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Sam the koala loses another battle and is euthanased - we are all very sad

Another famous koala - from Norman Lindsay's Magic Pudding

"Sam, we were all so glad to hear of your rescue, which gave us hope that the world would realise the plight of you and your fellow koalas and other wildlife in Australia and that our politicians might then wake up. We enjoyed seeing that you had made a friend at the wildlife shelter and it seemed that your future looked comparatively rosey. We are now so sorry to hear that you are no longer with us."
-- Ed.Candobetter

Sam was actually a female koala and, soon after she was rescued, she became fast friends with a male koala who was recovering in the same shelter.

Sam was a victim of controlled burning, not of 'bushfire'

Sam was a victim of the practice of "controlled burning-off" to prevent bushfires. She was not actually a victim of an out of control bushfire. Burning-off is a practice of which the frequency is criticised soundly and scientifically here. In many cases it benefits loggers and land-clearers. Managed and thinned forests are overwhelmingly more frequently linked to uncontrollable bushfires than old growth forests. There is a case for burning off on ridges which are prone to lightening attacks, but, as writers argue in these pages, we should use an entirely different approach to fighting fires in Australia.

Although Sam became known, admired, and undoubtedly loved, by millions of people, due to the terrible fires last February in which hundreds of people died and over a million native animals died, she actually succumbed to chlamydia.

Chlamydia in koalas

Chlamydia is a disease which was found to be epidemic in a number of koala populations about 20 years ago. Since then, the mixing up of different populations in new places in an effort to save the species from extinction due to traditional habitat destruction, has probably contributed to a rise in the incidence of infections. Stress in its own right is also an obvious likely factor in the prevalence, seriousness and chronicity of this illness.

Chlamydia bacteria occur in many different animals, including humans. In koalas clamydia can infect the urinary tract the genetical tract and the respiratory tract. It may cause infertility and blindness and the animal may die from these. They get pink rimmed eyes and cannot keep themselves clean due to incontinence.Source:

How safe are koalas in Australia?

Koalas only live on the South and South Eastern coast of Australia and most wildlife carers consider them in danger everywhere. Unfortunately the way that animals are classified as threatened and endangered in Australia means that you have to wait until the entire population of koalas Australia-wide is on the brink of extinction. Meanwhile, as we head quickly towards this situation, local and regional populations are being extinguished with barely a protest registered in the mainstream media and with only the merest token gestures from parliamentarians.

Wildlife Carers finance most of their work themselves, with little help and much hindrance from the government. People around the world who may read this: please place pressure on our Australian State and Federal governments to start protecting our wildlife instead of killing them through neglect or demonised as 'pests'.

In some cases koalas are endangered by being marooned by human development, so that they cannot get out and they exhaust the food trees where they are boxed in and die of starvation, fighting and disease. Throwing animals together from different populations, without a normal population structure means that these artificially created new colonies lack brakes on reproduction which occur normally through incest avoidance and the Westermarck effect.

However, the greatest direct killer is loss of habitat due to suburban development. This loss of habitat is driven by the growth lobby which has caused Australia to become severely overpopulated to the extent that we are now running out of water and land for farming and for wildlife is being stolen for human development. This means less water and less land for animals and forests.

Koalas are also killed by dogs, humans, stepped on by cattle, and run down by cars.

Brigitte Bardot's site has a very good page on this, devoted to Victoria's Mornington Peninsula Wildlife carer, Jenny Bryant's Koala Refuge.

But koalas are also loved by many Australians

As you can see from this page
In Australia one of our most famous books was Norman Lindsay's The Magic Pudding, where the hero was a Koala called Bunyip Bluegum, who left his home because he couldn't stand sharing it with his untidy uncle.

This picture shows him eating outside to avoid watching his uncle drag his whiskers in his soup. You can see that Bunyip is being importuned by two small goannas, who want hand-outs.


Sam's demise represents the plight of koalas and many native species. The story is the same - loss of habitat, feral plants and animals, urban development, poisons, stress, disease and road kill. Our governments give scant recognition to indigenous Australian species, and wildlife are "collateral damage" of development and "progress", not significant enough casualties to really make an impact on the economy and growth! Without continuous wildlife corridors, their genetic diversity and survival cannot be assured.

At least Sam became famous, and had loving care. He was a mascot for the plight of Victorian animals, and with another heavy fire season ahead, how safe will the rest of the koalas and other native animals be?

It turns out that "he" is actually a female! SHE was a mascot for the plight of Victorian animals.

