Sam, 4, Survivor of Aussie Fires, is Euthanized

The story of little Sam touched my heart.

Sam, whose image was seen around the world in the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires, was expected to undergo surgery today to [remove ovarian] cysts as a result of urogenital chlamydiosis, a life-threatening disease that affects 50% of the koala population.

This afternoon, vet John Butler told waiting media outside Morwell Veterinary Clinic that due to complications with the disease, the best course of action was to put Sam down.

[Australian] Prime Minister Kevin Rudd led the national mourning for Sam, describing her as an enduring symbol of Victoria’s resilience in the face of the Black Saturday fires.

“It’s tragic that Sam the koala is no longer with us,” Mr Rudd said.

David Tree, the firefighter who found Sam with her paws burned among the smoldering ruins, is said to be inconsolable, because Sam had survived the bushfires only to die from an incurable disease. He had originally mistook her for being male, and named her “Sam,” but the name stuck.

Sam the Koala after her January ordeal (Courtesy: Rebecca Michael)

Sam the Koala after her January ordeal (Courtesy: Rebecca Michael)

Wikipedia says that Tree’s discovery of Sam actually occurred after the Country Fire Authority (CFA) had completed backburning (or controlled burning) in the forests–a method to defeat natural or set fires from threatening ranches and towns. The video was created by Tree and his fellow firefighters, and was meant as a gift for Tree’s daughter. The Aussie media seized on Tree’s video as a symbol for the bushfires that ravaged the country early this year.

However, the Herald Sun says otherwise:

The famous photographs and footage were taken at Mirboo North near Boolarra where 31 houses were destroyed by bushfire just days before they gripped the rest of the state.

Country Fire Authority volunteer David Tree said he had been working around the clock to protect the town when he stumbled across the stricken koala.

“The entire town of Mirboo North was under serious threat of bushfires and if we had a wind change the losses would have been huge,” he said.

“We were conducting backburning when I saw her in an area which had been experiencing serious bushfires.”

Sam had suffered second-degree burns that would have taken until September to fully recover. She was euthanized to prevent her from suffering further pain.

Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter spokesman Nic Pullen said yesterday the turn of events was extremely distressing.

“Sam was making good progress with her recovery, her burns had healed and she had even developed a strong maternal instinct taking care of some of the orphaned joeys (baby koalas) admitted to the shelter over the past several months,” Mr Pullen said today.

“The discovery of [ovarian] cysts due to chlamydia is very upsetting for everyone involved in Sam’s recovery.”

Up to 50 per cent of the koala population is affected by the disease, with past vaccines proving unsuccessful.

Sam had only reached maturity about a year ago. Koalas can live between 13-18 years, depending on environmental stress factors–they are a threatened species.

Rest in peace, little Sam.

~ by blksista on August 6, 2009.

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