SEVEN billion people. It's hard to believe, but for the first time in the history of planet Earth, we are home to seven billion people… And growing. Every day the human population increases by 270,000 people. That means the world needs to build the equivalent of another Brisbane every week.
Nearly half the world's population survives on nothing more than a bowl of rice every day. Incredibly, every 20 seconds a child dies from drinking polluted water and the only ecosystem that is growing larger on our planet is our deserts.
How can we wake up every morning with a sense of optimism? I am reminded of two important points that keep me inspired.
First, we must begin to open dialogue about the elephant in the room. It seems every crisis we currently face in our world stems back to over population. I don't have all the solutions, but population needs to be an issue we talk about.
My second driving force is more personal. After the most incredible 14 years of marriage with Steve, I have experienced just how much change one man can effect. Even though we lost Steve in a freak accident more than five years ago, I still cannot travel anywhere in the world without meeting people who have had their lives touched by Steve's passion and enthusiasm for wildlife and wild places. Although my heart aches every day because I miss Steve so desperately, I am determined to carry on where he left off and keep his dream alive.
His legacy can be seen most in our two beautiful children, Bindi and Robert. I love them with more depth of feeling than I thought possible. I am so proud of their desire to carry on in Steve's footsteps and continue his legacy. Bindi and Robert are also quick to remind me that we are still a family. It is truly the unconditional love we have for our families that keeps us all optimistic for the future.
It wasn't long after Steve and I were married, that he asked me to make him a promise. He said that should anything happen to him, would I promise to keep running Australia Zoo. This was a relatively easy promise to keep, because, at the time, the Zoo was a total of four acres, a few animals and less than ten staff. Today we have 100 acres open to visitors, 1,200 animals and 450 staff.
Our conservation work has increased as well. We have over 420,000 acres set aside as protected habitat. Our endangered species breeding programs are incredibly successful, even returning some animals back to the wild.
Our Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital treats more than 8,000 sick, injured and orphaned wild animals every year. This includes marine creatures, such as sea turtles and incredibly more than 1,000 koalas every year. When Steve named our non-profit organisation Wildlife Warriors, he couldn't have chosen a more accurate name.
Many of our projects have a real feel of going into battle. None more than our Tiger anti-poaching unit in Sumatra. The team we fund to protect the most endangered tigers on the planet are up against bad guys with big guns. The reality is, that when a tiger poacher is taken out of the system, another poacher is simply offered more money. It really boils down to the fact that when the buying stops, the killing stops too. And it's true throughout the world.
Battling the bush meat trade and supporting our graziers means a sustainable future. The whole world will never be vegetarian, but we could feed the whole world with domestic meat. It simply means protecting out wildlife instead of exploiting it into extinction.
For example, international visitors come to Australia to see our kangaroos, not to eat them!
Tourism is so vital to Australia and all Australians. I think I am the luckiest person in the world. Not only do I live in the best country, I am privileged to be a fair dinkum Australian citizen. And to top it off, I work in tourism, which means I get to tell the world just how special it is in Australia.
Tourists are terrific. They visit from the four corners of the Earth, spend lots of money, and then they go away (except for me, of course)! 70 per cent of our international visitors come here with the hope of some sort of wildlife encounter. Since Australia is home to the largest reptile (the saltwater crocodile) and the top eleven most venomous snakes, we really deliver! And never forget that for every job in Australia's mining sector, six people are directly employed in tourism.
Here at Australia Zoo, we are fulfilling Steve's plans to be your one stop to experience the world's wildlife. When we opened Africa just a couple of months ago, we fulfilled a plan Steve first tabled some ten years ago. Steve's vision was to showcase the world's wildlife at Australia Zoo.
Since opening Africa, visitors can now take in the whole experience of the African Savannah. With majestic Boab trees and wide open spaces for the animals to interact, this opportunity is a one of a kind for Queensland. Australia Zoo is the Sunshine State's only mixed exhibit of Giraffes, Zebras and White Rhinos. Our seven month old baby Rhino, Savannah, is just like an over-grown puppy. When she isn't chasing one of the Giraffes, stirring her mum, or covering herself in mud, she is thinking of something naughty to do next! You also have the chance to see one of our regal Cheetah when they are walked out on the lead to survey their Africa.
And we aren't stopping here. We have already observed some not-so-subtle Rhinoceros love… So our herd of six is sure to expand.
This November 15 we will be inviting everyone to join us at Steve Irwin Day. This will be our fifth year to commemorate everything that was most important to Steve: wildlife, wild places, family and fun. We will have a day full of special events and Kate Gosselin (Kate Plus Eight) will be officially launching Steve Irwin Day in our Crocoseum.
Rumour has it that the beautiful Kate may even get a special surprise.
We will also have fundraising activities to support our Wildlife Hospital including a Readtahon for kids. For the whole scoop go online at www.australiazoo.com.au
Together, we can make sure that Australia will always be the most beautiful place on Earth. This is incredibly important as our connection with the land ultimately gives us our strength.