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Page last updated at 09:00 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 10:00 UK

Rescued koala Sam dies in surgery

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The moment Sam was rescued from the fires in February

A koala named Sam which became a celebrity in Australia after being rescued from bush fires earlier this year has died during surgery.

She was put to sleep during an operation to remove cysts, after veterinary surgeons found her condition was too advanced to be treatable.

Sam had become a symbol of hope for Australians after the deadliest bushfires in the the country's history.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the 4-year-old koala's death was "tragic".

Sam was found by fire fighters carrying out preventative back burning operations in Victoria state. She was picking her way through the scorched bush on badly burned paws.

Images of her drinking water from a bottle held by fire fighter David Tree were seen around the world.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd : "It's tragic that Sam the koala is no longer with us"

She was taken to the Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter in Rawson, Victoria, but a few months later was diagnosed with cysts connected to chlamydia, a potentially fatal disease which affects about half of Australia's koala population.

Before her operation to correct the condition, the centre said surgery was "100% necessary" as without it she would die.

'Tragic'

But during the surgery, vets found the condition was more advanced than they had thought and had caused severe changes to Sam's urinary and reproductive tract.

Wildfire near Tonimbuk, Victoria, Australia (7 February 2009)
The February fires were the deadliest in Australia's history

"Unfortunately we have had to take the decision to put Sam to sleep," said veterinary surgeon John Butler of the Morwell Vet Clinic.

"She was going to be left in pain in the state she was in and have chronic cystitis symptoms, pain on urination. We had no hope of helping her any further."

Peita Elkhorne, a lawyer representing the wildlife centre, said all those involved with Sam were "devastated with this loss".

The February wildfires were the worst in Australia's history, killing more than 200 people and destroying thousands of homes.

Mr Rudd said the images of Sam being rescued "gave people of the world a great sense that this country Australia could come through those fires - as we have".

"Sam the koala was part of the symbolism of that and it's tragic that Sam the koala is no longer with us," he said.



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