Robert Irwin is an award-winning wildlife photographer and television personality as the host of Robert’s Real Life Adventures. The program centers around the Irwin family-run Australia Zoo where he gets up close and personal with some of Australia’s most iconic species. Much like his father, Steve Irwin, he’s a dab hand at feeding the resident crocodiles but, as he tells IFLScience, not all his face-to-face wildlife encounters run so smoothly.
What do you do?
I am a conservationist and wildlife photographer. My family and I own and operate Australia Zoo and a non-profit environmental organisation called Wildlife Warriors supporting conservation projects around the world. We also run the largest wildlife hospital of its kind in the world, and we manage wild animal refuges throughout our state of Queensland. It is hard to pinpoint one particular job title, I get to live a hurricane of a life and I feel very fortunate to have so many photography opportunities as part of my job.
How did you end up here?
For me, I was born into a love for wildlife and wild places. I have grown up in the middle of Australia Zoo, learning from my family who are all so passionate about conservation. Quite early on, I discovered photography to be an amazing way to tell important stories about the issues facing our planet. Over the years, it has become a massive passion for me, and now to win the Wildlife Photographer of The Year People’s Choice Award I feel immensely honoured for my work to be recognised in such a prestigious competition.
What's the most common misconception about your line of work?
In the field of wildlife photography, people may think it’s a quick and straightforward process to capture an image. While sometimes a great shot can be a fast and opportunistic scenario, a lot of the time we photographers put ourselves in very unusual and uncomfortable situations to capture the best shot without interrupting the subject, to capture it in a completely wild form. I have trudged out into snowstorms, stood in the pouring rain, and put plenty of dents in my cameras and lenses to get that perfect angle. But it is so worth it when you can capture a moment that will inspire the audience.
Funniest moment on the job?
There are so very many funny and unexpected things that have happened as part of my work with wildlife and photography. Recently, I responded to rescue with a carpet python (a large non-venomous species of Australian snake) that was found stuck on a busy road. After picking him up and checking his health at our wildlife hospital, I released him back into the wild away from any traffic. As I went to place him on the ground and reunite him with a wild environment, he swung around and bit me square on the eye. There were a lot of laughs, and what’s more, it was even captured on camera as part of a documentary I was filming at the time.
Hairiest moment on the job?
In my line of work, there are always close calls and the occasional bite when working in close proximity with dangerous animals. But ironically, the biggest fails and most intense injuries that I have experienced have not been with a crocodile or venomous snake, but rather with a bicycle. While filming for a show, I rode my mountain bike from one side of our zoo to other and ended up taking one particular hill a bit too fast, resulting in a massive crash and a trip to emergency. A month of recovery from a badly separated shoulder then ensued!
What do you never leave the house without?
I never leave the house without a camera and my lucky hat – it’s a big, old, beat-up bushman’s hat that I found on a research expedition to the remote forests of Northern Queensland.
What’s a good first step towards working with or photographing wildlife?
I would certainly encourage everyone, and particularly young people, to get involved with photography or conservation in some way. I hope that by winning this People's Choice award I can not only share a message about the need to preserve our environment but also show other kids that you can achieve big things if you have a passion for it. I think that the future of our environment depends on how we act right now, and our newest generation has such passion to make the world a better place. So, to any kid who wants to get into photography, with the drive to make a difference, with a bit of patience and some practice, you can do so much for our planet.