"You can smell it."
One memory Kai Wild can't shake from the time he spent on Kangaroo Island earlier this year is the smell.
The 35-year-old tree surgeon says you can be standing in a burnt area, but it's not ash or physical destruction that gives it away. It's the smell of dead wildlife.
Kai's story went viral in February when he started to document his days rescuing koalas during Australia's horrific bushfire season. Hearing from a friend of a friend that they needed a tree climber on Kangaroo Island, the conservationist got in his car and drove 1,500 kilometres to volunteer. There, he rescued over 100 koalas in a matter of weeks, and connected with tens of thousands of Australians via social media who felt helpless as the fires raged on.
It's estimated that at least half of the koala population on Kangaroo Island perished during our most recent bushfire season. But for those who followed his story, Kai and his koalas weren't synonymous with tragedy. Instead, his work was a reminder of the impact that one individual can have when the unprecedented happens.
Speaking to Mamamia about his decision to drive to Kangaroo Island - on nothing more than word of mouth - Kai says, "I had wanted to be able to help the entire fire season".
Earlier in the year he had been deployed with the SES to south New South Wales, but it was the specificity of what Kangaroo Island needed that motivated him to go on his own. "When someone says they need a tree climber, that’s something I know I’m able to do," he says.