’s unique habitat and more than 10 million hectares of land has been destroyed since November.
Some 25,000 koalas were killed when flames devastated Kangaroo Island in the state of South Australia, and temperatures in the country are not expected to reach a peak until next month.
Predators like foxes and cats will thrive, helped by easy pickings and room to move.