Sam Mitchell, the owner of the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park
Sam Mitchell, the owner of the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park

‘I couldn’t sit there and watch those guys burn’

Kangaroo Island's popular wildlife park has survived a horrific night in hellish conditions as it was threatened by bushfires raging from several directions.

Sam Mitchell, who owns and runs the park, stayed with four other people to defend his property and animals including many koalas that had been brought in injured from fires which have been burning for more than two weeks.

Vets and volunteers treat koalas at the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park. Picture: AAP / David Mariuz
Vets and volunteers treat koalas at the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park. Picture: AAP / David Mariuz

 

Sam Mitchell on the phone on Thursday, as he prepares to defend the wildlife park. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty
Sam Mitchell on the phone on Thursday, as he prepares to defend the wildlife park. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty

 

"We could see the flames, it was glowing and the wind was blowing at us pretty hard," Mr Mitchell said. "The first threat was coming from the northeast and then the wind swung around from the southwest and those fires starting heading at us."

Mr Mitchell had sent his wife and young child to safety away from the area but he wanted to stay and defend if there was any chance of saving the park.

"We've probably got 800 animals here, I couldn't sit there and watch those guys burn," he said.

One of the koalas waits for treatment at the park. Picture: AAP / David Mariuz
One of the koalas waits for treatment at the park. Picture: AAP / David Mariuz

"Whether we could stop it or not, I wasn't sure, but we were certainly giving it our best."

As the fire threat passed, a team of volunteer vets, including some from the defence force, descended on the park, mainly to triage and care for wounded koalas.

More than 100 of the animals have been brought into the facility, most suffering from burns but some are also malnourished after their source of food was destroyed.

Army vet Garnett Hall said given the estimates that the western half of Kangaroo Island was home to about 25,000 koalas, only a very small number had survived the fire.

Captain Hall said a further problem for those koalas that have survived was the extensive loss of habitat. The island is home to Australia's only chlamydia-free koalas.

Veterinary surgeons Oliver Funnell and Gayle Kothari treat a koala at the wildlife park on Friday after the park withstoof the fire. Picture: AAP / David Mariuz
Veterinary surgeons Oliver Funnell and Gayle Kothari treat a koala at the wildlife park on Friday after the park withstoof the fire. Picture: AAP / David Mariuz


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