Ever wonder how your small, local rehabilitation center ended up befriending the most famous wildlife advocates in the world? As with most stories around here it starts with a love of animals… specifically a cougar, named Malina.
Terri Irwin, then Terri Raines, grew up in Eugene and at a young age found her first love – animals. She would care for the injured critters her father, a long-haul trucker, would regularly bring home from alongside the interstate. By the time she had reached the age of 20, Terri had created her own wildlife rehabilitation organization called “Cougar Country” which specialized in rehabilitating and releasing predators, like cougars, bears, and bobcats. It was at this time, that 133 miles down Interstate 5, Wildlife Images was in its first few, fledgling years ;), as a non-profit. Rehabilitation is a small world. Wildlife Images and Cougar Country had a strong working relationship as so many organizations in this field do. From that, a friendship developed between Terri and the Siddon family.
Several years later, while on vacation in Australia, Terri’s life changed forever. While visiting various rehabilitation facilities, Terri stopped at Beerwah Reptile and Fauna Park (now Australia Zoo) this true Oregonian laid eyes on an Australian man that would sweep her off her paws! Steve Irwin had taken over management of the park from his father just two days before this fateful visit. “She was captivated by the enthusiastic man in the khakis, talking so passionately about crocodiles. Terri introduced herself, realizing they both had in common their passion for wildlife and conservation,” explains Terri’s official biography. Within in 4 months Steve Irwin would propose, and eight months meeting Steve the two were married in her hometown of Eugene. It was during this period of time that the connection between Wildlife Images and the Irwin family was cemented forever.
There was really no other choice for Terri other than to join Steve in Australia at his family’s park. It was a dream come true! Except for one thing: Terri would have to dissolve Cougar Country and find placement for the animals who were not releasable. One of those was Terri’s beloved cougar, Malina. The decision was made that Malina would spend the rest of her life at Wildlife Images. In fact, it was during Terri and Steve’s honeymoon in 1992 that the newlyweds brought Malina to her new home. The filming of this transition became the pilot episode of the Crocodile Hunter!
It was also during this time that the younger Dave Siddon and Steve started a friendship with a unique bond. “We started talking about our backgrounds, because Steve’s background and my background were very much alike,” explained Siddon. “His dad started his organization, my dad started my organization. We both kind of got drug into it and found that it was our calling in life. Spreading the message of conservation of wildlife, and appreciation of these things, were common ground everywhere.”
Terri and Steve returned to Australia and continued the series. It brought worldwide recognition of the Irwin’s facility. The now named, Australia Zoo grew exponentially and the Irwins started their conservation foundation Wildlife Warriors. Despite, international fame and a new daughter, Bindi, Steve & Terri remained close friends to the Siddons and to Wildlife Images. The couple visited a few times while returning to Oregon to see family.
In 2006, Steve died while doing what he loved. The death of the Crocodile Hunter impacted people around the world, including the Irwin’s friends back in Oregon. Shortly after his passing, Wildlife Images commissioned two identical memorial benches dedicated to the ultimate Wildlife Warrior. One resides at Wildlife Image, the other is in a place of honor at the Australia Zoo.
The Irwin’s passion for wildlife and wild places did not end with Steve’s passing… if anything, it only grew, as did the friendship between the Irwins and Wildlife Images. Over the years, Terri, Bindi, and Robert have visited many times. The young Irwins were always curious, and regularly in awe of the native Animal Ambassadors who call Wildlife Images home. Bindi and Robert enjoyed meeting the wolf ambassadors and having Oregon’s large, native eagles on the glove.
One visit, in June of 2016, was turned into a special fundraiser. It was held just after Bindi won the Mirror Ball Trophy on Dancing with the Stars. Ticket purchasers were able to meet the Irwins and have a professional photograph taken with them. The event raised more than $25,000 for Wildlife Images. Sponsored by the local ABC affiliate, KDRV NewsWatch 12, the Irwins and Dave Siddon appeared together during a newscast to promote the event. It also marked the launch of a unique partnership called “Saving Wildlife Across the World” between the Irwins and Wildlife Images.
Terri, Robert, and Bindi regularly support the work at Wildlife Images in a multitude of ways. As a skilled photographer, Robert sends his photos for auction during Saving Wildlife Banquet & Auction. The Irwins send signed merchandise from the Australia Zoo to be used in raffles and prize packages during different events. The family also produce short promotional videos to raise awareness about our shared mission and as avid social media contributors, the family (especially Robert) can regularly be spotted in Wildlife Images apparel. Their visits to Wildlife Images have also been featured in Crikey, the Irwin’s conservation magazine.
During a visit in 2017, Terri and Robert got a behind the scenes look a the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Forensic Laboratory. Steve had made a visit previously to learn about the Lab’s vital work on stopping crimes against animals. Located in Ashland, the Forensic Lab is the only one of its kind in the world and is enjoys a unique collaborative partnership with Wildlife Images. Robert and Terri also appeared in an episode of Wildlife Images’ Walk on the Wild Side which airs on KTVL News 10. Later that year, the Siddon family visited the Irwins in Australia. The Siddon’s first trip Down Under was nothing short of magical thanks to the generosity of the Australia Zoo and their hosts.
Dave Siddon and Wildlife Images’ board members attend the Steve Irwin Gala in Los Angeles where they are able to, in turn, support Wildlife Warriors. When, in 2018, Steve received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Siddon family, and board members were invited to be among the guests for the reveal party. In late summer of 2018, Dave Siddon was invited to New York to interview for the filming of a 2-hour special tribute to Steve, his mission and legacy. The show aired on Animal Planet just prior to the first season of Crikey! It’s the Irwins. It was after this visit, and with Terri’s request that Wildlife Images was chosen to be featured in the second season of the hit show on Animal Planet. A crew of half a dozen filmmakers arrived with Terri and Robert in early June 2019. What followed was three jam-packed days of filming with the park’s staff and Animal Ambassadors.
During the filming, Terri and Dave visited Malina’s grave and reminisced about their years of friendship. Two major medical procedures were done while the Crikey crew was onsite. Brady the cougar and Kodi the brown bear were due for health checks. Originally, Wildlife Images was only going to be included in one episode but the show’s producers felt strongly that the procedures were significant enough to be split between two episodes. Episode 6, featuring the Irwin’s connection to Wildlife Images and Brady’s health check will air on Saturday, November 6. The episode with Kodi’s procedure will air Saturday, November 16 on Animal Planet. The episodes will be unlocked and available online two – three weeks after they air. Right in between the two episodes is the day the world honors the one and only Crocodile Hunter – Steve Irwin Day. In honor of Steve’s, and the Irwin family’s, huge impact on conservation and inspiration – Wildlife Images is offering free general admission, free encounters and special opportunities on Friday, November 15.