A LITTLE over a year ago, Steve Irwin died. It was the most surreal piece of news, since I heard it having just landed in Brazil after an epic cross-Atlantic journey. Located in a non-English, non-Spanish speaking town, the last thing I expected to hear was that the legend that is Steve Irwin had been killed by a stingray barb. Many people that I know thought that the man was an idiot, but I respected and revered him, and the news came as quite some shock.
On Saturday we went to Australia Zoo, the zoo he owned with his wife Terri. While on our free transit bus from Noosa, a DVD of his life was played, but eerily it was narrated by the man himself. Evidently it had been made before his death, and as such was full of comments about what he would remember for the rest of his life, and plans to retire when he became too slow to cope. It told the story of the origins of the zoo and his conservation work, and was full of the typical over-the-top phrases and actions we have come to expect from him, from receiving a python for his sixth birthday to his first crocodile capture on film.
His presence in the zoo is also quite eery. His face is on every poster, and his family are smiling at you from every available piece of wallspace. You can buy mugs and shirts with him on, as well as talking dolls and memorial badges. Alas, I shouldn't complain, since if it raises money for their conservation work, then there is nothing wrong with it.
The zoo itself was very impressive. Not so much on it's information and signage, for I have seen better, but on it's conservation message. Instead of having signs bursting with tiny writings on "conservation is important because..." it impressed upon people the simple but unbeatable ethos that these animals are cool, so let's look after them. In essence, the spirit of Steve Irwin, as corny as this sounds, was everywhere.
We went to the animal show in the Crocoseum, full of bird displays, snakes and crocodiles. Unlike the crocodile farms I have visited so far, where they tease and taunt their animals, the level of respect shown was superior at the zoo. For sure they made crocodiles jump for their food, but simply for exercise and to show their full power to the crowd - not to make them out as lumbering idiots and a circus act. However, despite the zoo's emaphasis on snakes and crocodiles, I concede that the greatest exhibits on show that day were two native Australian creatures - the wombat and the echidna. The echidna especially waddled around ceaselessly, a tiny spiky ball of energy, unaware that he is a star of the biological world ('Is it a mammal? Is it a reptile? No! It's a monotreme!').
Australia Zoo is a great zoo and it's work is very important. Stevo is sorely missed by all there, but may his Wildlife Warriors continue to work with his passion and enthusiasm for years to come.