What hope does Australia's wildlife have when bush arson lobbyists like MAX RHEESE [Secretary of Victorian Lands Alliance] in his article in 'Weekly Times Now' call for a massive increase in slashing and burning more of Victoria's wildlife habitat. In Rheese article he is advocating for Victorian bushfire authorities to implement an annual fuel reduction burn target of 385,000 hectares. 'Nip fire in the bud, and now' [6-Aug-09] This equates to 62 km x 62km of bush.

To demonise Australian wildlife habitat as 'fuel' is narrow-minded, vandalistic and counter-productive . To claim that 'fuel-reduction burning' is "the most important preventative tool we have to combat fire disaster and reduce fire intensity" is blind ignorance. The 'No Fuel No fire' campaign by The Victorian Land Allliance is a simplistic 'one-size-fits-all' approach to the complex problems of bushfire management, prevention and suppression - it ignores the complexity of fire ecology and wildlife ecology - the home and livelihood of Australian wildlife.

Broadscale deliberate slashing and burning has been scientifically shown to be a fundamentally flawed approach. It fails to prevent ember attack. It changes the vegetation to becoming even more susceptibe for future fires and larger fires. It is a cop out to the fact that DSE fails to meet performance standards to quickly detect, respond to and suppress ignitions when they do occur. Bushfire authorities haven't got an Australian fauna zoologist among them to know the impact of deliberate burning has on native wildlife. Where are the wildlife statistics?

'Nip fire in the bud, and now' ought to be the motto of Australian bushfire fighting. Once bushfire fighting gets that into their heads - lives, property and wildlife may have a chance!


Did the bushfire Royal Commission in Victoria take cognizance of the fact that the worst fires were in thinned and 'managed' forest or not?

Sheila Newman, population sociologist
home page


A quick answer: I don't know as I wasn't there.

I suggest that aside from the long unprecedented drought, tinder dry bush and 40+ Celsius weather conditions across Victoria, the density of bush at each ignition would have been the key factor. But consider the complexity that each fire may have burnt through a mix of thinned and managed forest as well as paddocks, grasslands in such conditions, but that the variation of vegetation may have been insignificant in terms of cause, circumstance and bushfire prevention.
It is not black and white.

But more importantly, the bush was not the spark that killed 173 people. Australian flora and fauna died too. Thousands of livestock and native animals were burned alive, yet the media mainly ignored this calamity and government has failed to field assess and measure this fact, except for Samantha the Koala.

Prior lead up prescribed burning may have been effective in low gauge localised bushfires, but given the extremes and the wide distances covered by multiple fires, it is likely that any amount of prescribed burning would have made no difference to the devastation. This should be up to the Commission to assess and conclude.

Once ignitions were allowed time to escalate into unstoppable firestorms, possiby due to under-equipped volunteers (with many hours delay), the storm was allowed to evolve into one so unstoppable to any measure.

Dad's armies have no place in weekend volunteer bushfire fighting these days - people and wildlife are dying.

It is simple to conclude the comparability of this neglegent scenario characteristic of many major bushfires across SE Australia - recently: the Victorian Alps bushfires of 2003, the Canberra Firestorms (started in NSW) in Jan 2003, and the Grose Valley (Blue Mountains) in Nov 2006, etc, etc.

Let's wait and see. Victorian Premier Brumby's delegated Royal Commission is due to deliver its 'Interim Report' on 17 August 2009, just ten days away. This would not prevented the CFA or DSE providing such information on their respective websites already.
Both organisatons are publicly accountable institutions and the area affected was not subject to commercial in confidence legal privilege.

To correct your question, whether any of the bushfires passed through thinned or managed forest - this may not be relevant. I suggest what is more significant and consequential is to recognise the causes of each blaze and assessing the performance of the bushfire-fighting response is the location of the IGNITIONS. It is important to appreciate this 'IGNITION' term as distinct from consequential fires, fire-fronts, spot overs, etc.

What is most important to identifying the root causes of each ignition and to learning from this collective experience of the Jan-Feb 2009 Victorian Bushfires is to obtain the following facts for each individual ignition (of which there were many):

1. The date in which Victorian bushfire authorities first recorded awareness of a heightened risk of bushfire during the 2008-09 summer season and the measures taken:

A. To mitigate that risk in terms of strategies of communication

B. To communicate to the Victorian Government and request special funding additional bushfire prevention resources, equipment, contingencies and other support to better prepare for the known unprecedented and exceptionally high bushfre risk conditions?

