The owner of the Kangeroo Island Wildlife Park in South Australia has told Sky News he would risk his life defending hundreds of animals as bushfires continue to tear through the bio-diversity rich region.
There was a frantic rush to bolster defences as two large blazes circling the area looked as if they would merge.
Image: Sam Mitchell is the owner of Kangeroo Island Wildlife Park in South Australia
Hundreds of the park’s animals are in peril – such as penguins, pelicans, the world’s most dangerous bird (the Cassowary),as well as kangaroos and crocodiles and hundreds more injured wildlife that have been brought in by members of the public for treatment.
The island has lost an estimated 25,000 koalas – half its population – and two animals unique to it may have been wiped out altogether.
Image: Kangaroo Island has lost an estimated 25,000 koalas – half its population
There has been a two decade-long community conservation push to increase the numbers of the glossy black cockatoo, which is now under threat because of the vast destruction done to its habitat.
“I’m going to defend the place,” the centre’s owner Sam Mitchell told Sky News.
“I don’t want to burn. I want to live. But I have to do it,” he added.
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A group of Australian soldiers drafted in to help secure the sanctuary worked furiously during the first half of the morning before being told to leave the area because of the danger.
An army vet worked alongside a private one and a team of volunteers to bandage the hordes of koalas brought into the animal refuge – many of them had burned snouts and singed eyes.
Image: Army and private vets work with volunteers to bandage koalas brought into the animal refuge
The front room of the Mitchell household has been turned into a 24-hour care area for orphaned baby koalas, joeys and wombats, who are fed with special formula milk and medicines three to four times a day.
Image: Sam Mitchell and his wife Dana’s front room has been turned into a 24-hour care area for orphaned animals
Image: Orphaned joeys are fed with special formula milk several times a day
Two joeys snuggled up into cloth bags hanging on the back of two of their dining chairs.
A trailer-full of koalas arrived, even as the team were deciding when to leave.
The scrawny animals were found scrambling around the ground, too injured to climb trees – and many had burned paws and noses.
Image: Many of the koalas brought in had burned paws and noses
When the volunteers reached them, they were desperately hungry and thirsty.
As the winds changed, most of the group at the park decided to pull out.
Sam Mitchell’s partner Dana, who is a bedrock of the centre, was crying as she said goodbye.
Image: Sam Mitchell’s partner Dana sobbed as she said goodbye
“I love you,” she sobbed as she left with the couple’s young son Connor.
“I don’t want to leave,” she told us “but I have to think of the young one”.
Image: Dana Mitchell says she was forced to evacuate because of ‘the young one’
Firefighter Billy Dunlop, who is also the park’s manager, told us we had been ordered to evacuate.
The winds were pushing the fires towards the centre.
“You have 20 minutes to leave by the only safe road,” he warned us.
Image: Firefighter Billy Dunlop, who is also the park’s manager, warned the team to evacuate
Image: Sky’s Alex Crawford was warned by officials to evacuate
They rigged up sprinklers to spray the house with water to keep it cool.
Sam and his father, brother and father-in-law hurriedly ran round the pens of injured koalas distributing gum tree branches to eat and filling up water bowls.
“Its going to be a long night,” Sam said.
Source : Sky News