When it comes to conservationists, Steve Irwin is probably the most famous out there. Through his show, “The Crocodile Hunter,” he reached millions of viewers and taught an entire generation to appreciate even the lowliest of Earth’s creatures. He expanded Australia Zoo, became a role model of the highest order, and passed on his work to his family upon his death. But none of that could’ve been accomplished if it wasn’t for Steve Irwin’s similarly impressive father, Bob Irwin.
According to Bob Irwin’s book, “The Last Crocodile Hunter,” the father of the great “Crocodile Hunter” began his life as a plumber before following his dream and making a name for himself in the world of conservation. Before long, he opened the Beerwah Reptile Park in 1970, which later became the famous Australia Zoo. But before all of that happened, Bob was teaching Steve “conservation through education,” a principle the Crocodile Hunter molded into his world-renowned documentary series, as Steve explains in an interview with Reptiles Magazine. And somehow, even after all this, Bob Irwin left Australia Zoo, and the reason has only recently come to light.
The reason Steve Irwin's father left
In 2008, Bob Irwin, Australia Zoo founder and patriarch of the Irwin family, left the zoo he’d called home for more than half his life. In the wake of his departure, a confusing yet hard-hitting Facebook post (via The New Zealand Herald) by his granddaughter, Bindi Irwin, accused the man of ignoring her for years and being psychologically abusive. It’s quite possible the family’s problems were kept out of the spotlight while things fell apart behind the scenes, but it seemed like nobody knew this was going on until Bob was already gone.
Bob must’ve sensed this on some level because he quoted one of the reasons for his departure as having become a “disrupting influence” on the park. He’d felt like he wasn’t welcomed there, according to The West Australian, and with regards to his feelings about the park, he believed it had been moving in the wrong direction for a while at that point. It was more of a “circus” than a conservation center in his eyes, and he hated seeing what he’d built follow a totally different path, so he left. The elder Irwin also implied that the direction of the park isn’t something Steve would’ve wanted either.
Bob Irwin didn't walk away empty-handed
Thanks to the publicity Steve Irwin brought to the Australia Zoo through “The Crocodile Hunter” — not to mention the park’s expansion over the years — it had to have been worth several times more than when Bob gave the park to Steve and his wife Terri after they married. But since the first Irwin conservationist still had a stake in the park from being a founder, he didn’t walk away from Australia Zoo empty-handed.
When Bob “sold” the park to his son, he did so under unconventional terms. Steve and Terri didn’t have the money to buy the park outright, so Bob settled for a retirement package to be paid out whenever he called it quits, according to The New Zealand Herald. The terms weren’t tiny either: Bob was paid a $1 million severance outright, plus a pension of around $100,000 per year. It’s not a bad deal in terms of money, but Bob still had to leave a place that was a part of him, and it’s unclear if he’ll ever be able to return.
The fallout from leaving
After Bob left the Australia Zoo and the other Irwins behind, things started to get messy. Maybe they were messy beforehand, but this is when the chaos really hit the media — there was fallout from every direction. To start with something small and mostly inconsequential: You’d be hard-pressed to find Bob Irwin’s name anywhere on the Australia Zoo website. If it’s there, it’s not easy to find, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
As Newshub mentions, the feud between Bob and the younger Irwins escalated, and Bindi prevented him from attending her wedding in 2020. And if that’s still not bad enough, he feels like he can’t visit his son’s burial site because it’s at the zoo, according to news.com.au.
The feud seems to be a two-way street though, and it’s unclear which of the parties involved started the whole thing. For example, Bob returns the family’s gifts and they believe he ignores them, while Bob thinks they’re doing the same to him on their end. In reality, it seems like an especially tough nut to crack for everybody, regardless of which side they’ve found themselves on.
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