SYDNEY -- Kangaroo corpses lay scattered by the roadsides while wombats that survived the wildfire's onslaught emerged from underground burrows to find blackened earth and nothing to eat.
Wildlife rescue officials yesterday worked frantically to help the animals that made it through Australia's worst-ever wildfires but they said millions of animals likely perished in the inferno.
Scores of kangaroos have been found around roads, overwhelmed by flames and smoke while attempting to flee, said Jon Rowdon, president of the rescue group Wildlife Victoria.
Kangaroos that survived are suffering from burned feet, a result of their territorial behaviour. After escaping the initial flames, the creatures likely circled back to their homes, singeing their feet on the smouldering ground.
"It's just horrific," said Neil Morgan, president of the Statewide Wildlife Rescue Emergency Service in Victoria, the state where the raging fires were still burning. "It's disaster all around for humans and animals as well."
Some wombats that hid in burrows managed to survive, but those that are not rescued face a slow and certain death as they emerge to find food supplies gone, said Pat O'Brien, president of the Wildlife Protection Association of Australia.
The official human death toll stood at 181 and authorities said it would exceed 200.
While the scope of the wildlife devastation was still unclear, it was likely to be enormous, Rowdon said.
"There's no doubt across that scale of landscape and given the intensity of the fires, millions of animals would have been killed," he said.
Hundreds of burned, stressed and dehydrated animals -- including kangaroos, koalas, lizards and birds -- have arrived at shelters. Rescuers have doled out antibiotics, pain relievers and fluids , but some of the severely injured were euthanized.
"We've got a wallaby joey at the moment that has crispy fried ears because he stuck his head out of his mum's pouch and lost all his whiskers and cooked up his nose," Rowdon said. "They're the ones your hearts really go out to."
One furry survivor has emerged a star: a koala, nicknamed Sam by rescuers, was found moving gingerly on scorched paws on Sunday.
Firefighter David Tree offered the animal a bottle of water, which she eagerly accepted, holding Tree's hand as he poured water in her mouth -- a moment captured in a photo seen around the world.
Sam is being treated at the Mountain Ash Wildlife Shelter in Rawson, 170 km east of Melbourne, where she has attracted the attention of a male koala, nicknamed "Bob," manager Coleen Wood said. The two marsupials have been inseparable ever since, she said.
Meanwhile, shelter workers were scrambling to salve the wounds of possums, kangaroos, lizards -- "everything and anything," Wood said.
"We had a turtle come through that was just about melted -- still alive."
A friend sent me some more amazing shots from down under of animals desperately reaching out for water from anywhere they can find it.