For siblings Bindi and Robert, a passion for wildlife conservation runs in the genes.
Their much-missed father, Steve Irwin, managed Australia Zoo with their mother, Terri, and was a tireless campaigner for animal protection, not least through his phenomenally popular TV series, such as The Crocodile Hunter.
Today, Bindi and Robert continue this pioneering work with Wildlife Warriors, which Steve and Terri founded.
They promote the wildlife cause whenever they can, whether it's on their new TV show Crikey! It's the Irwins (a look behind the scenes at Australia Zoo that debuted in 2018), in press interviews or on social media. Indeed, Bindi even holds the title for the most-followed TV naturalist on Instagram, with more than 2.2 million followers as of 5 April 2019.
As for Robert, although he's still only in his mid-teens, he is fast establishing himself as a respected wildlife photographer – you can see some of his impressive work below.
What was it like growing up on a zoo?
Bindi: We have over 1,200 spectacular animals at Australia Zoo and we are the most hands-on zoological facility in the world. Growing up living in the middle of a zoo meant that every day brought a new adventure.
Do you have a favourite animal at Australia Zoo?
Robert: My favourite would definitely be crocodiles. Crocs have always fascinated me. It is incredible that they have existed on the planet for over 200 million years, having survived through extinctions that wiped out most other life. They are very intelligent creatures and truly are modern-day dinosaurs.
Bindi: Echidnas have such sweet personalities; I love spending time with them. They’re one of only two known egg-laying mammals [monotremes], the other being the platypus. It’s so much fun to feed our echidnas here at Australia Zoo; they have such long tongues that it tickles when they lick food off your hands!
How do wildlife photography and conservation relate to each other?
Robert: Photography is a great tool to inspire others about issues facing our planet today, as each image tells a story about the subject. It is also a way to showcase magnificent creatures and places that many people will not get the opportunity to see, and therefore inspire others to want to conserve our precious wildlife. One of my biggest inspirations for my photography is my dad. He loved photography and took his camera gear on all of his travels.
Which wildlife photo means the most to you – and why?
Robert: Wildlife Warriors supports conservation projects all over the world including the protection of wild rhinos at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. We went there to take a look at the great work they're doing, and I had the honour of meeting Sudan, who was then one of only three northern white rhinos left. It was very moving to spend time with him and photograph him. Sadly, Sudan died, aged 45, in 2018. Northern white rhinos have been wiped out in the wild because of poaching. I hope that the photo gives an idea of how incredible he was and why it’s vital to conserve other rhino species.
One of my most memorable expeditions was to Lady Elliot Island on the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia. While I was snorkelling in deep water, two massive humpback whales emerged from the gloomy depths and swam right up to me. It took my breath away to be so close to such extraordinary creatures.
Bindi: As a family we always try to support Robert and his extraordinary photography work. He has taken some mind-blowing photographs but my all-time favourite is a photo he took of a mother deer with her fawn looking for little bits of grass poking up on the snow-covered ground in Oregon. It was a beautiful moment that Robert managed to capture.
Tell us about the conservation project you’re most passionate about.
Bindi: The one closest to my heart would have to be our Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital. This heart-warming facility was opened in memory of Lyn Irwin, my grandmother. As a wildlife carer, she was passionate about protecting injured wildlife, so my dad and mum worked hard to create a world-class facility that could provide care for native Australian wildlife in need.
Each year, our rescue and hospital teams work hard to rehabilitate sick, injured and orphaned wildlife, in order to release them safely back into the wild. Since the hospital opened in 2004, we have treated over 70,000 animals!
Can you give us a snapshot of your work as a Wildlife Warrior?
Bindi: Being a Wildlife Warrior means to stand up and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. It’s remembering that conservation is not only about the cute and cuddly creatures, but also wildlife like crocodilians, snakes and sharks.
We have a number of conservation properties throughout Queensland, supporting at-risk species. Elsewhere in Australia, we are also involved in saltwater crocodile and grey nurse shark research.
Internationally, we promote cheetah and rhinoceros conservation in Africa, tiger and elephant conservation in south-east Asia, and fight for the protection of whales worldwide.
Robert: It is imperative for others to become Wildlife Warriors and make a difference to conserve our natural world. I believe that we also need to inspire young people in particular; they are the next generation to be creating positive change on Earth.
Finally, who has inspired you in the field of wildlife conservation?
Bindi: Dad was truly the ultimate Wildlife Warrior. He inspired millions and millions of people around the world to love wildlife and want to make a difference. He will always be my greatest hero and inspiration.