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Like father, like jungle daughter

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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 at 5 p.m. on the Discovery Kids Channel.

"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 blond-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. 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 treehouse 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 treehouse. 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 treehouse 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 Steve Irwin is featured prominently in early episodes doing such things as climbing trees to visit the nests of endangered orangutans. In one comical moment, a nest's startled resident briefly shakes a fist in Mr. 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 girl, 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."

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