Bob Irwin and his family loved nothing more than to give Harriet a tickle at Australia Zoo.
Bob Irwin and his family loved nothing more than to give Harriet a tickle at Australia Zoo.

The Irwin legacy: Fighting for animal welfare

AT 77, Bob Irwin is as fascinated with wildlife as he was when he was a toddler.

He will still sit for hours observing wildlife and nature, never tiring of what he sees, always anticipating a new discovery.

He is grateful for this and regards it as a gift to be valued and treasured.

"I still spend hours studying wildlife," he said.

"I remember doing it when I was five and I am still doing it now.

"When I'm on the tractor on the property (at his home near Kingaroy) if I see a black or brown snake, I get off and spend the next hour just watching what that animal does.

"When you are dealing with animals they're totally honest, no egos, no problems, straight forward. I like to learn every day. It is still there for me."

The father of the late Steve Irwin usually likes a low profile and although he would have been happy to stay out of the limelight during recent events for his newly released book, The Last Crocodile Hunter: A Father and Son Legacy, his fans demanded otherwise.

 

FAMILY LIFE: A young Steve with his dog, Chilli.
FAMILY LIFE: A young Steve with his dog, Chilli.

Speaking at a book launch in front of long queues (and with a python draped around his neck) he told us how he had never handled the limelight well.

"I wanted to run away and hide when Steve became involved with the media," he said.

"I was not good at that. I told Steve I didn't want to be involved in that sort of thing. I was involved in a number of the documentaries with Steve, but the media side for me... no."

Bob's love for wildlife and the environment began when he was a young boy growing up in Victoria's Dandenong Ranges surrounded by state forest.

"For a little boy who had the opportunity of roaming, it gave me free range," he said.

"Because I didn't do humans that well, I found a lot of peace and tranquillity in the bush. I loved all the creatures, snakes, lizards... whatever it was."

When he was in his early 30s in Victoria, married to Lyn with three young children and a large collection of reptiles, Bob almost died on a site where he worked as a plumber.

The near-death experience gave him the determination to pack-up his young family (including his many slithery friends) and drive to Queensland to start a new life.

In 1972, he opened the Beerwah Reptile & Wildlife Centre to share his reptile collection to curious visitors and from the beginning he began educating everyone he encountered in the importance of wildlife protection.

 

Bob's wife Lyn was never without a critter in her arms.
Bob's wife Lyn was never without a critter in her arms.

The rest of the story is global history, most of it revealed in his book including the good times and the heart-breaking times, including the dark period when his wife Lyn died suddenly in a car accident and later when he lost his son Steve.

Even through his most tortured times, Bob's love of wildlife and the environment has given him the strength to keep going. He says he will never stop working, never stop spreading the word of environmental and wildlife protection.

BOB'S LEGACY

Bob Irwin's foresight in captive care, breeding and handling of native Australian animals set a new benchmark for wildlife welfare in Australia.

His non-violent capture techniques such as proximity lassoing, hooding, trapping and netting instead of tranquilizers, chains or other potentially harmful methods meant he was able to strike bargains with the government, catching problematic or intruding crocodiles and in return bringing them to the reptile park, later aided by his son Steve where together they caught and raised more than 100 crocodiles in the park.

Bob says he takes comfort in knowing Steve's legacy still thrives, evidence of the daily emails he receives from all over the world which makes him determined to continue to campaign for wildlife and its environment through his foundation: Bob Irwin wildlife and Conservation Foundation Inc.


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