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Australia wildfires wildlife death toll may be in the millions

February 11, 2009 |  4:19 pm

'Sam' the koala recovers from her burns at a shelter in Victoria. Among the victims of the death and destruction caused by the wildfires ravaging Australia are millions of native animals. While the actual wildlife death toll is yet to be known, it is likely to be enormous.

"There's no doubt across that scale of landscape and given the intensity of the fires, millions of animals would have been killed," said Jon Rowdon, president of Wildlife Victoria, an area rescue group.

One animal, a koala nicknamed "Sam" by her rescuers, has become known worldwide because of a photograph taken of her accepting a water bottle from firefighter David Tree, who first noticed the injured animal moving about the scorched land. 

She is currently recovering from second- and third-degree burns at the Mountain Ash Wildlife Shelter, located 100 miles east of Melbourne. Coleen Wood, manager of the shelter, said that the koala is expected to make a full recovery and will be released back into the wild after a suitable habitat is found.

That, however, may be difficult because of the decimation of the landscape. "The hardest part is going to be trying to find enough habitat to support these guys," Wood said.

"It's just horrific," stated Neil Morgan, president of Statewide Wildlife Rescue Emergency Service based in Victoria. "It's disaster all around for humans and animals as well."

Wildlife rescuers are working frantically trying to locate, capture and aid the animals that are still alive. "There will probably be a significant number which can only be euthanized to end their suffering," Rowdon added, "and my heart goes out to the people who are given that task."

--Kelly Burgess

Photo: "Sam" the koala recovers from her burns at a shelter in Victoria. Credit: Rebecca Michael / Melbourne Herald Sun