Bindi believes in breaking barriers
SHE dazzled in the US with her dance moves and shines the spotlight on the challenges faced by wildlife around the world on a daily basis.
At the age of 17, she has more drive and passion than most.
Meet Bindi Irwin, the Sunshine Coast girl with the heart of a lion when it comes to preserving the planet for future generations.
Following in the footsteps of her father, the late Steve Irwin, and bolstered by the support of her mum Terri and little brother Robert, Bindi has been destined to make a positive impact on the world from a young age.
"I couldn't be where I am today without the amazing support of my family. Every day I am thankful for having them in my life. The meaning of life really is unconditional love and that's what holds us together. No matter where I go, my heart will always belong with my family," Bindi says.
With most of her time spent at Australia Zoo, Bindi loves being with her animal friends and says if she could choose to be one of them it would be of the feathered kind.
"Actually, I just got back from hugging a black-headed python named Dusty and next I'm off to spend time with our gorgeous grey kangaroos in their beautiful paddock. Every day is magical here at Australia Zoo.
"I think that I would be a bird for sure. Ever since I was little I have loved the sky and wished I could fly."
While she might not have wings, Bindi has some pretty fast feet, enabling her to win Dancing with the Stars in the US last year.
"I was truly honoured to be contacted to be a part of Dancing With the Stars. However, I must admit that I was more than slightly terrified when they asked me to be on the show.
"Take a girl who has never danced before and who spent her life in a khaki zoo uniform and get her on the dance floor of the most-watched show in the United States of America. Even though I was a little nervous, life has always taught me that if you're a part of something great that scares you a little, you are testing your limits, stepping outside of your comfort zone and usually you are on the verge of achieving something extraordinary that you will remember forever.
"I wanted to be able to share my story with others and hopefully show people that no matter what you have been through during your life, you can find happiness and light in so many places. So I said yes and embarked on one of the most extraordinary journeys of my entire life.
"I honestly couldn't believe it. While I was standing waiting to hear who had won the season, I couldn't quite hear with all the music and yelling. Before I knew it the winner had been announced and I looked over at Derek. His expression showed it all and I realised that they had announced our names.
"It means the world to me that I was given such a beautiful opportunity to reach out to so many people, I feel so blessed and honoured to have won and I really do hope that I was able to inspire a few people during my time on the show, to reach out and find the strength within them to follow their dreams and believe in themselves. To remember that if you have faith in yourself and people around you who love you, you can undertake and accomplish anything."
The next reality show Bindi tackled, along with Terri and Robert, was the 2016 Australian series of I'm A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here.
For a girl who has grown up surrounded by wildlife, a foray into the African jungle was right up her alley.
"Africa has always been a place near and dear to my heart. Our non-profit organisation Wildlife Warriors supports many projects in Africa, including work with rhinos in Kenya and Cheetah Outreach in South Africa. It's a lot of work, but we love it so much. Getting to be a part of I'm a Celebrity was terrific because we were able to talk about our conservation work. Then after the show, we had the opportunity to catch up with our brilliant Wildlife Warriors conservation partners."
It is clear the Wildlife Warriors hold a very special place in Bindi's heart. They are an extension of her family and a legacy for the wild animals and places left by her father Steve.
"Dad was the first person to create the title Wildlife Warrior. It means that you stand up and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, dedicating yourself to helping to protect wildlife and wild places, ensuring they are around for future generations. Being a Wildlife Warrior means that you think about your actions on the planet and educate others around you about how they can make the world a better place.
"It is so important to get involved in protecting our planet today so that the generations to come can live on a clean mother earth that has fresh air, clean drinking water and an abundance of wildlife. If we want to achieve this we must all work together to affect change on our planet.
"Mum and dad started our non-profit organisation, Wildlife Warriors, back in 2002 to raise funds and awareness for conservation projects all over the world. We currently help fund projects supporting cheetahs and rhinos in Africa, tigers in Sumatra and elephants in Cambodia, along with many other animals in crisis. Wildlife Warriors also supports the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, which is the busiest and largest wildlife hospital in the world, rescuing and rehabilitating more than 62,000 animals in the past 11 years.
"Our belief is that my dad was one man who changed the world. If one man can make a difference, each and every one of us can."
And making a difference is easy, she says. "There are so many things that you can do to help our planet," Bindi explains. "Each of us can make a difference. Even small things like recycling, planting a tree, turning off the tap when you brush your teeth, going to the beach or a local park and having a clean-up day with your friends, all help. Most importantly, never buy any wildlife products (ivory, etc). If you would like to get even more involved, we have so many conservation programs with Wildlife Warriors that you can help support. We also have a special Joey Ambassador program for kids to get involved with Wildlife Warriors."
Bindi says it is important to share the message of conservation with children, and sees her own celebrity status as a platform for sharing this vision with others.
"Truthfully, I think of myself as a teacher. I've been put on this planet for a reason and a purpose and I feel incredibly lucky to be given the opportunity to follow my dreams and reach out to others to be the change they wish to see in the world."
When asked what she sees herself doing in 10 years' time, Bindi says conservation will remain her top priority.
"In 10 years' time I will be nearly 28 years old and I hope to be continuing our conservation work and incredibly important work here at Australia Zoo. As I get older I want to start tackling bigger issues facing our world today, such as the non-consumptive use of wildlife and our ever expanding human population growth. I will always follow in my dad's footsteps and try my best to make my family proud.
"I don't want to see crocodiles turned into boots, bags and belts or shark fin soup on the menu at a restaurant. I always say that we will never get the world to become vegetarian, but we can get the world to stop killing and consuming our wildlife. Cows, pigs and chickens can be responsibly farmed whereas animals like kangaroos or whales cannot. When the buying stops, the killing can too."
It is not only the protection of wildlife that Bindi has set her sights on. Climate change is a major issue she plans to face head-on.
"I also believe that like most problems in the world today, climate change stems from one big problem that seems to be the 'elephant in the room' that no one wants to talk about. This problem is our constantly growing human population. Only 100 years ago mother earth was home to 1.5 billion people, and now it is home to more than seven billion people. These are scary figures as earth only has so many resources and cannot keep up with our rapidly increasing population. I do not believe that there is one answer and it is not an issue to be taken lightly. However, it is an issue that must be addressed. We need to start discussing solutions now. Together we can make a difference.
"I believe that each and every one of us can make a difference. The footprints you leave on the planet today will affect generations to come, your children and grandchildren. We must all work together to make this world a better place."
In the short term, Bindi and her family have another big event on their calendar that will take them back to the States to celebrate the lasting legacy of Steve Irwin.
"We are thrilled to be in America in May, as our very first international Steve Irwin Gala Dinner will be held in LA on May 21. After almost 10 years without dad we really felt like it was time to create this beautiful event in America to honour his legacy. All funds raised on the night will go towards our Wildlife Warriors conservation work and it will be incredible.
"I am grateful every day that I have been given such a wonderful opportunity to be able to share my story and journey with so many people. I am looking forward to everything yet to come in life."