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Lewis, the Koala Famously Rescued From Australian Bushfires, Has Died

Animals
Lewis, the Koala Famously Rescued From Australian Bushfires, Has Died
A video shows a woman rescuing a koala from Australia's wildfires. VOA News / YouTube screenshot

Lewis, the koala who stole the world's heart when a video of his rescue from Australian wildfires went viral, has died.


The koala rose to fame when Australian grandmother Toni Doherty was filmed risking her life to carry him out of the flames using the shirt off her back. Doherty named him Ellenborough Lewis after one of her seven grandchildren, according to HuffPost, and rushed him to the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital. But the hospital had to put him to sleep when his injuries proved too severe.

"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," the hospital wrote in a Facebook Post Tuesday.

Doherty and her husband, Peter, were present to say goodbye, 9News reported.

"We were there this morning. We are naturally very sad about this, as we were hoping he'd pull through but we accept his injuries were severe and debilitating and would have been quite painful," Peter Doherty told Australia based 9News.

Lewis's story brought attention to a wider crisis faced by Australia's Koala population in the midst of an extreme bushfire season. More than a million hectares have burned just in the state of New South Wales, BBC News reported, and the Australian summer has not even begun. Australia's Climate Council has warned for six years that the climate crisis is increasing the country's fire risk, and this has devastating consequences for koalas.

In October, the same hospital that tended Lewis warned that more than 350 koalas might have died when fires reached a koala habitat in Port Macquarie. Deborah Tabart, chairwoman of the Australian Koala Foundation, said this month that 80 percent of koala habitat has been destroyed by the fires.

The fires are especially perilous for koalas because they will climb trees and curl up into balls instead of running away. But they also scream for help when distressed, something that caught Doherty's attention.

"I've never heard a koala before. I didn't realise they could cry out. It was just so heart-rendering," Doherty told Today after rescuing Lewis, according to 9News.

Jill Filipovic wrote for CNN that Lewis's death was a symptom of a much larger problem, as the climate crisis and other human activities threaten Earth's biodiversity with mass extinction.

"Indeed, koalas are a particularly cute emblem of how a perfect storm of greed, nationalism, climate denialism, political cynicism has gathered to fundamentally alter life on earth as we know it," she wrote.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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