Not just crocs.
Several hundred elementary-aged children went gaga over a University of Oregon visit from a famous family with local roots.
Cameras flashed, children sprang from their chairs, jumped up and down - and some even gasped - as the Irwin clan, Terri, Bindi and Robert, rolled out across the Erb Memorial Union ballroom stage to greet more than 700 community members, who came to hear the family talk about ways children can participate in conservation efforts.
Eugene native Terri Irwin, wife of the late "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, is best known for her appearances on her husband's famed Animal Planet show of the same title. Steve Irwin died in September 2006 after being pierced in the chest by a stingray barb while filming near Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
But his family is living out his legacy.
"I think it's amazing how much the Irwin family does for nature," said 7-year-old Ashin Long, a McCornack Elementary School student. "They know a lot about things that can help the Earth."
Thursday's "Kid Empowerment" event kicked off the 28th annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, which runs through the weekend and brings together lawyers and activists. Terri Irwin was scheduled to give the opening keynote address.
Irwin, who became known as the "Crocodile Huntress," owns the Australia Zoo in Queensland, Australia, and with her husband began the Wildlife Warriors Worldwide, a nonprofit wildlife conservation organization that now operates independently.
But it's not only Steve and Terri Irwin who have lived in the spotlight. Bindi and Robert have secured their own claim to fame - which their mother proudly outlined to the crowd. Among the many notable accomplishments on 11-year-old Bindi's resume? A Daytime Emmy Award for her television show, "Bindi the Jungle Girl." She's the youngest person to ever win the award, her mother said.
Irwin talked about Robert's advanced intellect, noting that the 6-year-old, who has a shaggy blonde 'do like his father, is already in the third grade.
The Irwin children remained calm, cool and collected before the large crowd. Robert even opened the event with his own rendition of the Australian National Anthem.
Some law conference organizers at first had concerns about how the Irwins' fame would sit with the more academic conference crowd. But ultimately, organizers said the Irwins could appeal to a more general audience that the conference typically doesn't reach. The result? All the available tickets to the free event were snapped up several days in advance.
The Irwins, clad in safari style khaki shirts, played several video clips for the crowd, including one about water conservation and a clip from a "60 Minutes" news program about their family's fight to protect the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve in Australia. The reserve, created to commemorate Steve Irwin, has been threatened by strip mining - and Bindi has set out to save it.
And so have some local children: McCornack students plan to write letters in support of the Irwin reserve.
Judy Davies' first- and second-grade split class from McCornack brought a white banner embellished with pictures of the Earth and with circles where each student wrote what he or she could do to help protect the planet. Goals included using less electricity and only buying necessary items. The students had the Irwins sign the banner at the end of the event.
Bindi, in her soft Australian accent, told the children how important it is for them to have their own opinions. She told them that they are the next voters - the next decision makers.
The Irwins, through both humor and serious dialogue, discussed the importance of their crocodile research, which they say is imperative to learning more about the scaly creatures. Turns out, they were preaching to the choir.
"It's been great to hear and see them in person with all that they do for the environment - all the research they do," said 9-year-old McCornack student Ely Cleland.
The event closed with a question-and-answer session that involved prizes.
Children's inquiries included why miners want the land at the Irwin reserve; if the Irwins are happy when they rescue crocodiles; what their favorite animals are; and what the Irwins would save in America, if given the chance. Prizes given out included a red panda stuffed animal, a Bindi beach towel and a pencil pouch filled with school supplies.
During the session, the children continuously jumped up and down in an attempt to be honored with the opportunity to ask a question. One toddler boy even rushed the stage - twice.
"Quick, call security," Irwin said with a laugh.
One girl asked if Bindi ever gets scared when she tackles a crocodile. Bindi's response? She's not scared; she just knows she must be safe.
"What's so amazing is when you jump on, they breathe out, and you can feel their breath in your hair," Bindi said. "It's the most amazing feeling in the world."
But if you asked the children at the event, seeing the Irwins in person might give crocodile-breath-in-the-hair a run for its money for the most amazing feeling.
"It was just all so good," Cleland said. "Really, it was touching."
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|Title Annotation:||City/Region; The Crocodile Hunter's family brings a wider conservation message to the next generations|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Feb 26, 2010|
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