CQ Wildlife Warrior digs deep
AS THE country begins to pick itself up after the devastating scourge of bushfires and continues to sweat through drought conditions, one pint-sized animal-lover is casting his eyes to the undergrowth and bushland - eager to help our furry, scaly and feathered friends get back on their feet.
At just five years old, Owen Harris has made a name for himself across the country as not only Robert Irwin's biggest fan but also Central Queensland's very own Wildlife Warrior.
Dressed in his khakis and armed with a big smile, a plethora of facts, infectious enthusiasm and a thumbs up - Owen has spent most of his young life helping to raise awareness about Australia's abundant wildlife through his fundraising efforts, beach clean-ups, hands-on experiences with animals across the country and his online videos documenting his adventures.
Inspired by the recent bushfire crisis, which has seen the devastating loss of a billion Aussie creatures, Owen and his parents, Paul and Bluey, have been making stations to provide easy to access water for animals in need.
"Animals are having trouble finding water and some of the animals are getting hurt and they have to get to the water," Owen said.
The family has made around a dozen of the stations, attaching them to trees at The Caves, Capricorn Coast, and their backyard at Bondoola. They will take one to Great Keppel Island next week.
"We put a tracker on them so you can see the animals come," Owen said.
"We've seen birds and wallabies at ours - we put it up a couple of days ago.
"We need to teach people to protect wildlife and not hurt the wildlife."
Spying an empty bottle on the ground, Owen jumped to his feet during his interview, seizing the bottle and promptly taking it to the recycling.
His mother, Bluey, a ranger with Parks and Wildlife, said Owen "can't walk past rubbish and he'll give you a big lecture if you walk past any".
His respect for wildlife and the environment was fostered by his ranger parents, but his passion is something of his own - it just comes naturally.
"Owen has loved animals since he was little. He's always sitting there watching birds or lizards and is in the moment," Bluey said.
"He's pretty confident and he's got really good skills and a good connection with animals. He doesn't jump or scare them away and he's very gentle."
Last year, Owen was named Wildlife Warrior of the Year after raising $7115.40 for Australia Zoo's conservation charity, Visionary Wildlife Warriors - beating out fundraisers and supporters from around the world.
Owen's latest project is the installation of PVC water stations around Central Queensland and Capricorn Coast bushland.
For the top spot, Owen had to show commitment to the cause through conversation missions including planting native trees and clean-ups.
"That was very special for a then four-year-old to achieve anything like that," Bluey said.
When the family got the call in late October that Owen had been selected, he was over the moon.
"He couldn't stop jumping up and down," Bluey said.
Owen, grinning as he remembered the special day, said it was "so good".
The family was invited to the Steve Irwin Gala in November, where Owen finally got to meet his hero, Robert, on the red carpet as well as Terri and Bindi Irwin.
Enamoured by Owen's passion and vast knowledge, Robert invited him to spend the day at Australia Zoo - where Owen got the grand tour, up close and personal with the zoo's many creatures.
The experience was enough to solidify the young boy's promising future.
"I'm going to work at Australia Zoo!" he said.