In her father's footsteps

In her father's footsteps

At just 14, Bindi Irwin is already a noted wildlife warrior, set on saving the voiceless

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Bindi Irwin (centre), with mum Terri and brother Robert.
Bindi Irwin (centre), with mum Terri and brother Robert.
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP
Bindi Irwin is certainly a chip off the old block. Like her late father, animal rights activist Steve Irwin, she sees herself as a wildlife warrior. "As wildlife warriors, we speak for [species] who cannot speak for themselves," the 14-year-old explains, with an infectious smile.

Bindi's father was an Australian icon - the "Crocodile Hunter" known for his catchphrase, "Crikey!", and exploits in his trademark zoo ranger outfit. He wrestled with crocodiles and swam with sharks. He died in a freak accident while filming underwater for Bindi's TV programme in 2006.

To honour her father's memory, Bindi decided to carry on his work. "I want kids and adults to feel empowered to change the world," she says.

Recently, Bindi was in Hong Kong to promote her latest TV series, Steve Irwin's Wildlife Warriors. Airing on the Discovery Kids channel, the show offers sneak-peeks into the Irwins' out-in-the-bush journeys, from studying crocodiles in swamps to getting up close with Tasmanian devils in their native habitat.

Her family runs the Australian Zoo in Queensland and manages Wildlife Warriors, a non-profit organisation started by Steve, and Bindi's mother Terri, in 2002.

One of Bindi's missions involves trying to save the last few wild elephants in Cambodia's forests. The jumbos are often hunted because they forage in farmers' fields.

"We thought maybe if we put something around the crops, the elephants wouldn't come in," Bindi explains. The Irwins circled the crops with chilli and beehives as they had found from their experiments that elephants hate the smell of chilli and prefer to steer clear of buzzing bees. Thanks to their rescue mission, Cambodian farmers are living on friendlier terms with their pachyderm neighbours.

"Often we just find the solution accidentally with our own animals [in the zoo]," Bindi notes.

Wildlife Warriors has helped save the members of myriad animal species in the wild, from cheetahs in South Africa to black rhinos in Kenya. But activism has its own dangers. Dedicated conservationists are at the risk of falling into the trap of becoming radical activists, Bindi says.

Although the young nature lover keeps all animals close to her heart, she prefers to take a holistic approach by also looking at issues from the viewpoint of humans who share habitats with wild animals.

Case in point: Bindi has followed the controversy about the planned development of a beach in Lung Mei, Tai Po. Local conservationists are dead-set against the idea, insisting the rocky shore is home to a rare species, the spotted seahorse. "The work that they are doing to try to protect the seahorses is wonderful," she says.

However, she also sees where the government is coming from. "You need both. You need development, but you also need the conservation of the environment," Bindi explains.

But both Bindi and her mum think there has to be something special about this shore for it to allow seahorses to hang around. Getting rid of the shore would not only kill off the seahorses but also upset the balance of the entire ecosystem.

Not many 14-year-olds concern themselves with such weighty issues. She's something of an over-achiever - with no plans to slow down.

"As I get older, I want to start tackling bigger issues, like population control and the non-consumptive abuse of wild animals," Bindi says with another smile.

"These are the issues that no one wants to discuss - but seem to be the elephant in the room."

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