Steve Irwin and conservation are synonymous terms in the scientific world. Famed for his wildlife documentary, “The Crocodile Hunter,” Steve dedicated his life to protecting animals and educating the public. On last weekend I headed to the Beerwah near the Sunshine Coast, where I visited the Australia Zoo, home of this crocodile hunter.
Growing up, I remember being fascinated by Steve as he captured crocodiles, wrangled snakes, and shared the natural world. Though we didn’t get “fancy channels” at home, Animal Planet was always my favorite when visiting relatives who indulged in such luxuries.
The extent of my knowledge about Steve and Terri Irwin was restricted to what little I gleaned about them from these nostalgic memories, so in order to learn more about them and what they do, I purchased a few books on my iBooks app (LOVE that thing… it’s like a Kindle on your iPod/iPhone… so handy for travel). The first one I read was “Steve and Me” by Terri Irwin. The book was published in 2007, a little over a year after Steve tragically passed away. In it, Terri talks about her history with Steve and a little bit about his background growing up. You learn about how these two conservation-focused souls from different sides of the globe met, fell in love, married, and dedicated their lives to the Australia Zoo.
I also read “The Crocodile Hunter: The Incredible Life and Adventures of Steve and Terri Irwin,” which Steve and Terri wrote together and published in 2001. The book consists of several chapters written by Steve and several chapters written by Terri. Together, they detail the history of The Australia Zoo, their conservation work, and the plight of animals in the wild.
I found both books extremely interesting, (I read “Steve and Me” in a single night spent at an airport.) and I highly recommend them to any one enchanted with nature, wildlife, or the environment.
After my background reading, I was really excited to head off to the Sunshine Coast! I left early on Thursday morning and arrived at the airport around 2pm. After finding my hostile shuttle, I found my room at Mooloolaba Backpackers, and headed out for a walk along the beach.
As I walked along the beach, there were several signs warning that the waves were a bit rough for swimming.
There were some rocky areas that had been worn down by the constant pounding of the waves, which I always find rather fascinating. You never know what sorts of critters you’ll find.
I knew not to touch them (because they can still sting even after they’re dead), but it’s rather tempting with how odd they look.
It was soooo nice to be able to put on some shorts and get out in the sunshine though! I was a happy girl!
The next day I caught the public bus to the zoo. Apparently The Australia Zoo shuttle was all booked for Friday, so public transportation was my only option. I wanted to go to the zoo two days though, so I made sure to book a place for Saturday! (Note for students traveling abroad in Australia: If you take public transportation, tell them you’re a student. It doesn’t matter if you’re able to get concession or not, students get discounts! I only found that out on the way back from the zoo!)
After about 15-20 minutes, we found ourselves on Steve Irwin Way. Originally called Glass House Mountains Road, this street was renamed after Steve passed away in 2006 to honor his legacy.
As we pulled into the zoo, the driver pointed out the original parking lot for the zoo that opened in 1970. Bob and Lyn Irwin, Steve’s parents, founded the zoo under the name “Beerwah Reptile Park.” Bob was a plumber and Lyn was a nurse, but together they fostered a love for wildlife, rehabilitating injured animals and sharing their passion for conservation with their three children. The original parking lot looked as if it could hold 20 cars when it was filled, but today the zoo has expanded and grown to 100 acres and is still growing. The zoo was passed on to Steve when his parents decided to retire, around the time Steve and Terri met and decided to marry.
I purchased my 2-day student ticket (hooray for student discounts!) and headed into the zoo. I was first greeted by this little fella… a familiar face that I saw frequently working at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, a rhinoceros iguana.
As you enter the zoo, you see a statue of Steve and Terri with their two children (Bindi and Robert), or should I say three counting Sui (his dog and beloved crocodile hunting companion).
As a side story, when Steve and Terri first met, (before they started dating) he offered to introduce her to his girlfriend. Terri was crushed, thinking that Steve was already dating a different woman, but when she came out it was Sui, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Needless to say, Terri was relieved. For more information on Sui, check out the link: Sui, A Man’s Best Friend.
My first mission was to find some crocodiles! I loved that each enclosure had a few signs telling the names and history of the crocs.
The largest and most impressive saltwater crocodile was definitely Acco!
