Ellenborough Lewis, the koala whose dramatic rescue from Australian bush fires was a symbol of hope for the struggling koala population, has had to be put down because of the severity of his injuries.
The koala was found struggling to escape the fires on the east coast of the country by Toni Doherty, an Australian woman who saw him from her car. She took off her shirt and used it to bundle the burned and injured animal out of the fire zone, later pouring water over his feet to soothe the burns.
"It was terrifying to see him just come out of the flames," Mrs Doherty told local Australia outlet Today. "The poor koala, he was crying and screaming, because he was being burned. He was burning underneath, on his little back legs ... I've never heard a koala before. I didn't realize they could cry out. It was just so heart-rendering."
Doherty named the koala Lewis after one of her grandchildren and was later reunited with him in the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital in the state of New South Wales, eastern Australia.
But his injuries were too severe.
“We placed him under general anesthesia this morning to assess his burns injuries and change the bandages,” the hospital said in their Facebook post. “We recently posted that "burns injuries can get worse before they get better". In Ellenborough Lewis's case, the burns did get worse, and unfortunately would not have gotten better. The Koala Hospital's number one goal is animal welfare, so it was on those grounds that this decision was made.”
Bush fires have been particularly bad in Australia this year after an unusually warm and dry winter was the catalyst to an early start to the annual fire season.
New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, announced the beginning of bush fire danger period in July and declared a week-long state of emergency on Monday Nov. 11, the first such declaration since 2013.
The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has been trying to rescue and treat koalas since the first major fires began in late October with the first koala to be treated at the hospital arriving on Nov. 2. By the next day, they had estimated that up to 350 koalas may have died as fire burned through the koala's habitat.
The hospital is now full of injured koalas, one volunteer told ABC News, and it has set up a GoFundMe page to “help thirsty koalas.” They have raised over $1.6 million Australian dollars, far exceeding their goal of $25,000. To date, they have treated 31 koalas and the huge amount of money raised will allow them to establish a wild koala breeding program in addition to the rescue work they already do.