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A bond between two burned koalas rescued from Australia's deadliest bushfires has provided some heart-warming relief after days of devastation and the loss of more than 180 lives.
A koala nicknamed Bob puts his paw around fellow fire survivor Sam at the Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter in Rawson, Australia, on Wednesday
Photo by Colleen Wood / southern Ash Wildlife Shelter via Reuters
The story of Sam and Bob emerged after volunteer firefighter David Tree used a mobile phone to photograph and film the rescue of the bewildered female, since nicknamed Sam, that was found cowering in a burned-out forest at Mirboo North, 90 miles southeast of Melbourne.
Photos and a video of Tree, 44, approaching Sam while talking gently to her, and feeding her water from a plastic bottle as she put her burned claw in his cold, wet hand quickly hit video sharing Web site YouTube, making her an Internet sensation.
But 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 110 miles 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 to film him.
"You can see 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.
Koalas are especially vulnerable to wildfires because they move slowly on the ground.
Often mistakenly called koala bears because they resemble a child's teddy bear, the marsupial is actually a rather grumpy creature with a loud growl and sharp claws. It rarely comes down from the trees and doesn't like walking.
The wildfires cut through parks and forests and sent countless wombats and other native species fleeing. One resident reported seeing kangaroos bouncing down the road with flames at their backs.
The fires also razed farmland, killing or panicking sheep and cattle. Television footage showed cows running down the main street of a smoke-filled town.
A count of the animals killed has not been made.
'Giving each other hugs'
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.
"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.
Firefighter David Tree shares his water with an injured Australian koala in a scorched forest near Mirboo North
Photo by Mark Pardew / AP
"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 burned and share the same burned 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."
Wood said there was no doubt the animal was wild, not domesticated, and that it would be released back into nature once a suitable habitat is found ó the foliage in Sam's forest was all but destroyed.
"The hardest part is going to be trying to find enough habitat to support these guys," Wood said.
If you havenít seen Samís Story, the power point presentation with photos and music about the 7 February 2009 Victoria, Australia bush fire and rescue of Australiaís most famous koala, see it here.
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