Acco first came to light in the 1960’s in Northern Queensland. He was reported to have sunk boats, torn up fishing nets, driving fishermen from the river, attacking and killing scrubber bulls (feral cattle), etc. rumored to be 30 feet long (when in actuality he’s about 16 feet long), the people wanted him out! One of the main reasons Steve captured crocodiles was to help protect them from would-be shooters. Large crocodiles tend to strike fear in people, and shotguns are often looked to as a solution rather than taking the time to understand these magnificent ancient creatures. Despite the attempts of National Parks and Wildlife to remove Acco, he evaded capture. In 1988, Steve and his dad became caretakers of the river system, and asked to relocate rogue or problem crocs (Even though the crocs weren’t the problem. The problem was humans moving into the territory didn’t like the crocs that had lived there for hundreds of years). This included Acco. After several incidents (read “The Crocodile Hunter” for more info) and 18 months, Steve finally got him!
Connie is his smaller girlfriend sitting next to him. Apparently she’s the only girl that’s been able to keep him happy.
Another famed crocodile here is Agro (short for Mr. Aggressive).
Agro was captured in the late 1980’s, when he was reported surfacing near people in boats. He was becoming used to human interaction, and they were worried that he would become too bold for his own good, and someone would wind up hurt. He’s a rather aggressive crocodile (hence the name). The largest male crocodile in the area usually rules the territory, but Agro wasn’t afraid to challenge larger males. There’s nothing timid about him. Despite the territorial nature, it’s how crocodiles are supposed to be, and part of their role in nature. They weed out the sick and injured animals, controlling their own populations with dominance and social structures. Killing them completely alters that environment. As Steve put it,
“It is we humans who have introduced conflict and a breakdown of their social structure. The encroachment of civilization has been a detriment to our entire northern ecosystem’s stability and health… The problem we face–and the one that our children’s children will face–is the lack of harmonious coexistence between humans and large predators. Whether it’s a great white shark, a Bengal tiger, a grizzly bear, or a saltwater croc, if someone gets attacked it’s the animal that suffers.”
I couldn’t agree more. All too often we, as humans, fall back upon the idea that we are the dominant species, and should therefore be able to interfere with and take over any habitat. In most incidences, attacks are due to simple human stupidity and error. The animals are just following their natural instincts. If we build houses and crocs come walking in, they’re moved out of their homes, places they have lived for hundreds of years. We forget about the fact that the land we live in is home to many other organisms too. Oftentimes, the reason animals end up becoming a threat is because people feed them. They fear humans until they learn that they can actually be a food source, and the fear disappears.
This was evidenced when I was walking around the zoo eating a bagel. I ended up being chased down by one of these guys:
It’s a brush turkey, and I’m willing to bet he was used to people throwing him food! I don’t have ornithophobia (fear of birds), but when a turkey comes running at you with his little clawed feet, it’s not the highlight of your day!
Anyways, back to Agro! Because of his boldness, the area was becoming dangerous for him, so Steve worked on relocating him. Steve even found the body of a 9.5 foot crocodile Agro killed! There’s much more to this story (seriously, read the book!), but eventually Steve managed to capture Agro in one of his traps. Earlier in the week, he had gotten bitten by a slightly smaller croc, so alone, injured, and in the middle of the wilderness, Steve faced the challenge of getting Agro into his boat.
Once he was able to lug Agro’s tail into the boat, Agro made an attempt to lunge at Steve. When he did, he ended up launching himself into the boat. On the verge of sinking, Steve secured the croc and headed for shore. The only problem was that Agro decided to headbutt the boat, splitting it and causing water to seep in. In order to make it back to camp, Steve had to beach the boat on the shore every now and then in order to bail out water. Once on shore, the complications didn’t end.
Steve managed to get Agro out of the boat and into a box, but Agro was so aggressive that he just smashed through the other end. Steve quickly placed a bigger box in front of him, and then managed to contain him. Even in the safer environment of the zoo, Agro has maintained his aggressive nature. In his book, Steve reported, “He’s killed two lawnmowers, a brush hook, a shovel, my shoe, and my hat in his quest to remove me from his territory.” Truly one of natures best predators!
Another crocodile was named Scrapper.
He also made a go at Steve, and they have his attacked boots on display to prove it.
