Instagram | @bindisueirwin

Heartbreaking Cartoon Shows Steve Irwin Welcoming Bushfire Animals Into Heaven

A heartbreaking cartoon of the late Steve Irwin welcoming animals killed in the Australian bushfires into heaven has recently gone viral.

Australian-born artist Shania-Mae Sturm sketched the poignant illustration and shared it on social media where it quickly blew up, garnering millions of views and evoking thousands of emotional responses from people all over the world.

Over one billion animals are believed to have been killed in the wildfires that have been burning their way across Australia since September.

As CBS News reported, koalas have been hit especially hard by the fires, with ecologists estimating that nearly 8,000 koalas, or one third of the population, have been killed.

20 million acres of land have also been scorched in the blazes, with hundreds of homes destroyed and 25 people confirmed dead.

In an effort to raise awareness of the fires, Sturm originally posted her cartoon to her Instagram page, @therealsketchykoala.

In the post, the artist revealed she spent three weeks perfecting the touching cartoon, and admitted it's sad that the subject is still relevant, even after so much time.

"This little tribute drawing goes to all the innocent animals caught in the blazes across my home country," Sturm wrote. "It breaks my heart to see it still going on but there's only so much that can be done to keep it from spreading."

In the post, the late Crocodile Hunter is shown warmly welcoming a group of worried-looking animals into heaven.

Instagram | @therealsketchykoala

"Crikey," he exclaims in the first panel at the sight of the kangaroos, koalas, and other animals indigenous to Australia who have been killed in the devastating wildfires.

In the next panel, a smiling and kneeling Irwin can be seen with his arms spread open as he assures the creatures: "Don't worry little guys! I'll take care of you!"

Sturm also penned a touching tribute to all the animals lost in the devastating fires ripping through the country.

"I hope all the animals who couldn't make it are now in heaven with Steve Irwin, being taken care of, and not having a care in the world or memory of how they got there," she wrote. "Rest In Peace fuzzy babies, we will miss you."

In just a few days, Sturm's original Instagram post garnered so many likes and comments that she announced on Facebook her account had been deleted.

She has since re-uploaded the original cartoon to her new Instagram page, as well as on her Facebook page where it has over 17,000 reactions and has been shared more than 30,000 times.

It's not just fans of the Crocodile Hunter who have been touched by the sweet illustration, either.

In a follow-up post, Sturm revealed her illustration has reached Irwin's daughter, Bindi: "She said it was beautiful and thanked me for sharing my art. That's one of the biggest achievements I could reach from this."

Steve Irwin died in 2006 at the age of 44 after being fatally pierced in the chest by a stingray barb.

Instagram | @bindisueirwin

The television personality and conservationist was known for his fearless love of animals and his "Crickey!" catchphrase that made him such a popular figure, beloved by millions of people all around the world.

The Irwin family have kept their late patriarch's memory alive and have continued his conservationist legacy.

In the wake of the bushfires, Bindi Irwin announced on Instagram that she and her family have treated over 90,000 injured animals through their Wildlife Hospital, which is thankfully well away from the areas most dangerously impacted by the fires.

Bindi recently took to Instagram to share a photo of her dad and said she wishes he "was here right now."

In the post, the 21-year-old conservationist wrote that Steve spent his life "working so hard to protect wildlife and wild places, especially in Australia."

"I wish he was here right now to give advice and strength during this time of devastation with the bushfires," she continued. "I know that his spirit lives on through our conservation work and I hope together we can make him proud."

Steve's wife, Terri, said she believes her husband is a "great example for all of us."

Instagram | @bindisueirwin

In an interview with People, she said that he lived life to the fullest, and said Steve would have surely been devastated by the bushfires.

"In following his lead and being inspired by everything he stood for, first of all, he'd probably be devastated," she said. "Second of all, he'd probably be down there fighting fires!"

In the cartoon's comments, thousands of people have expressed their love for Sturm's heartfelt drawing.

Instagram | @binisueirwin

"You are incredible, I'm actually crying seeing this," one user wrote. "My daughter has asked where all the animals have gone after they passed away from the fires and now I can show her this and she will be able to understand."

Another user added, "Very touching. What a beautiful thought that Steve Irwin is watching over the animals who've lost their lives."

Sturm's illustration has touched so many that a custom jewelry maker has teamed up with the artist to create pieces featuring the cartoon.

Facebook | The Treasured Memory Trove

The Treasured Memory Trove is selling glass photo key rings and pendants for $15 each, will $11 of each sale being donated between two bushfire relief funds, one for wildlife and the other for humanitarian aid.

Click here to donate to RSPCA NWS' bushfire relief fund.

h/t: Facebook | Sketchy Koala

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