A spark of hope: The story of Lewis the koala bear, victim of Australia wildfires

Lewis, the koala bear injured in the Australian wildfires, has sadly died. But the donations raised show there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Towards the end of this year (2019), Australia has suffered a wildfire epidemic. The outbursts of untameable, terrifying wildfires have forced people to evacuate their homes and flee the area.

There have also been reported fatalities, seriously increasing health concerns. The results of the fires are far-reaching, as air pollution sky rocketed in Sydney. Residents with respiratory conditions were advised to stay inside.

Whilst human can be warned of the dangers posed by this blazing disaster, the forest wildlife remain helpless in their threatened habitat. The impact on koala bears has especially been in the spotlight, as a video went viral of a selfless woman, Toni Doherty, saving a suffering koala.

The event took place on Tuesday 19th November (2019), sparking a huge response on social media applauding the woman for her bravery.

However, the story has taken a very sad turn since. Due to the burns the animal sustained, officials at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital made the difficult decision to put him to sleep.

In a statement by a hospital spokesperson, they explained: “The Koala Hospital’s number one goal is animal welfare, so it was on those grounds that this decision was made. We thank you for your ongoing support”.

The viral video offered a glint of hope amongst a dystopian backdrop, as Doherty cradles the crying koala. But recent news that the little creature was too badly injured to survive has reaffirmed the awful reality of the fires.

The Koala Conservation Australia president, Sue Ashton, reported to the Sydney Morning Herald: “Up to 350 koalas may have been killed in bushfires near Port Macquarie, but even more could die in the aftermath”. Tragically, her prediction came true in this case.

People took to Twitter to express their remorse, uniting in the use of the hashtag #RIPLewis. For example:

The story of Lewis should not be seen in isolation, but as a microcosm for all the suffering wildlife species residing in the forests. This specific scenario will hopefully shed light on the need to protect them.

Koala bears have even been described as ‘functionally extinct’ by Australian Koala Foundation chair Deborah Tabart.

As Lewis the koala’s story resurfaces, so do the questions: What is causing these fires? Should we be concerned about the future of the koala bear species? And what can be done to help? Many answers still remain uncertain, and skepticism about these ‘unprecedented’ fires remains.

Plus, who has the power to effectively respond: politicians or the public? At the very least, we should wonder: what can we learn from this story?

We know that raw footage like this powerfully tugs at heart strings, but will the events shown stay on people’s conscience and prompt action? It seems the answer might be yes.

Back in October (2019), a designated website was created where people could donate, to raise funds for keeping koalas hydrated and healthy in affected areas of Australia. The donations have reached an absolutely incredible figure: almost 2 million dollars!

The page also gives donators the option to write a message. One person explained: ‘It’s truly beautiful to know that the most vulnerable fire victims are not forgotten… A huge thank you for all you do for our animal friends. Please keep up the great work!’.

When animals are involved, widespread support seems to stem from a sympathy for their innocence. Therefore, we have an element of responsibility to look after them. And change can come about with awareness.

It is clear that people felt compelled to donate, to help protect koala bears during this environmental crisis. This resonates with the plenty of people and companies who became anti-plastic straws, in the wake of the distressing video of the turtle with a straw stuck up his nostril.

So despite the undeniable tragedy of the fires that continue to pose a threat to Australia today, there is some positive to be appreciated through the story of Lewis. When people share messages they feel passionate about on social media, it becomes possible to really be heard and make a difference.

Humanity can be courageous in the face of terrifying challenges – truly exemplified through Toni Doherty’s actions – and compassionate – illustrated by the flood of donations for the cause.

When people come together, great things can be achieved. This is especially true amidst struggle and hardship, such as these haunting and detrimental wildfires.


In memory of Lewis the koala bear, and with the future of Australia in mind.


Image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com.

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