Prince William and Kate Middleton have been introduced to a fragile koala joey that had escaped the deadly fires in Kangaroo Island – only to be hit by a car in the barren, burned land.
“Oh look!,” the Duchess of Cambridge said as wildlife park owner Dana Mitchell brought Grace out of her enclosure so the royal couple could see the devastating impact of the mega-fires – all through a computer screen.
Kate and William leaned in as Ms Mitchell cradled the koala close to the camera.
“She looks very well looked after. Grace looks like she has a very nice life there,” William said. “So sweet. She’s so cute,” Kate added.
They appeared visibly shocked after learning the koala population had decreased from 60-80,000 to an estimated 5-10,000 since the fires.
“That’s devastating,” William said.
Hearing of how the park had to close again to protect against coronavirus, William jokingly said: “Nothing like you guys going through a wildfire then a global pandemic coming along… it doesn’t help.”
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also spoke to five local business owners who suffered in the wildfires, which had affected almost half of Kangaroo Island.
First responders also appeared by video link to chat with the royal couple.
“It’s fantastic to hear about the community spirit in Australia as always, which is what Catherine and I see when we come down there,” William said.
“Aussies are very good at looking after each other and it’s fantastic to see that you’re all pulling together.”
William and Kate praised the efforts of all those who had worked to tackle the spread of the fire.
That included Captain Mike Swayne, who spent five weeks fighting the blaze as a volunteer for the South Australian Country Fire Service.
He told the royal couple of how “hard going” the fires had been, saying he had been firefighting for 20 years and had never seen weather like it.
“It must have been terrifying,” William said.
“How many of you were having to tackle this monster?”
Mr Swayne said he had come to see it as a “great example of humankind coming to aid others” and praised his wife for her support.
Stephanie Wurst, a farmer who lost her home and farm as well as half her livestock, told the couple it was a “pretty traumatic time looking back at it now” and said “we’ve had so much support”.
The couple told the group: “I do hope all of you feel that you’ve got that support you’ve got someone you can speak to and somewhere you can go to receive support whether it’s financial or whether it’s just having a chat. Please do look after yourselves.”
William said he hoped to travel to Australia once the COVID-19 pandemic is under control and they were able to travel again.
“Hopefully Catherine and I when the world goes back to whatever normality we have in the future, we can come and visit you all and see Kangaroo Island for ourselves,” he said.
Queen cancels events
Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth has been forced to cancel all large-scale events at her Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle homes for the rest of the year due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“A variety of possibilities were examined to see if it was possible for investitures to safely take place in line with the guidelines,” Buckingham Palace said on its website on Thursday, referring to the ceremonies held when someone who has been awarded an honour receives their award in person from a royal family member.
“Sadly, due to the large numbers of guests and recipients attending, it was not possible to find a way of safely delivering these events in the current circumstances,” he added.