Despite the devastation . . . a Koala love story emerges – Updated with video

Koala Love Story Wins Hearts After Fires
Reuters, February 11, 2008

CANBERRA (Reuters) – A love story between two badly burned koalas rescued from Australia’s deadliest bushfires has provided some heart-warming relief after days of devastation and the loss of over 180 lives.

. . . it was after reaching a wildlife shelter that Sam met and befriended Bob, who was saved by wildlife workers on Friday, two days before Sam, in Boolarra, about 180 km from Melbourne.

Tree, who has been a volunteer firefighter for 26 years, said it was extremely rare to get so close to a koala so he asked his colleague Brayden Groen, 20, to film him. “You can how she stops and moves forward and looks at me. It was like a look saying “I can’t run, I’m weak and sore, put me out of my misery”,” Tree told Reuters.

“I yelled out for some water and I sat down with her and tipped the water up. It was in my hand and she reached for the bottle then put her right claw into my left hand which was cold so it must have given her some pain relief and she just left it there. It was just amazing.”

Sam was taken to the Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter in Rawson. Her story was reminiscent of a koala named Lucky who survived the 2003 bushfires that destroyed about 500 homes and killed four people in the capital of Canberra. Lucky became a symbol of hope.

Colleen Wood from the Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter that is caring for Sam and Bob said both koalas were doing well while other animals like possums, kangaroos, and wallabies were also starting to emerge from the debris. She said Sam had suffered second degree burns to her paws and would take seven to eight months to recover while Bob had three burned paws with third degree burns and should be well enough to return to the bush in about four months.

Bob (top), rescued from last week's deadly bushfires, puts his paw around new friend and fellow fire survivor Sam as she recovers from her burns at Southern Ash Wildlife Centre near Melbourne February 11, 2009. REUTERS/Southern Ash Wildlife Centre/Colleen Wood

Bob (top), rescued from last week's deadly bushfires, puts his paw around new friend and fellow fire survivor Sam as she recovers from her burns at Southern Ash Wildlife Centre near Melbourne February 11, 2009. REUTERS/Southern Ash Wildlife Centre/Colleen Wood

“They keep putting their arms around each other and giving each other hugs. They really have made friends and it is quite beautiful to see after all this. It’s been horrific,” said Wood.

“Sam is probably aged between two to four going by her teeth and Bob is about four so they have a muchness with each other.”

Wood said about 20 koalas had been brought into her shelter in recent days, several of whom had bonded as koalas are known to clump together, but none had garnered the same attention as the new Internet star Sam.

Tree, a volunteer with the Country Fire Authority Victoria, has visited Sam since her rescue and was delighted to see she had found a boyfriend in Bob. “They’ve really taken a shine to each other as they are both burnt and share the same burnt smell,” he said.

“My heart goes out to the people in these fires and this was so innocent so people have used this to distract them from all the sad stuff that has gone on. It gives people a bit of hope.”

Now, who could resist helping?

Picture of hope ... CFA officer David Tree stops to give Sam the koala a drink of water. Picture: Russell Vickery

Firefighter-Rescuer David Tree and Sam the koala reunited
By Megan McNaught and Sean Plambeck, NEWS.com.au, February 12, 2009

SAM the world’s most famous koala came face to face with her Victoria fires saviour in gold yesterday, Country Fire Authority volunteer David Tree.

Hello again ... firefighter David Tree is reunited with Sam the koala at Mountain Ash Wildlife Sanctuary. Picture: Stephen Harman

Mr Tree was close to tears when he was reunited with his new furry friend at the Mountain Ash Wildlife Shelter in Rawson, where Sam is recovering from third degree burns to her paws, the Herald Sun reports.

The pair became accidental faces of the devastating bushfires when Mr Tree gave an exhausted Sam a drink from his water bottle in the middle of burnt-out bush in Mirboo North. The photograph has been picked up by major news agencies around the world.

“Who knows if she recognised me or not but I would like to think so,” Mr Tree said. “I got a bit choked up because it has been such an emotional week. It was just good to see her doing well.”

Sam was having her dressing changed by carer Colleen Wood when Mr Tree arrived. He said seeing her in pain hit home the damage that the fires were inflicting on helpless animals.

Road to recovery ... Sam the koala is now recovering at the Mountain Ash Wildlife Sanctuary. Picture: Rebecca Michael

“You could see where the black soles of her paws had been burnt off and they were pink and looked sore,” he said. “She’s been through a lot.”

He said animal carer Colleen Wood told him the koala may not have survived if he had not given her water at such a crucial time, because she would have been suffering severe dehydration.

“This has been a really tough week for everyone so it is good to have one happy ending,” Mr Tree said. “She was pretty friendly, she gave me a bit of a sniff and we touched noses.”

Buddies ... firefighter David Tree is reunited with Sam the koala at Mountain Ash Wildlife Sanctuary. Picture: Stephen Harman

Pictures of Sam, who turned out to be female, traveled around the globe and featured in major newspapers including The New York Times, London’s The Sun and on CNN. The image provided a much-needed picture of hope in a week filled with news of despair.

Yesterday Sam was recovering in Mountain Ash Wildlife Shelter. Carer Jenny Shaw said she suffered burns on her paws and was in a lot of pain, but was on the road to recovery. She was put on an IV drip and is on antibiotics and pain relief treatment.

“She is lovely – very docile – and she has already got an admirer. A male koala keeps putting his arms around her,” Ms Shaw said. “She will need regular attention and it will be a long road to recovery, but she should be able to be released back into the wild in about five months.”

Mr Tree said he was surprised by the reaction to the photograph, which was snapped by Mark Pardew – a fellow CFA volunteer – on a mobile phone.

Mr Tree said he was in the middle of backburning at Mirboo North when he saw the stricken koala. “I could see she had sore feet and was in trouble, so I pulled over the fire truck. She just plonked herself down, as if to say ‘I’m beat’,” he said.

“I offered her a drink and she drank three bottles. The most amazing part was when she grabbed my hand. I will never forget that.”

Mr Tree and his brigade then received an emergency call-out to save a house, but minutes later Sam was picked up by wildlife carers. She is one of 22 koalas, 14 ringtail possums, several wallabies and eastern grey kangaroos that have been handed into Gippsland carers.

The Herald Sun is selling copies of the now famous photograph of Sam and Mr Tree for $20 with all proceeds going to the CFA.To order online, click here.

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Koala Foster Frankie

This is Logan 'aka Frankie' who lives at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast (Qld) and was born with the most amazing blue eyes!

Want to help these wonderful guys? The largest organization in the world devoted to preserving their habitat and food source is the Australian Koala Foundation (you can learn some background info here).

To donate to their efforts, CLICK HERE and then select your country to get to the donation form. Make a donation that is over $2 and it will be tax deductible in the U.S.