Jungle Girl

Bindi Irwin stars in a new television show, "Bindi the Jungle Girl," airing on the Discovery Kids Channel. AP Photo

LOS ANGELES — At an age when many girls are still playing
with their Barbie dolls, Bindi Irwin has moved on to something a
bit more challenging.

"I have Blackie my black-headed python. I also have Corny the
corn snake. He sleeps with me at night," the 8-year-old-daughter
of the late crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin, says proudly as she
rattles off the names of the menagerie she keeps back home in
Queensland, Australia.

It's a group she hopes to introduce to the rest of the world
through her new television show, "Bindi the Jungle Girl," airing
Saturdays on the Discovery Kids Channel (5 p.m. ET).

"I also have Jaffa my koala and Ocker, my favorite cockatoo.
And I have other birds that stay with me. And Candy, my pet rat,
sometimes stays with me," the blonde-haired, pigtailed bundle of
energy continues until her enthusiasm gets the better of her and
her words begin to run together, finally tripping over one another
in a heap.

"Sorry," she offers with a giggle as she comes up for air.

Then, a moment later, she's on a roll again, passionately
recounting the horror stories her father would come home with about
the way he saw exotic animals mistreated in shows around the world.
He witnessed cobras in India, he told her, that had their teeth
yanked out before they were put in baskets for snake charmers with
flutes to coax them out of. He saw monkeys that had their young
taken away as an incentive to perform.

"They take their babies away until the monkey does the trick,
and then they give the baby back," he told her.

"It's terrible what people are doing," she says, her voice
rising. "And they're just doing it for a living because they don't
know any better. They've just grown up like that. I think we really
need to teach all people, big or little, they should all know the
message of conservation."

Her effort to teach them is "Bindi The Jungle Girl," which
takes viewers around the world to see animals in their natural
habitat while Bindi discusses things like the status of those in
danger of extinction.

"There are only a few thousand left in the wild and they could
all be gone by the time I'm old enough to drive," she says of
tigers and cheetahs.

As her father did, she also frequently makes pitches not to use
products that result in the needless deaths of animals.

Each show also returns home to Bindi's two-story tree house in
Queensland, Australia, where the little girl with the soft Aussie
accent interacts naturally with her exotic animals and where, Bindi
says, she is always happiest.

"I love it in my tree house. It's the best place to be, pretty
much," she says by phone. "I just go there to sleep over
sometimes. My brother comes to visit me for a little sleepover as
well. He has his own little snake, Basil. Basil is actually a girl.
I know, that's a strange name for a girl," she says, letting loose
with another giggle.

She also keeps a supply of videos of her father there.

"I'm ever so lucky because I have so much footage of my dad in
the tree house with me," she says. Then she adds softly, "Which
is very nice to have because some people only have like one or two
pictures of their father or the one who died."

She was barely 8 when her father was killed by a stingray while
filming an underwater documentary at Australia's Great Barrier Reef
last September.

The two already had begun working together on what would become
"Bindi The Jungle Girl," and Irwin is featured prominently in
early episodes doing things like climbing trees to visit the nests
of endangered orangutans. In one comical moment, a nest's startled
resident briefly shakes a fist in Irwin's face before deciding he's
all right.

Almost from the day Bindi was born, says her mother, Terri
Irwin, she has embraced exotic animals with the same passion her
father had.

"Steve was so excited," she recalls. "He kept saying, `I'm
really looking forward to the day when Bindi takes over for me and
I can just kick back."'

Still, in many ways, she adds, her daughter is just a typical
kid, one who keeps busy with school and pesters her family from
time to time for a pony to go with Peru the iguana and the other
exotic animals.

As for taking up her famous father's legacy at such a tender
age, Bindi doesn't see it as a big deal. She began accompanying him
on film shoots when she was just 6 days old and learned early on,
she says, what her life's work would be.

"I've always wanted to teach people about animal
conservation," she said. "I want to follow in my father's
footsteps. I loved him so very, very much."

On the Web: www.discovery.com