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Aussie koala who survived fires, dies

RAWSON, Australia, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- Sam, a 4-year-old koala who gained worldwide sympathy after she was rescued during Australia's destructive wildfires, was euthanized Thursday, a shelter said.

Life-threatening cysts associated with urogenital chlamydiosis, which affects half of Australia's koala population, were found to be inoperable, the shelter where Sam lived since the February fires said.

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"Sam became a symbol of hope and determination across the nation for both survivors of the Black Saturday bush fires and all those that fought and lent support throughout the community," the Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter in Rawson, Australia, said in a statement.

"She was going to be left in pain in the state she was in," John Butler, the veterinarian who conducted the operation, told reporters. "We had no hope of helping her any further."

Sam, short for Samantha, gained worldwide fame when a video and photograph showed her, injured, being fed water from a bottle by a soot-covered firefighter in forests 96 miles east of Melbourne, her burned paw in his hand.

The koala became a symbol of resilience for Australia in the aftermath of the Feb. 7, fires, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Thursday. The fires killed more than 200 people -- Australia's highest-ever loss of life from a bushfire -- and charred 2,000 homes.

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"It's tragic that Sam the koala is no longer with us," Rudd said.

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