THE Giant Koala at Dadswells Bridge will be renamed in memory of world-famous Sam the koala.
Owners Rob and Julie-Anne McPherson are partnering with the Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter, which cared for Sam until her death last week, to raise awareness of Australia's declining koala population.
The McPhersons said on Friday they would officially launch the tribute to Sam on September 12 to coincide with Save the Koala month.
Mr McPherson said special guests at the event would include David Tree, the CFA volunteer who made headlines worldwide after he was filmed with Sam, and musician Neil Higgins who penned Black Saturday tribute song `Out of the ashes, into the sun' which features a line about Sam.
He said he would also invite Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who had described Sam's death as `tragic'.
"We don't want to replace Sam, but it would be nice to have a tribute in her name and what better monument than the Giant Koala," he said.
"A couple of visitors to the koala had mentioned how sad they were about Sam dying and we thought this would be a great way to raise awareness about the disease that is wiping out koalas, while raising money for the shelter that cared for Sam for so long."
Sam became a symbol of hope amid the devastation of the Black Saturday bushfires after images of the burnt koala drinking water from the hands of Mirboo North CFA volunteer David Tree were broadcast and printed around the world.
Sam recovered from third-degree burns and lung damage in the Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter at Rawson but had to be put down on Thursday due to complications caused by chlamydia.
Mr McPherson said the Giant Koala would offer information about the life- threatening disease, which affects 50 per cent of the koala population, and accept donations for the Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter.
He said he would also seek to develop an ongoing relationship with the CFA and was in the process of seeking permits to open a koala enclosure at Dadswells Bridge.
Mr Tree, who resigned from his job in real estate to raise awareness of the plight of Australian wildlife, said he was `deeply moved' by the gesture from the McPhersons.
He said he accepted the accidental responsibility that resulted from appearing in the now-famous footage of him and Sam, and would do everything in his power to help Australia's koala population.
"What the McPhersons are doing is brilliant and it really shows they're doing their bit," he said.
"It should go a long way to help raise awareness of chlamydia and keep the memory of Sam alive."
Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter spokeswoman Peita Elkhorne of TressCox Lawyers said the shelter was looking forward to working in partnership with the Giant Koala.
"On behalf of the shelter we are delighted that the McPherson family have kindly offered to rename their statue so the memory of Sam is immortalised, while also continuing to provide an opportunity for people to donate to the shelter," she said.
FOR more on the Giant Koala and Sam, see today's Mail-Times.
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