Irwin Is a Wild Animal’s Best Friend, Mate

Times Staff Writer

It’s 6 in the morning in Australia and Steve Irwin, a.k.a. “The Crocodile Hunter,” is on his cell phone from an airport near his home base at the Australia Zoo in Queensland. He’s supposed to be talking about the upcoming “Croc Week” on Animal Planet, but he can’t hold back the good news: He and wife Teri are expecting their second child in December.

The couple already has a 4-year-old daughter, Bindi, named after one of Irwin’s favorite crocodiles. “She’s at school and she’s almost running the zoo!”

Irwin, who possesses the same unbridled, inexhaustible enthusiasm for animals even at this early hour, is on his way to Mexico to swim with crocodiles “and jump out of trees and stuff, which is very, very, exciting.” Still, he says, “it tears at my emotional drawstring when I have to leave my zoo because there is where my conservation heart is. But the [main] thing that tears at me, mate, is that I am not with my wife and my daughter, Bindi.”


Irwin will be home in plenty of time for Animal Planet’s annual “Croc Week,” which kicks off Monday with “Crocodile Hunter Live,” the first of four new specials premiering this week. In the live episode, , Irwin, Teri and his Australia Zoo staff will be moving three crocodiles into their new habitat at the zoo.

He describes the new croc exhibit as something akin to the Four Seasons Hotel.

“They are absolutely beautiful with heated spas,” Irwin says. “We are shifting Monty and, given his size and weight, we have to get a huge helicopter so we can lift him from one pond to the other.” Also going with Monty is his girlfriend, Goldie. “He is in love with her. We have to keep lovers together. That is the most important thing.”

Michael Cascio, senior vice president and general manger of Animal Planet, says the idea of going live was the result of “kicking around” ideas with Irwin and his staff. “He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t like to do the same thing twice. He wants to try something new and different. Anything new gives us a chance to get his personality across. We considered a number of things, but the one that kept coming up is, ‘Why don’t we do something live?’ If you do something live you never quite know what’s going to happen.”

With the money he earned from the series, as well as his 2002 feature film, “Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course,” Irwin says he’s been able to expand the Australia Zoo.

The facility, he adds, has “grown quicker than any other zoological facility in the world.”

“Our whole hearts and souls are into conservation, so not only does ‘Croc Hunter’ and the money generated help the zoo, it also gives us the ability to furrow money into buying habitat that is being destroyed and working with endangered specifies and sending my staff and my crew to do international crocodile rescues.”


Irwin has also set up a koala hospital at the zoo. “I have three vehicles, three four-wheel drives that are on the roads of Australia every day rescuing koalas.” The cuddly marsupials are falling victim to car accidents, dog attacks and fire. Seven to 10 koalas are rescued per week, Irwin says.

“My whole life revolves around rescuing animals,” Irwin says. “I see every single animal as an individual. My mom taught me that every single person and animal on this planet is an individual, and if you treat them exactly the same that you want to be treated, then not only will you have a happy life but the individual will have a happy life.”

And how does he respond to critics who don’t like his in-their-face dealings with wild animals?

He’s not the least bit defensive. “Here we are in the year 2003 and people are wondering whether I am bothering the chameleons or bothering a crocodile. Isn’t that fantastic? Ten years ago, mate, people would go, ‘That’s just a slimy, stinky reptile.’ Haven’t we changed?”

He ends with a Irwin-ian flourish: “It does bother the animals, by crikey it does. But we need people like me, mate, going out there and energizing everyone about the beauty of our natural world, rather than sitting there in their house and watching the television and the doom and gloom of terrorism.”

“Croc Week” can be seen at 6 and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday on Animal Planet. The network has rated the episodes TVG (suitable for all ages).