Monica Rizzo
April 01, 2013 12:00 PM

Most teenagers are obsessed with fashion, following friends on Facebook and getting a driver’s license. Bindi Irwin’s idea of a good time, however, is simply staying home. Of course her home, located in the middle of Queensland’s 100-acre Australia Zoo, is fairly exceptional. “I have such an exciting backyard; it’s more tempting to hug a rhino or feed an elephant,” says the teen of her preferred form of downtime. “Every morning we’re awoken by the sounds of the tigers, and every evening I’m put to sleep by a chorus of birds. It’s so beautiful.”

To hear the 14-year-old wax poetic about the great outdoors, it’s no surprise that the daughter of the late wildlife explorer and The Crocodile Hunter star Steve Irwin has long planned to follow in her father’s footsteps. Now the once pigtailed tyke who hosted Bindi: The Jungle Girl at age 8 has a newfound passion for acting, which she hopes will help raise awareness of the conservation efforts she champions in memory of her father. (Her latest film, Hallmark Channel’s Return to Nim’s Island, has an environmental theme.) “I want to carry on my dad’s legacy,” she says, “and make sure that his message never dies.”

If her level of dedication seems unusual for a teenager, her mother isn’t surprised. “Bindi is an old soul,” says mom Terri, 48. “She has wisdom beyond her years.” Only 8 years old when her father was killed by a stingray in a freak accident in 2006, Bindi, like her brother Robert, now 9, was raised playing with tiger cubs and handling snakes, all while accompanying her parents around the world. Despite the loss she suffered so young, “I consider myself extremely blessed,” says Bindi. “I have a great passion for wildlife, and it’s kind of like a mosquito bite: The more you scratch it, the itchier it becomes.” She is currently leading a petition to save the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve in Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula from being strip-mined and hosting the Australian TV series Steve Irwin’s Wildlife Warriors. “My dad was my own living, breathing superhero,” she says. “Everything I do in life, I do to make him and my mother proud.”

While that doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for her to act like a typical teenager, Bindi says she is more than okay with that. “My life is certainly not common, but I’d like to consider myself a normal person and a normal teenager,” she says, one who logs time with a distance-education program online to accommodate the family’s remote location. “A lot of people ask me, ‘When you’re not working with wildlife, what are you doing?’ And I say, ‘I’m pretty much [always] with wildlife.’ It’s my life. It’s who I am. It’s in my blood.”

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