“Working with animals, you have to problem solve all the time. Anything could happen.”

Executive PA Media sat down with Luke Reavely to discuss his long career with Australia Zoo and how it has changed and grown to what it is today.

To say I was excited to meet the EA of Terri Irwin is an understatement. It goes far beyond my admiration for Terri, as an exceptional businesswoman, and wanting to know about how the corporate side of the zoo works.

I was fascinated by Luke himself. He began at the zoo at a 15, doing work experience. After his two-week block, he knew he didn’t want to leave. From there he learned how to care for the animals and became a keeper.

From koalas to elephants, Luke was able to experience the true nature of Australia Zoo. By age 21 he was head elephant keeper. During his time working with the elephants, he also studied Captive Animal Management and Veterinary Nursing through TAFE.

When it was time to move on from the elephants, Luke decided a change of scenery was needed and Terri asked him to become her EA. Flashforward to now and you’ll nd Luke working closely with Terri and her family, helping to keep the zoo running full-steam-ahead.

We spoke about what keeps him at Australia Zoo, aside from the gorgeous wildlife.

“Coming in, everyone was so friendly. It was just this family of people, all aiming towards one goal – which was to help wildlife,” Luke said.

“Working somewhere, but having that greater purpose and what you’re doing is actually making a difference in the world. We’re educating people.”

Moving on to the ever-growing role of an EA, Luke gave his view, drawing from his experience.

“As I started in this role and Terri got to know me and trust me, my role just grew and grew.”

“I’m involved in every aspect of the zoo now. From the hospital to meeting with head keepers about what’s happening in their departments and helping them better manage their departments. Everything.”

When he first started he was taking care of the more traditional, administrative side of the EA role, but over the years, Terri’s EA team has grown, and Luke is at the helm. Having these extra people allows him to be more involved in the wider aspects of the business. Things like organising events.

“We just got back from Los Angeles, where we had our Steve Irwin Gala Dinner,” he explained.

“That’s an international event that we’re organising ourselves. The best way I can describe EAs is that you have to be like a chameleon. You’re going to have to change your colours and t in to what you’re doing.”

Another task that Luke is trusted with organising is the Crocodile Research Trip – every year. Describing it as a “logistical nightmare”, this eight-week trip requires a copious amount of care and planning, as they have 120 people joining them.

“I love doing it, and I love jumping crocodiles – which is the easy part.”

One thing that is completely vital in the constantly changing role of Luke’s EA position is the trust he shares with Terri and her family. Without that trust, Luke would not be able to complete the difficult jobs he’s given on a regular basis.

Since Terri has always been very involved in the running of the zoo, it’s no surprise that she came across the 15-year- old Luke – bright-eyed and ready to give up school to look after the animals full-time. When he became the head elephant keeper, they worked even more closely. They would meet about any issues or updates on the animals and Terri would visit them frequently.

“When I said I wanted to try something new, we started working really closely together,” Luke explained about how he’s built such a strong relationship with Terri. I see Terri pretty much every day. Being an assistant is kind of like having a work-wife or work-husband. You’re on call 24/7.”

So, you’re probably wondering what one does after an in-depth interview with the EA to one of the founders of one of the best zoos in the world. That’s easy – you let them take you to cuddle as many animals as possible, in the time you have left.
Luke took me to meet one of his favourite koala’s, Jaffa. Jaffa was an adorable little old man and you could just see the bond between him and Luke, despite the fact it’s been many years since they worked together.
Next up was Jenny. Now, I know a lot of people are not snake people, but I have absolutely no aversion to these scaly gems and I was so excited to meet Jenny. It took both Luke and I together to hold her when it was my turn for a cuddle, as she is just enormous. Whether it’s koalas or snakes, Luke seemed completely at ease, and totally knowledgeable. Definitely an impressive thing to see.

While wandering around, I got to truly witness a zookeeper moment from Luke. As he was showing me the echidna enclosure, a group of children and their parents gathered around. Excited to see an echidna up-close and interacting with someone, the kids just started ring off question after question. Completely comfortable, Luke stood for a few minutes and gave them all a wonderful lesson on the little guy. He answered all their questions with enthusiasm and gave them a fantastic experience.

Being able to see the man go from EA to Zookeeper in a heartbeat the way he did, proved the reason why the Irwin family have entrusted a huge part of their legacy’s processes to him.

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