Lewis the koala who became a national treasure after being rescued from NSW bushfires has sadly passed away from his injuries.
The koala made headlines around the world when he was dramatically rescued by Toni Doherty who was caught on camera running into flames near the NSW town of Long Flat to save the struggling marsupial.
The koala had patches of fur missing and appeared to be limping as the blaze raged through his habitat, before Ms Doherty doused him in bottles of water in a desperate attempt to cool him down before wrapping him up in her shirt.
“He was crying and calling out … It was really distressing,” Ms Doherty told Yahoo News Australia. “I thought he was a brown koala but it was because all his hair and been singed.
“I just didn’t want to bear the thought of him being left there.”
The roughly 14-year-old koala was taken to Port Macquarie Koala Hospital but after spending nearly a week recuperating, had to be put down due to his injuries.
Given the full name of Ellenborough Lewis, after the area it was rescued from and the grandchild of Ms Doherty, the Port Macquarie facility announced the sad news on Tuesday afternoon.
“Today we made the decision to put Ellenborough Lewis to sleep. We placed him under general anaesthesia this morning to assess his burns injuries and change the bandages,” the hospital wrote in a Facebook post.
The vets however had recently warned 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,” it said.
Despite the sad end for Lewis, Ms Doherty hopes the story can help the bushfire appeal as crews continue to fight fires across the country days out from summer.
“When I’ve seen it on TV it just doesn’t seem likes it’s me,” she told Yahoo of her now famous rescue effort. “But it’s an insight into what’s happening.”
In the Port Macquarie region on the NSW coast, it is feared upwards of 350 koalas were killed when fires ripped through the area earlier in November.
Between 50,000 and 100,000 koalas remain in the wild and Claire Smith, founder of Wildlife Rescue Sunshine Coast recently told Yahoo News Australia that because fires tear through the tree canopy, koalas don’t really have a chance of survival.
In the first hour, the Facebook post announcing the news of Lewis’s death attracted more than 1,400 comments from well wishers, many mourning the passing.
“Without the bravery of his rescuer and the treatment at KHPM he would have died in even more severe pain & suffering somewhere in the burning bush,” wrote one person.
Hundreds of comments were quick to praise Ms Doherty and the staff at the koala hospital for doing everything they could.
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