2. Assessment of bushfire risk in terms of bushfire index and other risk metrics by bushfire management (CFA/DSE/EMA) on Friday 6 February and Saturday 7 February including all relevant bushfire-weather conditions and resulting weather data available from and supplied by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology preceding and up until that date.

3. The publicity of the bushfire risk in Victoria in the days leading up to Saturday 7 February 2009, inlcuidng all newspaper, radio and television media as well as the reports from givernmemt authorities, including the public warnings by Preier Brumby himself. Assessment of this publicity by independent arson criminologists in respect to the risk of incitement of bushfire arsonists to cause bushfire arson.

4. The exact or otherwise estimated geographic location of each ignition (to the metre)?

5. Ignition evidence at the location of each ignition site suggesting the likely cause of that ignition?

6. Elapsed time between the ignition and recorded detection time by bushfire fighting authorities?

7. Elapsed time between the recorded detection time by bushfire fighting authorities and the despatch time to this specific ignition/consequential fire?

8. Elapsed time between the despatch time to this specific ignition/consequential fire and first arrival on site by bushfire crews?

9. Elapsed time between the recorded time of first arrival on site by bushfire crews and confirmed fire suppression?

Sheila, I suggest that such statistics are not kept by Victorian bushfire authorities and so by such omission, Victoria's government and Premier are in part responsible and attracts a contributory negligence claim to the 2009 Victorian Bushfire tragedies plural.

Might I suggest (exclusive of volunteer firefighters) that in respect to the time of the emergency that the CFA, DSE and their masters the Victorian Government, plus the federal EMA are responsible, negligent and culpable?

Hi Tigerquoll,

I don't doubt the validity of your approach. The ignition is very important yes.
BUT so is the fact that the thick old growth forest hardly burned compared to the managed and thinned forests.

This forest thickness and age is important because the people who want to do 'controlled burns' on more and more land are basing their approach on the opposite and erroneous assumption that managed forest burned less than natural forest including old growth.

Where I came in on the whole fire thing was to report on information that came to me from people in the Department of Sustainability and the CFA who could not publish it because of fear of losing their jobs and incurring very harsh treatment. So I wrote what they told me in these articles here:

plus a couple of others of my own.

I would also suggest that the thickness and naturalness of forests is important in their relative hydration, coolness, age and thickness of trees and lack of flammability.

I repeat that I don't doubt the validity of your insistence on recognition of causes of ignition.

But when you write, "Prior lead up prescribed burning may have been effective in low gauge localised bushfires, but given the extremes and the wide distances covered by multiple fires, it is likely that any amount of prescribed burning would have made no difference to the devastation. This should be up to the Commission to assess and conclude."

Most land burned was interfered with - thinned, managed, and criss-crossed with fire tracks, in my understanding - and it burned faster, much, much faster than the old growth forest. So that quantity of area had to impact in the equation. I don't believe that, even in those extreme temperatures, if the whole place had been thick old growth, it would have burned at that rate - going by what I had reported to me and which formed the substance of my articles.

You also say, "This should be up to the Commission to assess and conclude." Yes. I have so little confidence in the Victorian Government to take truth rather than favorite-expert opinion into account. It's depressing. I hope someone out there is following the Enquiry and can tell us.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist
home page

Brumby's Royal Commission is a political bandaid and distraction to pacify an understandably angry Victorian public, some of whom have lost everything from the fires. But it is hollow. It will seek and assign blame. It will suggest one size fits all solutions. Its terms of reference fail to require a scientific root cause analysis into the tragedy. It will not recommend funding to get what needs to prevent a reoccurrence. It will not commission a permanent investigative unit of bush arson criminologists. So next season there will little effective difference in government's bushfire response.

Brumby will use the Commission as a political tool like the many bushfire enquiries before it, both in Victorian and interstate. Brumby will use the Commission's report to argue a public need for closure and in doing so will have done the token minimum to quell reactive public dissent.

But there will be no investment into 'state-of-the-art' bushfire detection, into military speed response and suppression of ignitions with world's best airborne and ground resources.

Don't be silly. This would cost too much! It is all about being seen to do something, about maintaining the convenience of a cheap volunteer base. Carefully designed rebranding, spin and throwing money at window dressing should do the!

Watch! As soon as the Commission's final report is released, Brumby’s government will pacify the crowd and announce this window dressing, then within days his governent's media spin machine will shiftteh public's attention on to some 'critically important' issue deliberately to assign the bushfire chapter to history. Perhaps Brumby could use his obscenely wasteful desalination extravagance. And he does have to think positively about the next election. Perhaps he may declare war on New South Wales. War has always served to distract the populous from the important issues of the day - look at George W!

