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A VISION LIKE DISNEY
News Source: The Courier-Mail (4th September 2007)
by Glenis Green
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"MATE, it's going to be bigger than Disneyland."

Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin might have sounded a tad ambitious when talking to The Courier-Mail a few years ago about plans for his beloved Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast.

But not any more.

As the first anniversary of his death looms, the zoo continues to go from strength to strength - with record-breaking attendances and a multimillion-dollar development schedule.

Irwin's best friend and now zoo director Wes Mannion said an estimated $200 million-plus was set to be spent in the next 10 years as the zoo expanded to become a world-leading zoological park sprawling over 300ha. Staff numbers are expected to rocket from today's 550 up to 2000.

That's a far cry from its humble beginnings in 1970 when Irwin's parents, Bob and Lynn Irwin, bought the original 2ha site at Beerwah to open the Beerwah Reptile Park. But right from the start Irwin had a vision that has now become his legacy - building the world's biggest interactive zoo.

"I want to be as smart as Walt Disney in what I do," he said nearly four years ago.

His dream was to showcase animals from all around the world in themed animal exhibits featuring the Americas, Africa, South East Asia and beyond, which would complement live animal shows in the 5000-seat Crocoseum as well as the "wandering wildlife" experience where staff roam the zoo with animals and birds that can be touched and petted.

That dream is well on the way to being realised.

Ahead of jetting to the US where she has pleaded for privacy to mark the anniversary of her husband's death in seclusion with their children Bindi, 9, and Robert, 3, Terri Irwin said she wanted to thank everyone who had sent messages of love and support.

"We greatly appreciate it," she said. Steve left behind an extraordinary legacy which I will make sure lives on forever."


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