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Carrying on the legacy of Steve Irwin

Carrying on the legacy of Steve Irwin
Carrying on the legacy of Steve Irwin 06:21

Few public figures have done more to bring the world of exotic animals into our homes than the late "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin.  

Steve Irwin of the TV show "The Crocodile Hunter" poses with his wife Terri while holding a nine-foot alligator at his "Australia Zoo," Beerwah, Queensland, Australia, June 18, 1999.
Steve Irwin, TV's Crocodile Hunter," poses with his wife Terri while holding a nine-foot alligator at his Australia Zoo, in Beerwah, Queensland, Australia, June 18, 1999. AP (file)

It's a mission, correspondent Seth Doane tells us, that his family pursues to this day. The Irwin family has always worked from home, even before lockdowns. But there's no shortage of space or of things to do, what with 700 acres and 1,200 animals at their wildlife facility in Queensland, Australia Zoo.

Doane said, "This is not your typical family business to take over."

"It is pretty wild!" laughed Bindi Irwin.  "We love it. You never know what the day's gonna bring, that's for sure."

Australia Zoo is not just home, but "life mission" of the Irwin family: mom Terri; her kids, 16-year-old Robert and 22-year-old Bindi, and Bindi's new husband, Chandler.

"We have been incredibly grateful that we've been given this unique opportunity to be able to do what we love, which is cuddle animals all day," Bindi said. "But then also take it to a new level of educating people on how to make a difference in the world."

Their surname was made famous, and synonymous with animals, by Steve Irwin, the energetic TV conservationist who seemed to almost jump through the screen. Terri, as an American tourist visiting his zoo, first spotted her husband-to-be wrangling a crocodile – his signature. Their adventures together never slowed.  

"You know, if there was a whale stranding in Tasmania, he'd be like, 'We're leaving in an hour, we're gonna film for three weeks, and we've got to tell this story,'" Terri said.

Robert Irwin, Terri Irwin, and Bindi Irwin with her husband, Chandler Powell. CBS News

Steve told those stories until 2006, when he was killed by a stingray in a freak accident.

Bindi, just eight but already comfortable in the spotlight, spoke at his memorial service:  "I don't want Daddy's passion to ever end," she said. "I want to help endangered wildlife just like he did."

Eulogizing her dad, she captured hearts, and since then, continued what he started.

Doane asked, "How often do you think about Steve?"

"Oh my goodness, every day, every minute of every day," Bindi replied. "It's almost like every day is a tribute to his life."

"Was there ever any doubt that this was gonna be your life's work? Did you ever think of being in insurance, or a lawyer or something else?" Doane asked.  

Robert said, "No, I think for both of us we've always just had such a huge passion for wildlife and conservation. I remember the first time we ever got to feed a croc, Bindi was 10 years old. And then when I turned 10 a few years later, it was the rite of passage for me."

"'Cause that's good parenting!" Terri added.

Snack time! Robert Irwin feeding a croc at Australia Zoo. CBS News

Their TV show "Crikey! It's the Irwins" on Animal Planet, chronicles their efforts to educate and expose people to the wonders of the animal world.

Doane asked, "Through your work, you talk about trying to create this connection between people and animals. But how do you find that balance? They are still wild animals."

Terri said, "The respectful and responsible appreciation for wildlife through tourism is really what's gonna save us."

Bindi Irwin with one of the 1,200 animals at Australia Zoo.  CBS News

Their message is resonating. Bindi not only has 4 million Instagram followers, but also a Bindi Barbie doll.  "Like, good on Barbie for standing up for wildlife conservation!" she said.

It's serious work that funds a wildlife hospital they opened in 2004. In that first year, they treated 64 animals; now, they'll see more than that every single day.  

Robert showed Doane around the medical facility via video-chat, where a koala bear was on the operating table: "It's kind of the daily work that happens here at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital. The habitat for koalas are dwindling, and they're kind of isolated to smaller islands, and at this point disease spreads very, very fast."

The hospital was inundated during the devastating bushfires earlier this year, which burned more than 20 percent of Australia's forests, and killed as many as three billion animals.  

"But then, on top of that there's this huge knock-on effect that we're gonna feel for decades to come," Robert said. "For so many species, they rely on these beautiful, large areas of natural habitat."

A koala bear on the operating table at Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital. CBS News

Then, the pandemic brought another challenge: keeping all of this going without visitors, their main source of revenue – and some very big bills. "Just the animal food was $80,000 a week," Terri said.

They finally reopened after 78 days.

Bindi said. "I was shocked by how much our animals missed everybody."

Chandler Powell added, "Our animals were just as excited to see everyone back at Australia Zoo as we were."

"The koalas were basically jumping out of the trees to see us," Bindi said.

Chandler married into the family this past spring, after a pitch-perfect courtship which – no surprise – involved a crocodile. "I knew that that was the man I was gonna marry!" Bindi laughed.

Their engagement and wedding were all documented on their show. Now they're expecting a baby girl – and they already have her little safari shirt. "She has her very own khaki. Because we always say that khaki is not just a color, it's an attitude," Bindi laughed.

Chandler said, "It's not your typical family business, but it's my favorite line of work."

The Irwins are carrying on Steve's legacy, and apparently inherited his affinity for having so much of their lives broadcast, hoping their love of animals might just inspire yours.

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Story produced by Sari Aviv. Editor: Libby Fabricatore. 

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