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CRIKEY! Check out Australia Zoo news from 2007.

News Source: Sunshine Coast Daily (31st October 2007)

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Croc Hunter's vision gathers momentum 

NEXT stop, Australia Zoo Station and hotel!

Staff from the iconic Sunshine Coast tourist attraction might be gearing up for the inaugural Steve Irwin Day to be held on November 15, but longer-term planning is gathering steam to turn the zoo into the biggest facility of its kind in Australia and easily the biggest private employer on the Coast.

The plans, expected to cost in the vicinity of $100 million, include expanding the size of the zoo from its present 28 hectares to a massive 400 hectares, with staff numbers expected to grow from 550 to about 1500.

Interest in the zoo has shown no sign of waning since the tragic death of Steve Irwin while filming a documentary off Cairns in September last year, with visitor numbers on track to reach almost one million this year. The expansion is expected to take those numbers to a whole new level.

Australia Zoo was originally known as the Beerwah Reptile Park when it was opened on less than two hectares in 1970 by Steve's parents, Bob and Lyn Irwin.

The zoo is still owned by the Irwin family, although it is uncertain whether a joint venture partner will come on board to help fund the massive expansion.

The major component of the expansion will be an African Wildlife Safari Park, to be created on land adjoining the existing attraction.

The park will come complete with its own accommodation, including a hotel with restaurants and conference facilities, as well as eco-style lodges.

It will also have its own railway station as part of the proposed CAMCOS rail line which will branch off the main line at Beerwah and head through Caloundra and Kawana to Maroochydore.

While group marketing manager Natalie Hodgskin said work on the safari park was not expected to start until 2009, construction is already underway on the South-East Asian attraction.

That will include komodo dragons, elephants, orang-utans and the existing Tiger Temple, complete with its brand new Bengal tiger cubs.
Another new feature will be Lemur Island, part of a display from the Madagascar region off the south-east coast of Africa.

The Americas and the Africas will also have their own sections, as well as an enormous range of native Australian animals.

This year has already seen a number of additions to the zoo's operations, including the opening of a retail outlet on Mooloolaba Esplanade and the launch of a whale-watching venture.

Ms Hodgskin said Steve Irwin had mapped out many of the plans himself.

"We've got some really exciting times ahead. It's a huge amount to have on our plate, but everyone is committed to doing what Steve had been planning," she said.

"It's going to be fantastic for the Sunshine Coast economy."

Ms Hodgskin said the Irwins had always been extremely loyal to local businesses.

"We still use the same local fruit shop and same local butcher we've been using for many years," she said.

The impact of the expansion won't be restricted to the local region, however, with profits from the operation, and the Crocodile Hunter series used to fund conservation efforts around the globe.

"We want to provide people with an up close and personal experience with animals... to give them a greater appreciation and understanding," Ms Hodgskin said.

"The more people we can bring to the zoo, the more support we can give to conservation everywhere."

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