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Australia Zoo worth another look 50 years on

Having visited Australia Zoo many years ago I decided to update my knowledge of this world famous zoo in our backyard recently. A quick half an hour drive from Bribie Island you will find Steve Irwin Way which is a very strong hint you are approaching Australia Zoo another 15 minutes along the way at Landsborough.

When you first enter the zoo you will notice the new buildings and enclosures as well as the well-established Crocoseum stadium housing the famous wildlife shows and Crocodile feeding displays. The show is very informative and educational for children and the interactive birds of prey show is just as impressive as the Crocodile feeding.

The zoo has come a long way from the controversial business that attracted world-wide attention in the early 2000s when Steve Irwin was filmed taking Baby Bob Irwin in the Crocodile enclosure aged about one year old. Following that incident the zoo collaborated with the state government to develop Crocodile handling standards that are used across Australia today.

The zoo now has a multi-species African Savannah where you’ll find Rhino, Zebra and Meerkats. Cheetah can also be spotted on their daily walks and these magnificent creatures will captivate the kid’s imaginations as well. You also have the chance to get up close and personal by hand-feeding a Giraffe, just watch out for that purple tongue as you hand over the carrots. Visit the Tiger Temple, which is home to magnificent Sumatran and Bengal Tigers. Other interesting species on display in the easily accessible zoo include deadly snakes such as Taipans as well as Zebras, Macaws, Lemurs and Koalas.

The Crikey Café serves up a number of delicious crowd favourites including burgers, pizza, hot chips, sandwiches, sushi, salads and many more. You’ll find a dining option to suit every budget and taste.

Following Steve’s untimely death in an incident filming stingrays in North Queensland in 2006 the zoo has recovered to grow into the establishment we all enjoy today housing many species from around the world.

Steve was born into wildlife, growing up on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, helping his parents at the ‘Beerwah Reptile Park’. Established in 1970, this two-acre wildlife park was home to native wildlife such as lace Monitors, Tiger Snakes, freshwater Crocodiles, Magpie Geese and Kangaroos. Many of the kangaroos were cared for in homemade pouches by Steve’s mum, Lyn. She was an extraordinary wildlife rehabilitator and was quite skilled in nursing injured and orphaned animals, rehabilitating them before returning them to the wild.

Steve demonstrated an uncanny gift with wildlife from a very young age. He would go on field trips with his family right through the seventies, helping to relocate problem Crocodiles, study Snakes in Queensland’s deserts and assisted the university with bird surveys as he was incredibly skilled at climbing trees.

By the 1980s, the wildlife park had expanded to four acres, had two full-time staff and was re-branded as the ‘Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park’. At this stage, Steve was enlisted by the Queensland Government to help with crocodiles, by volunteering for the East-Coast Crocodile Management Program and captured well over 100 crocodiles, which were either relocated or housed within the family’s park.

In 1991, Steve took over the management of the small wildlife park and, not long after, he met Terri Raines, from Eugene, Oregon, when she visited the park. Steve’s passion for reptiles was matched by Terri’s love for predatory mammals. The two were very much kindred spirits.

Their lives changed dramatically when, on the 4th June 1992, Steve and Terri married, beginning a life of adventure.

Instead of a honeymoon, the couple took the chance to embark on a crocodile rescue mission, filming this experience. This became the first episode of The Crocodile Hunter documentary series.

As the popularity of The Crocodile Hunter grew, Steve and Terri changed the name of their now growing wildlife park to ‘Australia Zoo’. Their mission was to make this zoo the very best in Australia, if not the world! Extensive efforts were made to create habitats, so that all zoo animals could be exhibited in natural environments.

Australia Zoo expanded, as did the Irwin family. Steve and Terri were blessed with the births of two beautiful children; Bindi, in 1998 and Robert, in 2003. Both Bindi and Robert soon developed a deep love of wildlife, just like their parents.

As filming generated extra funds, Steve and Terri had agreed to put all money raised from filming and merchandise back into conservation. From its humble beginnings as an avocado packing shed, they established the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital in 2004, this world-class facility continues to rescue, rehabilitate and release over 7000 native Australian animals every year.

Steve and Terri would go on to film over 300 episodes of Crocodile Hunter, Croc Diaries, Croc Files, New Breed Vets, Ghosts of War and Bindi: The Jungle Girl. These programs have been enjoyed by over 500 million viewers world-wide.

Australia Zoo is less crowded at the moment with no international tourists coming to the zoo making it an ideal time to enjoy the facilities. So given the amount of rainy days we have been enjoying lately if you are getting cabin fever at home think about packing up the tribe to revisit a favourite spot in our neighbourhood. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how far it’s come.

Entry prices: Adults $61 Child $37 Family of 4 $180.

By Staff Writer Mozza

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