Steve Irwin with fists raised above his head and smiling.

The Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve

Birds-eye-view of Steve Irwin Reserve.


The Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, located on Cape York Peninsula, is a vast mosaic of rainforests, wetlands and savannas. The reserve has been set aside as a tribute to the conservation work of Steve Irwin and a place for scientific research and discovery.

Formerly known as Bertiehaugh Station, a cattle property dating from the famous, (or infamous depending on your reading of history), Jardine family, the reserve lies on the western side of Cape York, north of the bauxite-mining town of Weipa. At its southern end, it fronts the Wenlock River; to the north, the Ducie River forms another natural boundary.

After the passing of Steve, the Australian Government purchased the Bertiehaugh Cattle Station as a living memorial, in honour of Steve’s commitment to conservation. The Irwin family and Australia Zoo proudly took on the role of management of the reserve under the Australian Government’s National Reserves System.

Just a few days after being named the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, plans were announced to mine the reserve by clearing the vegetation and extracting the bauxite below the topsoil.

The Irwin family took up the battle to protect Steve’s Place and the unique flora and fauna that rely on the sanctuary of the reserve. Millions of dollars and six years later, the Australian Government passed legislation to protect the reserve from the threat of strip mining and declared it safe.

Wildlife of the Reserve

Cape York is renowned for its wildlife and wild places; the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve has become a haven for many species as the surrounding areas are abolished by the mining industry. Wildlife surveys are still being conducted and new species are being constantly discovered.

There are currently over 40 species on the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve that are of conservation significance. These species are either threatened with extinction, are endemic to the area or have a restricted distribution.

So far there have been records of:

  • 21 Amphibians
  • 48 Fish species
  • 170 Birds
  • 20 Mammals
  • 47 Reptiles

Research and Discovery

Scientists from around the world participate in a number of different research programs studying the biodiversity on the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve.

The outcomes from these research projects include the continuing conservation of our native wildlife and their unique habitats.

Research programs include:

  • Biodiversity surveys
  • Hydrology of the bauxite plateau
  • Fire ecology
  • Palaeontology
  • Archaeology/Anthropology

Species focused studies:

  • Estuarine crocodiles
  • Freshwater elasmobranchs (cartilaginous fish)
  • Palm cockatoos
  • Microbats
  • Spiders
  • File snakes
  • Terrestrial snails
  • Carnivorous plants
  • Antilopine wallaroos
  • Medicinal plant species
  • Northern quoll

There are currently over 170 crocodiles being tracked throughout the Wenlock River. Terri, Bindi and Robert continue the work that Steve started, by undertaking the annual crocodile research trip on the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve each year.

“ The conservation and research programs, plus related infrastructure on Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, are principally funded by Terri, Bindi and Robert Irwin and Australia Zoo. All research findings are published and add substantially to the world wide scientific knowledge base. By joining our research and education expeditions you, not only, get an exceptional learning experience and adventure, but the fees you have paid contribute to research, the cost of running the reserve and ensuring the future of this magnificent place. "

Ten Fast Facts of the Reserve

1. The Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve was established in 2007, to recognise Steve’s contributions to conservation.

2. While the surrounding area has been severely altered by mining, the 330,000-acre reserve acts as a stronghold for native fauna and flora.

3. Scientists from around the world have been overwhelmed by the area’s unique ecosystems. Recent studies have included hydrology, herpetology, ornithology, ichthyology, botany, pharmacology, mammalogy and arachnology.

4. The Wenlock River catchment makes up part of the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve and has the richest diversity of freshwater fish of all Australian rivers. Over 48 species of fish have been recorded in the river.

5. Australia Zoo and The University of Queensland have initiated a number of research projects that take place on the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve. We are currently tracking the movements of saltwater crocodiles, whiptail rays, bull sharks and the critically endangered spear-tooth shark.

6. The wildlife reserve and surrounding waterways are vital for the sustainability of saltwater crocodiles and is home to one of the largest breeding populations of these crocodiles on earth.

7. A new sub-ecosystem was created to describe the forests that surround the perched bauxite springs that are found on the reserve. One of the spring forests is so unique that it has been identified as one of a kind, with no other similar ecosystem known to exist.

8. Rangers on the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve use traditional fire management techniques that have been passed down through generations of indigenous Australians. In 2014, the rangers hosted a fire workshop to assist traditional owners to pass on their knowledge to younger generations.

9. Many of the animal species that are found along the Wenlock and in Cape York are found nowhere else in Australia. Some of these species are also native to nearby Papua New Guinea.

10. The Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve supports 35 different ecosystems, providing habitat and refuge for at least 157 native bird species, 43 reptile, 21 amphibian, 20 mammal and 48 freshwater fish species – a total of 282 vertebrate species.