In the end, the archaic and grossly under-resourced volunteer-dependent fire fighting agencies that we entrust to put out bushfires will push the propaganda that if the more the bush is burned it won't burn.

So thin the entire bush! Destroy all the thick undergrowth because it is dangerous 'fuel'. It is evil! It will mean that when a wildfire comes through there will be less to burn and so more manageable. Bugger flora not fire resistant, bugger the ground dwelling wildlife that depends on thick undergrowth for food, habitat, refuge and escape from feral predators.

But what do the firefighters know about native zoology? Squat!

Try finding a forest rich ecosystem excluded by fire! It will be home to species that are rare and threatened. Forest microclimates (relative hydration, coolness, age and thickness of trees and lack of flammability) are critical for certain species). Translate this into human terms. Try getting the average urban family to live in an exposed caravan under strong sunlight, poor insulation, in a windy area and measure their health and life expectancy and of their new born. If only government departments charged the conservation duties did this for wildlife?

The diversion of bushfire management attention and funding to prescribe burning is defeatist. It translates as - 'we the bushfire authorities confess we are not equipped to detect, respond and suppress ignitions to guarantee the safety of people, property or ecology from bushfires so the only option we have to offer improved safety is to destroy the bush - eliminate the 'fuel'.

I agree with you that if the Royal Commission is seeking the root cause of the problem, then it ought to identify which areas indeed were prescribed burnt and assess whether this provided any benefit over those areas that were not.

One problem is the dominant media attention being given to Dr Kevin Tolhurst who is leading a self-perpetuating lobbying effort for massive broad scale prescribed burning as the only panacea for mitigating bushfire risk. He is probably the most dangerous threatening process facing Victorian wildlife and may be the catalyst for accelerated local extinctions of our disappearing wildlife.

Am I too cynical? No, I am a pragmatist with a deep distrust in government.


Many thanks for taking the trouble to make that post.
Candobetter needs a writer who is actually attending and reporting on the Royal Commission into the Bushfires.
When our discussion on Candobetter first began, we felt that the Royal Commission would be yet another media manipulation and we felt that perhaps the best way to deal with the problem would be to hold a Peoples' Commission outside (and film it) and discuss what really happened, notably which parts burned the most and how burning off ultimately meant total destruction.

The need to do has not gone away.

After the R.C. has finished Candobetter writers like you and others can dissect the untruths, but by that time the machine of petty vested interest will be rolling in with its flame throwers.

Victoria already has climate change refugees huddled in tents and caravans in the harsh winter cold. You would think that Anti-Climate Change activists would seize on the danger of Victoria becoming an even worse furnace this summer and embrace the concept of rehydrating forests and using aircraft to immediately arrest fires at their ignition spots.

Is there anyone out there who is tuned into this problem and active in the Anti-Climate Change movement?

I think I will post this dialogue to Natural Sequence Farming bulletin board as well.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist
home page

After the Black Friday bushfires the result of the enquiry found that barriers of fire retardant species were needed to protect communities.


THE Victorian Government are ON trial here. They are guilty on all counts of doing NOTHING. And 28yrs later they will still be condemned for doing nothing.

Victoria is drying out and dying out. The continuing resistance to replant fire retardant plants and continue to allow Eucalpts and other fire resistant plants to regrow and plant MEANS only one thing.

The next BIG fire holocaust will take out the whole state. And where will Brumby and his cronies be then???

The ancient fable about a hare believing the sky will fall in after an acorn falls on her head, continues to belie the myth perpetuated by the bushfire arson lobby, with Dr Kevin Tolhurst as its academic authority.

Whipping up mass hysterical amongst an uninformed public is reckless. It is an irresponsible use of academic privilege and influence. It is certainly not a substitute for what ought to be rational problem solving using root cause analysis. Victoria, its citizens and its remaining wildlife deserve better.

Tolhurst is retelling his fears of Armageddon, publicising statements like "the energy of the fires was equivalent to more than 1500 atomic bombs the size of the one used at Hiroshima" (the Australian, 22-May-09). He has been evangelising this fear far and wide, telling everyone - like in the fable - Henny Penny, Cocky Lockey and Goosey Loosey.

This myth needs to be exposed. Foxy Loxy should eat these scaremongering bushfire arson lobbyists before King Brumby is hoodwinked by the dangerous misleading yarn into proclaiming a scorched earth policy across Victoria.