Australia Zoo Journal-PART 1--PART 2--PART 3--PART 4--PART 5--PART 6--PART 7-
-PART 8--PART 9--PART 10-Australia Zoo Journal - Part 8
Finally arriving at the Australia Zoo, the bus pulled in front of the main gate and dropped us off. After collecting our bags, we approached the front gate and met with an attendant. Since we were going to the zoo for three to four days, we elected to both get annual passes to the zoo which was less expensive than buying admission for each day.
After getting our photos taken for our passes and dropping off our luggage, we entered the zoo and were immediately greeted by a bronze statue of the Irwin family holding a small crocodile, a moment of happiness frozen in time. I thought to myself how amazing it would have been to have met Steve and the Irwin's to tell them personally how their message influenced my own passion. Although Terri, Bindi and Bob had shared with me the news that I had won third in their "Khaki It" contest, the prize didn't necessarily come with the chance to meet them. Nonetheless, I was happy to be there at long last and to take in everything that the Irwin family had built in the name of wildlife and conservation.
After meandering from the rescued kookaburras and tawny frog-mouth to the Komodo dragons to the otters, I began to head toward the crocodiles that Steve adored so much. My brother had gone ahead of me when something a few dozen meters away had caught my eye. A large wooden gate was opening and a group of people were emerging. I had assumed these individuals were staff, but what struck me as being strange was that they weren't wearing uniforms as I saw with other staff and two of them looked like children. Then I realized who it was.
It was the Irwin family.
I saw Terri talking to Bindi and Bob as they walked, perhaps talking about the day's plans, escorted by two rather large members of zoo security. I did a double take, my mouth likely ajar...dumbfounded. I remember Bindi taking a quick glance in my direction, at which point I waved while she returned the gesture. I don't usually get star-struck by anyone, but I was completely mesmerized. I soon came to a second realization: I was going to let them walk away, being satisfied with only a wave...what the hell was I doing?!
I shook myself out of the daze I was in, gathered up some courage and did a half-run towards them. Part of me expected the security to immediate intercept me, but although they were wary, they allowed me to get Terri's attention. I stopped and explained as fast as I could the 'Khaki It" contest and that I had been chosen by them to win third place. Terri had listened intently before a smile broke the tension. She sounded as surprised as I was that I was there and congratulated me. She remembered me as being a fan of tigers and mentioned that they had recently made a trip to Toronto. Bindi, perhaps the most articulate and mature young woman I have ever met, excitedly recalled going up to the CN Tower and walking on its glass floor while little Robert came across as rather shy. Terri asked me, "Does anyone know you're here?". I told her that I had arranged everything through Australia Zoo's travel program using the travel voucher. She seemed a little upset that no one had brought to her attention that I was going to be visiting, but quickly shed the frustration. I told her that no one would believe that I actually met her and her family so I asked for a photo. She gladly obliged and I now have a wonderful photo of myself and the Irwin family.
Somewhere during our conversation, my brother had clued in that I had went missing and came to find me talking with the Zoo's matriarch. He told me later that he had heard Terri talking, but had believed it to be audio from a television somewhere in the zoo before he realized what was happening.
Terri asked me to walk with her and the kids to customer service at the Crocoseum, a massive stadium for wildlife shows and presentations. As we were walking she said, "I want to see if I can set you up with a tiger encounter", which piqued my interest. Tiger encounters were a popular attraction at the zoo where guests pay a premium to walk and have photos taken with one of the zoo's Sumatran tigers; all proceeds from these encounters go to conservation programs protecting the species in the wild. Although I encounter tigers quite frequently in my zoo work, I never spent any time with an adult tiger without any kind of barrier. It was something I had wanted to do at the Australia Zoo, but the premium price put it just out of reach, at least until I met Terri.
As we walked, she asked questions about my brother and I, joking around and making light-hearted conversation. Terri and Bindi were very open and social. They seemed to genuinely care, wanting to make me feel less a stranger or fan and more of a welcomed guest. This is what struck me most about them and only strengthened my respect.
Once we arrived at the Crocoseum, Terri talked to one of the folks at customer service and asked them to find a way to fit me onto the schedule for a tiger encounter. With her status behind her, she could make it happen and the staff happily obliged. Unfortunately, Terri and the Irwin's had business to attend to, but made a point to congratulate me again and emphatically wish me the best of luck with my passion for conservation. Terri and Bindi both gave me a lovely hug, but when I turned to little Robert I insisted giving him a nice manly handshake; we shook hands and a smile broke his shyness. Terri and Robert departed and Bindi stuck around to say "It was really nice to meet you!" before running off to catch up. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised by how well spoken and mature she was and knew that she was going to grow up to live up to her parents' legacy.
The whole experience felt like a blur inside of a tornado inside of a hurricane, but I will never forget how wonderful it felt to have the serendipitous experience. I was surprised how they took the time to speak with me and how encouraging they were about my efforts. These individuals aren't simply celebrities, these are real people that were on a mission just as I am...working hard to change the world to ensure the survival of wildlife all over the world. They were much kinder and accommodating than I had ever expected they would be and I believe it is a testament to their characters.
How's that for a welcoming committee? -PART 1--PART 2--PART 3--PART 4--PART 5--PART 6--PART 7-
-PART 8--PART 9--PART 10-