We met with Bindi, Robert and Terri Irwin when they were in Manhattan to talk to them about animal conservation, our environment and their new Animal Planet show, "Crikey! It's the Irwins."
Where do some of the animals from your Australian conservation park come from?
Bindi: We’re actually involved with a whole lot of different breeding programs. We have animals from all over the world. We have giraffes and rhinos. We have lemurs and Tasmanian devils. . . . We’re part of lots of breeding programs for critically endangered animals. We actually just had a little baby ring-tailed lemur born at Australia Zoo. It was so cute. It’s really important for us to continue these breeding programs to help support these animals in the wild as well. We also have conservation projects all over the world.
What endangered species are you guys most worried about going extinct?
Terri: I’m worried right now about Tasmanian devils. They have a sarcoma disease,a contagious cancer. And 90 percent of them have disappeared off Tasmania, an island state of Australia. We’re trying to breed them at Australia Zoo to make sure we have them for the future. I’m really worried about them, but I’m also very optimistic that we can save them.
If you could add any new species to your zoo, what would they be and why?
Bindi: I actually think that I would love to have aye-aye at Australia Zoo. Have you ever seen an aye-aye before? You have to Google them — they’re really cute. They’re little primates. They have giant eyes. And they have really long fingers. And they like to eat little bugs and things in the forest, and they’re so adorable that they’re actually critically endangered.
How about turtles?
Bindi: We actually have Aldabra tortoises in Australia Zoo, and they’re so cute. And what’s so funny is they’re extremely slow, but if you bring out a hibiscus flower, they start moving really quickly because they are their favorites to eat. It’s very funny.
If you could spend an entire day with any animal in the world, what would it be?
Terri: Probably a polar bear. I really love polar bears, but I haven’t sat down with one for an entire day. I would love to go somewhere like Canada and just hang out and watch them and see what they do, and not bother them, but just hang out with them. They’re so beautiful, and they’re great mothers, and they’re amazing hunters.
What are each of your roles in the zoo?
Terri: I run Australia Zoo. I get to do everything from exciting stuff like feeding crocodiles to really boring stuff like accounting, which is important because without good accounting, you don’t have a good business. But it’s not quite as fun as feeding crocodiles. We have a lot of departments at the zoo, and people forget we have photography, horticulture, marketing, food and beverage, and retail. There’s a whole department that just cuts eucalyptus leaves to feed the koalas. We have a rescue unit that saves animals. So many different things. Artists that design all kinds of sculptures that go into the zoo. For me, it’s overseeing everything. Robert is still in school. And he’s taking a course called Captive Animal Management in college. He’s learning about taking care of animals in captivity, and that’s part of his work. And then Bindi also works in a management capacity and has a real flair for social media. She’s very good at marketing and also strategizing things within the zoo. She’s designed a special treehouse for children to have birthday parties in when they come to the zoo. So it’s good fun.
Robert, what got you into photography?
Robert: I’ve always loved wildlife. I’ve always loved animals, and growing up in a zoo is just amazing. I think photography is just second nature for me. I loved taking photos so that I can remember these memories on all of our travels. And it just kind of developed from there. I love using photography and sharing my photos with everyone to hopefully help them appreciate all animals. If they can see a photograph of an elephant, they really get to know it, and appreciate it, and hopefully want to save it in the wild.
What animal in the zoo do you consider the most unique, and what do you want to make kids aware of?
Robert: I think it’s really important that we all love all animals because really, if we can love all of the animals that we have on our planet, and really try to make a difference to make sure they’re here forever, and try to protect them, that’s going to be very, very important for the future. I think the apex predators are very important as well, things like crocodiles, or lions, these big animals that really have a very important role in the eco-system and in the environment. If we can help to protect them, then we’re able to help all of the other animals as well.
Robert, regretfully, we are too young to have seen your father’s show “The Crocodile Hunter.” What are some things that we can look forward to seeing in your new show, “Crikey! It’s the Irwins”?
Robert: Well, it’s really fun, because it’s very different from any other animal show. At Australia Zoo we are all about getting up close with our animals. So you can cuddle a koala. You can walk with a tiger. We’ll be feeding crocodiles. So it’s all about being right in-close to these animals, and we’re really excited to show these amazing animals to everyone. And show wildlife in a way that you’ve never really seen before. We’re also going to be traveling all over the world, too. So you’ll get to see wild animals in Africa, the Great Barrier Reef, and learn about all the conservation work that we do. But there’ll also be footage from the original "Crocodile Hunter" series as well. So you can see how we’re continuing my dad’s legacy and all of the work that he did.
April Mindlin’s fifth-grade class, Jericho Elementary School, Centereach