The late Steve Irwin was easily Australia’s most beloved conservationist and environmentalist. Over the course of his career, he left an everlasting impact on how Australians treat their native wildlife and helped raise awareness about the importance of preserving the natural world for generations to come.
Since his passing, his legacy has lived on through his children and the work that continues at Australia Zoo. Most recently his legacy was honoured during the hatching of the first Irwin’s turtle in captivity at Australia Zoo.
Steve and his father Bob first discovered the species, later named after Steve himself, on a crocodile-catching trip in 1990.
It’s not often that you get to discover a new species in familiar territory! The turtle is native to a very specific region in the lower Burdekin River area located in northern Queensland. His son Robert Irwin had the honour of helping the first Irwin’s turtle hatchling take to the water.
In a video posted to social media, Robert was ecstatic and emotional as he explained the importance of the moment.
“This is one of the highlights of my entire life and one of the most special moments ever for Australia Zoo,” Robert said.
“This is the first-ever Elseya Irwini turtle ever hatched for any zoological facility anywhere in the world.
“Dad originally discovered this species in the wild and, for the first time, we have a little baby and he’s going to get his first swim in a brand new pond,” he continued as he slowly lowered the hatchling into its new enclosure.
Irwin’s turtles still reside in sizeable numbers in the neighbouring Broken River and Bowen Creek. However, they have been absent from the Burdekin River itself for close to 25 years until it was rediscovered in 2022.
Its disappearance from the Burdekin River is believed to have been the result of gradual ecological changes due to the construction of the Burdekin Dam in 1987. Over the years, the dam has decreased the water quality in the river, which has made it more difficult for the species to survive and reproduce. Construction of the proposed Urannah Dam has been opposed by conservation groups for this reason.
This is partly the reason why Australia Zoo has undertaken the task of breeding them in captivity. In the caption for the video, Robert notes that “a rare and unique species under threat in the wild has just been given a second chance.”
“And all those stories from Dad about just how amazing and beautiful they are… I don’t get emotional that much, but I just know Dad would be really proud, Dad would be stoked,” Robert Irwin said at the end of the video,” he added.