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Like her 'Crocodile Hunter' father, Bindi Irwin works to helps wildlife

Bindi Irwin, star of a new "Free Willy" movie and daughter of Steve Irwin, meets giant panda Tian Tian at the National Zoo.
Bindi Irwin, star of a new "Free Willy" movie and daughter of Steve Irwin, meets giant panda Tian Tian at the National Zoo. (Bill O'leary/the Washington Post)
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bindi Irwin walked out of the private panda enclosure at the National Zoo with a look of amazement. "I've never heard a panda speak before!" she gushed. "It was amaaaaaazing."

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Indeed, pandas don't speak very often (it sounds like a sheep bleating), so maybe they wanted to impress a kid who has seen just about everything when it comes to wildlife. Bindi is the 11-year-old daughter of the late Steve Irwin, the Australian wildlife expert and television personality known as the "Crocodile Hunter."

From an early age, Bindi appeared with her father in stage and television shows and performed as both a singer and dancer in a variety of kid-focused productions. But since his death in 2006, she has become a star in her own right, hosting her own wildlife show, creating various fashion and doll lines and starring in a feature film, "Free Willy: Escape From Pirate's Cove," which comes out today on DVD.

Bindi and several family members, including mother Terri and brother Robert, 6, came to Washington to promote the movie, so a stop at the zoo made sense. As a devoted conservationist, Bindi wanted to see the pandas, among the most endangered species in the world, up close.

"I want to carry on in my dad's footsteps," she said. "Everything that I do is really about getting the conservation message out." She said she understands that she can teach other kids that they can make a difference. She wanted to make the "Free Willy" movie in part because her character will not take no for an answer when it comes to securing the freedom of a trapped orca whale. "It's got a great kid-empowerment message," she said.

Bindi's life is extremely busy. She lives at Australia Zoo, the wildlife park founded by her grandparents and greatly expanded by her parents, and she regularly appears in shows there. She is home-schooled with her brother but spends about half the year traveling around the world for other jobs. Her family always travels with her, and she must take time every day to get her schoolwork done.

And while she misses her father, Bindi feels strongly that he lives on through the wildlife work that she and the family's zoo continue to do. "You can't take anything you have for granted," she said. "I just feel so lucky to do all the things I'm able to do."

-- Margaret Webb Pressler


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