Crikey! – That Australia Zoo is AWESOME!

For those that have been living on Mars for the past few years, Steve Irwin is the charismatic, passionate and hugely entertaining wildlife conservationist, whose “Crocodile Hunter” television series achieved him worldwide fame and not to mention a certain amount of notoriety.

The series shook the watching world as it watched on in amazement at his sometimes death-defying encounters with many of the world’s most dangerous animals, especially those with his personal favourite, the (as we now know thanks to Steve) often much misunderstood crocodile.

The passion that he had, his love of the animal kingdom and his relentless pursuit of conservation was infectious. Anyone who saw any of his TV programs, could hardly forget him, sporting his dodgy blond mullet hairstyle and his trademark uniform of khaki short-sleeved shirt and shorts as he got up close and personal with some of Planet Earth’s scariest creatures; his favourite catchphrase “Crikey!” becoming familiar to millions of households across the globe.

Sadly, a few short months ago, Steve was taken from us through the most bizarre of incidents, being pierced in the heart by a mother stingray protecting her young. A strange way for the legend to meet his maker, especially considering the dangerous situations he had previously put himself in. It was the first reported human death by stingray recorded in several decades.

His death sent shockwaves across the world and the loss was felt no greater than right here in this part of Australia, known as The Sunshine Coast, where he was born and raised and which is home to his Australia Zoo, located less than an hour north of Brisbane, along the Glass House Mountains Tourist Drive in Beerwah.

Having spoken to a few people from this region, I can only compare his death and the subsequent loss felt with the reaction back home in Northern Ireland to the passing away of the late, great George Best.

According to a friend of mine, a photographer with the local press who was asked to cover events following his death, the region has never witnessed anything like the public outpouring of grief as the tragic news broke out.

Right here in Mooloolaba where I type these words, just a few minutes away at Alexandra Headland on the day of the funeral, hundreds of surfers from the region paid a special tribute to the Crocodile Hunter, himself an avid surfer, at a special memorial service.

Forming a huge circle off the beach to remember him, floral tributes were placed in the water.

Staff from the Irwin family's Australia Zoo also took part in the commemoration held during the Juniper Surf classic being staged at Alexandra Headlands in support of cancer charity Camp Quality.

This sounds like a moving and memorable experience and is a measure of the regard that he was held within the community here.

However, in spite of the tragic loss, the man’s legacy lives on in the form of his hugely impressive Australia Zoo.

Originally opened by Steve’s parents Bob and Lyn in 1970 under the name Beerwah Reptile Park, they passed on their love and respect for wildlife onto their children, especially to their son Steve, who had helped his parents since childhood to care for crocodiles and reptiles and to maintain the growing number of animals in the zoo.

In 1991, Steve overtook management of the zoo. In 1992 the park was renamed Australia Zoo. Currently, the zoo maintains more than 1000 animals and 600 staff. Animals and staff alike all seem to be very happy to be there. It is a wonderful environment to be in and zoos all around the world could learn many things from its example.

After the initial disappointment of going to the zoo a couple of weeks ago, where I found out that I had arrived too late for the main event, the crocodile show in the ‘crocoseum’, I made a more successful return visit a week ago along with two friends.

Arriving at 10:30 in the morning, and as clichéd as it sounds, we spent six fun-packed hours exploring everything that the zoo had to offer us, our only regret as we left that evening being that we could not have spent longer at the place.

Upon reflection, I am pleased to report that the decision to postpone the visit until a day when I would actually experience the shows in the crocoseum has proven to be the right one.

The crocoseum is an impressive outdoor 5000 all-seater arena located within the zoo itself. Giving some indication as to just how large the park is in its entirety, the crocoseum takes up less than 5 percent of the place.

For an hour and a half, the huge crowd in the crocoseum were entertained and informed by three shows: “Snakes Live”, “Birds Live” and “Crocs Live.” Each show provided us with very up close and personal encounters with many of these wonderful species.

The experience, however, was not an entirely voyeuristic one, with much of the show’s emphasis placed upon explaining to the onlooker how these animals should be treated and the dangers that their species experience thanks, in most cases, to the threat of humankind. The guides were also very quick to point out the dangers that these animals pose for us, which, in the case of snakes and crocodiles is actually a lot less than you would perhaps think.

I have to say that the shows were a thoroughly enjoyable experience and were of a highly interactive nature - the guy that was doing the PA was constantly walking about with his microphone asking questions to members of the assembled audience.

Through him, we discovered that there were people from all over the world sharing in the experience, with many of the spectators hailing from Europe, the USA and South America. There was even a family who heralded from Tasmania, although being the brunt of many an Australian joke; they might have regretted announcing this.

During the day, we got up close and personal with some very exotic animals but let’s face it, just by fencing an area off in Australia, you would end up with more exotic animals than we would ever hope to see back home.

The day was spent looking at wombats, koalas, possums, a wonderful relative of the emu known as a cassowary, Tasmanian devils, iguanas, skinks, otters, walking amongst tropical birds in a giant aviary, feeding and petting kangaroos, feeding elephants and watching 1 percent of the world’s population of Sumatran tigers at rest and play. Sadly, this amounts to just three of these most beautiful creatures; such is their threat of extinction.

As we watched them in the Tiger Temple, which incidentally is styled on the Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia, two of their handlers were sitting in the temple with them.

Just as I was thinking that it was quite a cushy job – to be sitting in the afternoon sun, not doing much – one of the handlers explained to us that the team of tigers’ handlers had been spending time with them 24/7 since their birth three years previously in an effort to build up the confidence of the animals – a hugely impressive display of dedication to their vocation.

Such was our enthusiasm and interest in the place; we were still walking around almost half an hour after the zoo closed. As we eventually dragged ourselves away from the zoo, one of the multitudes of staff, a man in his late forties dressed in the famous khaki uniform, asked us if we had enjoyed our visit.

Having said that we had enjoyed it immensely, I then commented on how great it must be to work in such a fantastic environment. His response?

“I waken up every morning and thank my lucky stars that I work here.”

That says it all really…

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Anonymous said…
Long time no see.. good 2 see you living life to the full you lucky sod..

Hope the family is keeping well..
cheers Browner