How to travel like Steve Irwin’s family: See wildlife responsibly on these trips

Bindi Irwin, Terri Irwin and Robert Irwin with meerkats. (Photo: Animal Planet)

NEW YORK — Wildlife tourism can benefit animal populations as it brings awareness and interest, though there are good and bad ways to interact with wildlife.

“You need people just being aware of wildlife and issues surrounding it,” says Robert Irwin, son of the late wildlife expert and conservationist Steve Irwin. 

The less people interact with wildlife, he says, the less people will care. “If you never see them, you’re not going to want to protect them.” 

Contrasting the adorable photos you may see on Instagram of a friend posing with a tiger, wildlife tourism can have a dark underbelly.

As a National Geographic investigative story shows, elephants, tigers, dolphins and other animals are treated poorly in captivity. The animals are held in chains or covered in scratches and open wounds as a result of their treatment as they wait to star in shows, give tourists a ride on their back or pose for photos with people that have paid a small fee. But the fee the animals pay is much larger. 

Ahead of the second season of, “Crikey! It’s the Irwins,” which premieres Saturday (8 p.m. EDT/PDT), the Irwin family, mom Terri; Robert, Bindi; and Bindi’s fiancé, Chandler Powell, talked with USA TODAY and identified sites around the world that they recommend tourists look into for their next wildlife trip.

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Where to visit, what to do for responsible wildlife travel

Australia Zoo in Queensland, where the Irwins live and work, came to mind first, naturally. 

The zoo also covers all administrative costs and other essential expenses of Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors, an organization established in 2002 by Steve and Terri Irwin. Tens of thousands of animals have been rescued, rehabilitated and released by the Australia Zoo Wildlife hospital to date.

In addition, they recommend these trips:

  • Swimming with humpback whales in Queensland, Australia.
    • Sunreef Mooloolaba allows guests to swim with humpback whales responsibly, and the company is coordinating with University of the Sunshine Coast on a research project surrounding the whales.
    • Pondoro Game Lodge located in Balule Nature Reserve offers responsible safaris to visitors.
    • Lady Elliot Island has a small eco resort that offers opportunities for visitors to whale watch or even swim with whales, among other ways to connect with wildlife.
    • Cheetah Outreach in South Africa provide educational experiences and conservation efforts as they mitigate conflict between cheetahs and local human communities.
    • Cradle Mountain is part of a national park in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and is the starting point for a popular six-day trek on The Overland Track. The park rangers and lodges, Chandler and Bindi explain, work to help people reconnect with nature, which, on The Overland Track, visitors are fully among. “You wake up and have a wombat in your window,” Chandler says. 

    Robert Irwin swimming with and photographing a humpback whale at Lady Elliott Island. (Photo: Jeremy Somerville)

    Robert says he is particularly fond of Lady Elliot Island, where he swam with and photographed humpback whales.

    The family also recommends travelers check out some of Australia Zoo’s other properties, including Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve and Mourachan Conservation Property in Queensland. Australia Zoo offers expeditions to both.

    Be respectful, use common sense with animals

    And if you’re around wildlife in any setting, Bindi says that it’s important to really just use common sense.

    “It is innate for us to be respectful of other people’s spaces,” says Terri. “If I’m standing next to someone, I don’t grab them by the face and go ‘aww, you look so good.'”

    The key is to enjoy wildlife respectfully.

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