Taken in the aftermath of the horrific Black Saturday bush fires that hit Australia back in 2009, this adorable photo of a man (super-appropriately named David Tree) helping out a koala charmed the world. It remains an enduring image of hope, empathy, and, above all, wuvvable-ness. There’s no way anyone could hate a volunteer firefighter tending to a cute animal after presumably rescuing it from firenado-riding Aussie death spiders, right?
Yet, somehow, that’s exactly what happened.
The public reaction to the photo was beyond negative, bordering on ferocious. Tree was mocked and insulted by a broad range of people, who accused him of various shenanigans, including but not limited to setting the photo up, abandoning the koala immediately after the picture was taken, and even flat-out neglecting his firefighting duties to mess around with some stupid animal.
Sure, Tree got positive attention too. He was honored in a multitude of ways, and even received a bronze sculpture of the photo from his hometown. However, humanity being reliably, awfully human, the statue was promptly vandalized, as was Tree’s car. The stress of the constant negative attention turned Tree into an anxious wreck. He even quit his job when his boss started to give him crap about his “koala man” status.