Wildlife conservationist Bob Irwin has broken his silence to make a rare public statement amid a long-running family feud with daughter-in-law Terri and granddaughter Bindi.
The Australia Zoo founder and father of late wildlife warrior Steve Irwin has spent the last 15 years living a quiet, reclusive life away from the public eye, estranged from his son’s wife and children.
Friends say, Mr Irwin, now 84, hasn’t had any contact with his extended family since 2008 when he severed ties with Australia Zoo, amid fears the Sunshine Coast tourist attraction he established 38 years earlier was becoming ‘too commercial’.
The walk-out occurred less than 18 months after his famous son Steve was tragically killed by a stingray while filming on the Great Barrier Reef, just six years after his wife Lyn died in a car accident.
This week, Mr Irwin broke his silence to call on the Queensland government to close a loophole allowing social media influencers to enter crocodile habitats for online content.
The proposed changes would create an offence for those who recklessly use a crocodile habitat, along with penalties for those who disturb crocs for social media.
Mr Irwin, father of the late ‘Crocodile Hunter’ Steve Irwin, has engaged the Environmental Defenders Office to draw up the amendments to the Nature Conservation Act.
He said the social media content creators were only endangering themselves and the crocodiles by entering the habitats.
‘The government says idiots like these are not breaking any laws. Well, I say, change the law!’ Mr Irwin said in a statement.
More than 40 traditional owners, conservationists, scientists, business owners and community members have backed the changes.
It comes a month after a Queensland man was fined $12,000 for illegally catching freshwater crocs in the hope of becoming a social media star.
In February, a 4.2-metre crocodile was shot dead by wildlife officers after it attacked a man and ate a dog in far north Queensland.
The man had been swimming at Bloomfield River, a well-known crocodile habitat.
It’s a rare public statement from Mr Irwin following his fallout with daughter-in-law Terri in 2008.
The Irwin family feud began 13 years ago when Bob Snr quit Australia Zoo because he was concerned the wildlife park he’d founded in 1970 was becoming a ‘circus’.
Various reports from the time of Bob’s exit claim he was worried the Sunshine Coast tourist attraction was becoming ‘too commercial – and even feared a then nine-year-old Bindi was being pushed into child stardom.
When Bob left the zoo for good in 2008 – two years after the death of his famous son, Steve ‘The Crocodile Hunter’ Irwin – his daughter-in-law Terri was said to be planning a five-year expansion ‘to make it Australia’s peak tourist destination with a Disneyland feel’.
This plan apparently didn’t sit well with Bob, who felt Australia Zoo should focus on conservation instead of following a commercial path and becoming a ‘circus’.
By his own admission, Bob felt he’d become an unwelcome presence at Australia Zoo as the business grew into a major attraction aimed at American tourists.
‘It’s a strange feeling to spend half your lifetime building something up and walking away from it,’ he told ABC’s Australian Story in April 2008.
‘I was becoming a disrupting influence, not that I meant to be.’
When he resigned from the family business in 2008, he made no reference in his farewell statement to his daughter-in-law.
He also said he wanted to ‘continue Steve’s dream’ of wildlife conservation at his own reserve in Kingaroy – with the implication being Terri’s new vision for Australia Zoo wasn’t what his son would have wanted.
At the time, Terri denied rumours a personal rift was behind Bob’s decision to leave.
‘I just can assure everyone that I love Bob dearly… he’s gone through so much grief losing his [first] wife and his only son that I will respectfully just leave it at that,’ she said.
Meanwhile, various reports suggested that Bob – a former plumber who became a conservationist after moving to Queensland in the 1970s – was also ‘upset’ with Bindi’s growing media profile in the years after Steve’s death.
Despite these concerns, Terri has always maintained her daughter embarked on a media career as a child willingly because of her natural talent for performing.
Tensions reignited in 2021 after Bindi posted a heartwarming Father’s Day tribute to her husband, father-in-law and late father.
When a fan asked why she hadn’t included her grandfather, Bindi gave an uncharacteristically raw account of their relationship, claiming he’d ignored her since she was a ‘little girl’.
‘I really wish that my entire family could spend time with [my daughter] Grace. Unfortunately, my grandfather Bob has shown no interest in spending time with me or my family,’ she began.
Family friend Amanda French admitted at the time it’s been ‘hard’ for Mr Irwin who’s still grieving the loss of his son 17 years on.
‘Steve’s burial place is inside the zoo… That’s hard for him, not to be able to return to his son’s resting place. He hasn’t been back to Australia Zoo since 2008,’ she said.
She added Mr Irwin always says positive things about Bindi and grandson Robert,
‘He says they’re always welcome if they ever turned up. But I think it would be hard for Bob to ring up Australia Zoo and be like – can we fix this?” she said.