Australia has been ravaged by some of the worst wildfires seen in decades, with the massive blazes destroying homes, devastating wildlife, turning skies blood red and leaving a total of 24 people dead nationwide.
A dehydrated and confused koala approached a passing cyclist in what appeared to be a call for help, as a heatwave and wild fires continued to grip Australia.
Anna Heusler was riding her bike down from the hills toward Adelaide, South Australia last Thursday with a group of cyclists when she saw a koala sitting in the middle of the road.
"We stopped the bikes to help the koala get off the road otherwise they get hit by cars. But the koala walked up to me very quickly, he was obviously very thirsty," Heusler told CNN.
When the koala had drunk from both Heusler's and her partner's water bottles, it was moved safely off the road.
A firefighter helped a thirsty koala drink water from a bottle in south Australia Sunday while fires raged in the region. The koala appeared in Cuddle Creek, about 25 miles northeast of Adelaide, before the fire game through while firefighters were there.
The animal drinks out of the plastic bottle while an empty bottle sits between its legs. The grass all around the animal is completely dry and smoke rises in the background.
Australian states battle bush fires every year -- but little has compared to the widespread devastation of this fire season.
Sydney University Ecology Professor Chris Dickman said 480 million animals had been killed in New South Wales alone including mammals, birds and reptiles.
That number does not include insects, bats or frogs that are essential to the health of an ecosystem. 'The true loss of animal life is likely to be much higher than 480 million,' he said.
“Many of the affected animals are likely to have been killed directly by the fires, with others succumbing later due to the depletion of food and shelter resources,” the University of Sydney ecologists said.
The continent contains 244 species of wildlife found nowhere else. Ecologists fear the catastrophic fires have pushed back conservation efforts by decades and some species may become extinct as a result.
Pictures and images on social media show charred koalas receiving medical attention, bodies of dead animals lying on the ground and kangaroos desperately running from blazes.
The estimated death toll included up to 8,000 koalas, according to the federal environment minister Sussan Ley, who said in an ABC Radio interview last Friday that up to 30 percent of the species in New South Wales may have been wiped out.
“We’ll know more when the fires have calmed down and a proper assessment can be made,” she said.
Mark Graham, an ecologist with the Nature Conservation Council, told that koalas have “no capacity to move fast enough” to escape from fast-moving fires that spread between trees.
Skies turned blood red above parts of southeast Australia last Sunday as residents sought refuge from deadly bushfires, and a senior firefighter described the previous 24 hours as "one of our worst days ever."
Photographs of Pambula, in the state of New South Wales, showed an eerie, smoke-filled landscape, with an otherworldly, blazing red sky.
A total of 146 fires are burning across the state, with 65 uncontained, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS). About 2,700 firefighters were tackling the blazes on Sunday.
The Australian federal government department responsible for managing emergencies shut its Canberra office due to poor air quality on Monday as the nation's capital choked on smoke from deadly bushfires. On Monday, Canberra had a rating over 340 on the Air Quality Index.
Last Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison cautioned that for some states, the most difficult fire seasons could be later in January and February. "The crisis is not over," he said. "There are months to go."
The prime minister has faced persistent accusations of being too absent, including by taking a holiday to Hawaii, and underplaying the role of climate change.
Asked about criticism of his handling on the bushfires at the weekend, Morrison said that it would not stop him from getting on with the job at hand.