BUSINESS - AUSTRALIA ZOO
News Source: It’s Happening Magazine, September, 2004
Interview by: Anne Misako Miller
Terri Irwin is equally as passionate about her family and Australia Zoo as she is about South-East Queensland. Together with husband The Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, Terri visits 140 countries each year telling the world about the fantastic country she lives in. From the marketplace flavour of South Bank to the spectacular Glasshouse Mountains or the city’s advances in modern medicine to the unique sounds of the magpie, Terri’s relentless enthusiasm for her adopted home is breathtaking.
Living in Queensland since 1991, American-born Terri continues to view Australia through the eyes of a visitor. Since her first flight direct from LA, Terri has always labeled Brisbane as Australia’s best destination. Having travelled extensively throughout Australia she believes South-East Queensland offers a lot of unique experiences all in one area.
Based on the Sunshine Coast, Terri regularly drives the ninety-minutes to Brisbane CBD. Mixing business and pleasure in “the most open and unpretentious city in the world,” Terri believes that while adventure is a big drawcard for a city shedding its traditional transit use by visitors, safety is Brisbane’s point of pride. “In this current climate people are more inclined to stay at home but as far as the perception of Australia being safe, friendly and clean, Brisbane supplies them all.”
With a background in animal rehabilitation and conservation Terri came to Australia and visited a tiny Sunshine Coast Zoo run by a guy who caught crocodiles. Already impressed by the area’s picturesque mountains and fifteen-minute access to golden beaches, meeting her future husband was “the icing on the cake.”
In Steve she met a real-life action hero. Calling him the “Indiana Jones of wildlife,” a besotted Terri remembers how she wanted to build a campfire and feverishly swap endless conservation, crocodiles and cougar stories with him. “I couldn’t believe he was real. He has this passion, enthusiasm and a real fair-dinkum desire to help animals. That was contagious. He’d bring boring conservation issues to life and the neat thing is that he has never changed.”
Since Terri entered the Irwin adventure – Australia Zoo, the former Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park operated by Steve’s parents, has flourished. The original eight-acre site now stretches across 120ha with 4ha open to the public, and has 412 staff.
With Terri permanently by his side, Steve became an international celebrity after his documentary The Crocodile Hunter aired in 1992. Fifty episodes were later accompanied by a year of Croc Files and a feature film. What Crocodile Dundee did for Australia in the eighties Steve and Terri revived in the new millennium.
Born in Eugene, Oregon, Terri says she was an ‘old’ girl growing up. As a young capitalist she’d sell lemonade and little homemade figures, and set up clubs with neighbourhood kids where she was always president. While working in her family’s construction business Terri started a rehab facility called ‘Cougar Country’ to re-educate and release predatory mammals back into the wild. Handling up to three-hundred animals a year, she also joined an Emergency Veterinary Hospital where she worked night and weekends as a veterinary technician. Striving to make a difference left little time for sleep. “I wanted to save the three things I cared about most – individual animals, species and habitat,” she says. “Animals have always come first.”
While she feels “equally yoked” in Australia Zoo’s success, Steve reminds her that if it weren’t for her he wouldn’t be where he is today. Involved in all facets of running the business, including strategic planning, designing enclosures and taking care of the little details like the recent baby harnesses featured in each toilet, Terri concludes their success is based on "a wonderful team effort.” “I have a real passion for achievement,” she says. “When I first met Steve and the Zoo was just this wonderful little operation, I said, ‘you have such a message. If you don’t jump on the bandwagon to success and money, you’ll never save the world.” Steve can go on television and announce “By crikey! We’re saving Harp Seals in Canada,’ and people take notice. I’m working behind the scenes organizing funding, and making sure we’re saving those seals. While he has the X-factor, I’m the mundane businessperson.”
When the pair first took The Crocodile Hunter concept to the Discovery Channel they were laughed away because nature documentaries traditionally featured 80% animals, 20% presenters. Switch on the channel today and you’ll see exactly the opposite love or loathe them, the Irwins have shone the world spotlight on animal conservation and changed people’s perceptions of fearful predators. With expansion plans underway, Steve and Terri will soon bring their wildlife adventure to Brisbane. Brisbane may just gain the world-class icon it is seeking.