Australia — Sam the koala, made famous by footage of her drinking from a firefighter’s water bottle during Melbourne’s summer bushfires, has died.
The four-year-old koala was put down on Thursday during major surgery to remove cysts associated with chlamydia, a life-threatening disease that causes cervical infection and has ravaged Victoria’s koala population.
Peita Elkhorne, from Tress-Cox Lawyers, which represented Sam and Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter, where the koala recuperated from her burns, confirmed the koala’s death.
“It is a sad day,” Ms Elkhorne said.
Dr John Butler operated on Sam at the Morwell Veterinary Clinic.
“Dr Butler discovered Sam had severe changes in her urinary and reproductive tract that were non-operable and unfortunately had to put Sam to sleep,” Ms Elkhorne said.
“The changes were consistent with the chlamydia infection. It was so severe that there was no possible way to be able to manage her pain.”
The touching image of CFA firefighter David Tree offering Sam a gulp of water from his bottle flashed around the world during the February fires.
Despite suffering burns to her paws and smoke inhalation, Sam provided welcome inspiration to whose who had lost everything.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the world had seen the photo of Sam as a symbol of hope.
“I think that gave people of the world a great sense that this country Australia could come through those fires – as we have,” Mr Rudd told reporters in Cairns.
“Sam the koala was part of the symbolism of that and it’s tragic that Sam the koala is no longer with us.”
The photo and an accompanying video helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the CFA and wildlife shelter.
“Other shelters face this in every bushfire season,” Ms Elkhorne said.
“Even though Sam didn’t make it, hopefully this will create awareness for the work they do.”
Sam was recovering well from her burns when the chlamydia set in.
Staff at the shelter braced for the worst when the koala went in for surgery; koalas have a low recovery rate from abdominal surgery.