How Jungle Girl Bindi Irwin Keeps Dad's Spirit Alive
Eight-year-old Bindi Irwin
holds a deadly looking snake. "This snake is very venomous," she says into the camera. "Is this true, or am I just... whoa!" — she ducks and weaves as the critter's head oscillates wildly — "bluffing?"
Wendy the Woma python is not cooperating. Bindi's mom, Terri, jumps in on the sixth take as the highly endangered snake slithers across the table and out of the shot.
"Bindi, that's brilliant," Terri says. "Just look at the screen and don't worry about the snake. If you need to do anything, do like Daddy — spread your arms and legs wide and jump around!"
The crew laughs. Bindi nails it and gives the python a kiss on the head. (Turns out she was bluffing.)
"Doing like Daddy" comes naturally to the plucky girl in pigtails and de rigueur khaki. Daddy, of course, is the late Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, whose death in September after a stingray barb pierced his chest prompted an international outpouring of grief. "I really strongly feel that he's still with us," Bindi says.
She's been on location with her globe-trotting parents since she was a few weeks old and is determined, she says, to "follow in my dad's footsteps."
Good thing Bindi has inherited the natural exuberance, boundless curiosity and passion for animals that made Steve such a magnetic host. Because she's a very busy girl.
The introductions she's filming today at Australia Zoo — a 70-acre wildlife sanctuary in the small Australian town of Beerwah, Queensland, where Terri, Bindi and 3-year-old Robert live — are for Planet's Best with Terri and Bindi, a series of best-of specials airing on Animal Planet (airing Sundays at 8 pm/ET). In addition, Bindi: The Jungle Girl premieres this Saturday (at 5 pm on Discovery Kids), and Zoo Down Under, a reality series that goes behind the scenes at Australia Zoo, is in development.
"She's very much like Steve in so many ways," says Terri of her daughter, who sits stroking Candy, her pet rat. "Steve never put on airs or tried to be famous, and Bindi's the same way. It's just eerie after spending years walking around with Steve and seeing the reaction he got, and now it's the same with Bindi."
And Bindi, it seems, loves to be on TV. "As soon as I was born I was in front of the camera," she says. "I feel like I've got a place there."
Bindi: The Jungle Girl features her interacting with wildlife in her rain-forest tree house along with animal-themed song-and-dance numbers from her troupe, the Crocmen. The show is designed to promote interest in conservation among children.
Bindi has help in that mission from Dad. Seven of the 26 episodes were filmed before Steve's death, and the TV naturalist is featured so prominently he's considered her cohost.
"It's the Steve and Bindi show," says family friend John Stainton, who directed The Crocodile Hunter and is helming all the Irwin TV projects. "Throughout the show, Bindi introduces clips from the archives — Steve with gorillas, whales, snakes. That's the bulk of the show."
Terri and zoo director Wes Mannion, one of Steve's best mates, are also featured; Steve's passing is not addressed in the show. When asked about it, Stainton replies flatly, "Steve will live forever."
Those who cried "Too soon!" when Bindi stepped back in front of the camera just weeks after her father's death don't realize that it's the place she feels closest to him, says Terri.
"I think if you went fishing or surfing every weekend with your dad and he died, you wouldn't want to never fish or surf again," she says.
Steve himself definitely would have approved. "One day last year when we started doing Bindi: The Jungle Girl," Stainton recalls, "I said to Steve, ‘Bindi is going to be a much bigger star than you've ever been.' And he said, ‘Bring it on! I only ever wanted to be Bindi's costar.' "
See our Online Video Guide for clips of Bindi in action.
Send your comments on this feature to firstname.lastname@example.org.