On the top shelf in the display were photos of Wes, Steve’s best mate who was attacked by a croc, Graham. There was a massive rainstorm and the croc exhibits were flooded. The fences themselves were built strong enough to hold, but debris had built up along the fence-line and threatened to break them. Steve and Wes were working to clear brush as their fellow zoo keepers attempted to distract the croc. With everything that was going on, Graham went for Wes. Graham’s female, Bindi, was nesting at the time, so he was in an elevated aggressive state, and suddenly Wes was slammed into the fence, going right over the top of Steve. Wes managed to roll away, but a bite at 3,000 lbs, per square inch tore at quite a bit of tissue in Wes’s bum, leg, and hand. Steve grabbed a pick handle to defend Wes, who was in the water (a place you definitely don’t want to be with a croc!). As Graham went in for another bite, Steve grabbed his back legs, not knowing if Graham had released Wes or not. Steve was able to get Graham to focus on him, and jammed the pick handle into his mouth as he attacked. Wes got on top of the fence, saw what was happening, and despite missing chunks of flesh from his leg, was ready to jump back in and help Steve. Steve assured him he was okay and had it under control, and told him to get out! They both got to safety and made a trip to the hospital! Talk about an unfavorable friendship/bonding moment!
Nearby, there were more cases with skulls and other artifacts, as well as a wall covered in photos from Steve’s life.
At noon, it was time to head to the Crocoseum for the main show! It began by introducing us to several birds (including one that flew in from its habitat in the wetlands area) and snakes. I think the most entertaining part of the program was when the lorikeets flew around the audience to the tune of “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC. For some reason I never imagined AC/DC and nature would have anything in common…
Afterwards, it was time for the crocs! What’s the best way to call a crocodile? Why, jump in the water of course!
Just make sure you get out of the water in time! Digger was the crocodile I saw there on the first day, and the second day was Mossman.
He was hungry.
So was Mossman.
At 2:30pm they had another croc show. I saw Bluey and Casper. The keepers showed us how far they could leap out of the water, and explained that your best bet with crocs is to keep about 5 meters from the shore. Even hanging over the water you can get nabbed.
On the second day I was there, I had the opportunity to feed one of the elephants!
I gave Sabu a piece of zucchini. My hand was all sandy from the trunk, haha!
At one point I walked around the kola enclosure and found a mom and baby! They were adorable!
There were also two young ones playing in the tree.
As I wandered around, quite a few of these lizards decorated the pavement. Sometimes they were so still, you didn’t realize that they were there until they took off running (which got your heart pumping a bit!). These two got in a little spat. Apparently they didn’t appreciate each others company
I wandered around and saw quite a few animals between the two days I was there, but I shared the main highlights. One of the other interesting things I saw was the Wildlife Hospital.
It was built in March of 2004 as a token to Steve’s mom, Lyn, who dedicated her life to helping injured and sick wildlife. In 2008, they opened a new facility, which Steve sadly never got to see completed.
It’s an extra $2 for a ticket to enter, but all of that money goes towards supporting the Wildlife Hospital.
While I was there, a koala came in for an operation. It was hit by a car and had an injured leg (I’m pretty sure it was broken.). As I walked in, they were finishing the procedure and waking her up.
She had a baby with her who was quite the escape artist.
After the koala was semi-awake, the doctor brought her over for us to see before putting her in her chambers for the night.
This was where they housed their patients:
As I was leaving to catch the bus, another koala was coming in who had also had a run-in with a car. Poor little guys.
Around the visitor area in the Wildlife Hospital, they had various pieces of artwork. They all had the common theme of wildlife protection. I thought this piece was rather interesting:
Then we pulled out and drove back to Mooloolaba…
I really enjoyed this trip! It was great to finally see the Home of The Crocodile Hunter! It’s so strange that my top 5 must-do’s have now been completed! I’d have loved to get over to the Perth area on the west coast and New Zealand, but those are trips for another time! I’ve had a fantastic journey and been blessed to see some amazing, wonderful things! What an experience!
The next time I hop on that train, bus to the airport, and jump on an airplane, I’ll be homeward bound! It’s been awesome, but I can’t wait to get back and see all my friends and family!
It’s come around to the time when internship and job applications have started flying out from my hotmail account! I can’t believe college life is almost behind me!
Now it’s time to start the countdown for the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon and then a 7-Day Wester Caribbean Disney Cruise! I will settle down and find a job… someday… someday soon! Just a little graduation celebration first… I think I’ve become addicted to travel!