The Kangaroo Island koala rescuer who featured in a recent viral drop bear prank says he is facing a backlash after his crowdfunding campaign for treating injured animals exceeded its target by more than $2 million.
- The fundraiser set a target of $15,000 but has raised more than $2 million
- Sam Mitchell said his wildlife park was caring for more than 400 injured koalas
- About 30,000 koalas are estimated to have perished during the Kangaroo Island bushfires
Sam Mitchell and partner Dana run the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, which survived the deadly bushfires on the island.
The couple set up a GoFundMe campaign earlier this month as fires ripped through surrounding areas, eventually blackening almost half the island.
The fires, which have today been contained, are believed to have killed as many as 30,000 of the island’s koala population, which is considered especially valuable because of its chlamydia-free status.
Earlier this month, Mr Mitchell and two others tricked a Scottish journalist into thinking the koala she was holding was an Australian “drop bear” — before revealing the creature was non-existent.
The video went viral on social media, and included a link to Mr Mitchell’s crowdfunding page, where donations skyrocketed.
Despite a target of $15,000 to care for injured koalas, the campaign has so far raised more than $2.1 million.
In an emotional Facebook post earlier this week, Mr Mitchell said he felt the success of the fundraiser had prompted somewhat of a backlash against him.
Mr Mitchell said he had not yet been able to access the money and his campaign would be “monitored by the [Australian Tax Office] as a charity”.
He also hit back at people he said were “pissed off that we are rescuing native wildlife”.
“For the past seven years we have been rescuing wildlife specialising in koalas. Now, after this fire we have seen over 400 koalas, many roos, wallabies, echidnas,” he wrote.
“What did people expect me to do with all these animals that show up on my door? If your opinion is to shoot them all then that is your opinion. It is not mine.”
This morning, Mr Mitchell reiterated his feelings on ABC Radio Adelaide.
“The first two weeks we had a lot of support, but now all of a sudden I’m getting all the comments,” he said.
“I’m walking around town, people are looking at me, some of the comments are: ‘geez now you can finally buy that helicopter’ or ‘you can buy a big boat now’.
“It’s really starting to piss me off because the reality is, I could never do those things now because even if my plan in the future was to do something like that, people would just assume I’ve raised money for a charity and spent it.”
Mr Mitchell said the initial $15,000 he and his partner requested was to pay for the ongoing care of 14 koalas, but that number had since increased to more than 400.
“I’ve already spent close to $100,000 in the past week which is everything I’d put aside, and borrowed money from my sister to do that because you don’t see the GoFundMe money straight away,” he said.
“Originally when we asked for the $15,000 about 50 per cent of the koala habitat was burned, so we did have plans on releasing them into the remaining 50.
“Since then, another 30 — maybe even more — per cent of the habitat has gone, so now we have to house them for quite some time until we know we can release them, because we have to wait for the forests to regrow.”
Park ‘working flat out’ to house injured animals
Mr Mitchell said his business employed 12 staff but would slow down “dramatically” as a result of the fires.
He said he had been “overwhelmed” with medical supplies and the park was continuing to receive up to 50 new koalas per day, as well as other injured animals.
“I’ve always dedicated my life to saving animals and I’m doing everything I can for these guys,” he said.
“Every day we’re seeing more and more animals, we’re building more and more infrastructure, we’re going through a lot more medical supplies.”
Mr Mitchell said a final decision had not yet been made on how all of the money raised would be spent.
“People keep saying ‘what are you going to do with these koalas in a year’s time? What are you going to do with all these supplies?’ That’s tomorrow’s problem,” he said.
“It’s put me in a really tricky position, because I’m the only person that has the capacity to take this many koalas over here and we’re working flat out to house them.
“We still have to purchase a lot of things, a lot of things that we need people can’t send us.
“We do have to go through a vet clinic for that.”
Humane Society International (HSI) animal rescue teams on Kangaroo Island last week said they were finding koalas “totally shut down” in the aftermath of the fires.
“[An] image of the koala by the water near the body of another koala is particularly heartbreaking,” HSI disaster response head Kelly Donithan said.
“Sadly, this is the reality on the ground on Kangaroo Island.”
Defence Force vets have also assisted teams collecting and caring for injured wildlife, while more than 30,000 livestock animals, mostly sheep, perished in the blazes.
The Ravine blaze was the biggest of several fires which broke out on Kangaroo Island over the past month.
Earlier, the Country Fire Service said waterbombing would continue today.
The State Government yesterday announced South Australian bushfire victims will be exempt from some property and vehicle-related taxes and fees.
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