WHEN Australia's self-styled "Crocodile Hunter", Steve Irwin, was killed by a stingray's barb, his family pledged to continue his conservation work. Less than five years on, though, the wildlife park he turned into a tourist attraction is rumoured to be drowning in debt and on the verge of closure.
The claims by former employees of Australia Zoo, on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, were denied by Irwin's widow, Terri, yesterday.
She said the dismissal last month of 22 staff was because visitor numbers were down as a result of the global financial crisis and the recent floods.
However, one of the zoo's former curators, Bruce Murdock, said that the problems were a product of mismanagement and a failure to fill the gap left by Irwin,
"They (zoo managers) have blown millions on poor planning and poor execution," he said.
The zoo was founded 41 years ago by Irwin's father, Bob, who handed over the reins in 1991.It was transformed into a wildlife theme park, with 550 staff and more than 1,000 animals
In a statement, the zoo acknowledged that it had cut costs, but said it would have no impact on Irwin's legacy. (© Independent News Service)