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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.