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Koala warms hearts after deadly fires in Australia

February 11, 2009 |  5:42 pm

Sam the koala

Sam, the koala pictured in media outlets worldwide drinking bottled water from a firefighter, is quickly becoming a symbol of the deadly wildfires that have killed at least 181 people and destroyed more than 900 homes in southeastern Australia.


Firefighter David Tree spotted the female koala amid burnt brush at Mirboo North, 90 miles southeast of Melbourne, and offered her water from a bottle.


“It was amazing; he turned around, sat on his bum and sort of looked at me ... like, put me out of my misery,” Tree said in an Associated Press story. “I yelled out for a bottle of water. I unscrewed the bottle, tipped it up on his lips and he just took it naturally. He kept reaching for the bottle, almost like a baby.”


Turns out “he” is a “she,” and the now-famous photo has made the rounds on news sites and blogs alike -- making Sam the world’s most famous marsupial of the moment, and highlighting the devastating effects the fires have had on Australian wildlife. More than a million native animals may have died in the fires.


Sam, who was being treated for second- and third-degree burns to her paws, is expected to make a full recovery. Tree and the koala reunited briefly Wednesday when the firefighter visited the Mountain Ash Wildlife Shelter outside Melbourne.


See a Reuters video of the koala here.


-- Catherine Ho


Photo: Australian firefighter David Tree offers his water bottle to a badly dehydrated koala who suffered burns to her paws. The koala was later named Sam. Credit: Mark Pardew / Associated Press

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