10/16/2006 at 09:00 AM EDT
Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin may be gone, but his love for animals will live on – through his and his wife Terri's 8-year-old daughter, Bindi.
Bindi Irwin is currently shooting Bindi, The Jungle Girl,
a 26-part wildlife documentary for the Discovery Kids network that is set to debut in January 2007.
"I'm trying to get across the message that don't be afraid of animals, they're just put on this earth to help the environment and everything like that," Bindi tells ABC's Australian Story
in her first formal interview since her father's death in September.
And Bindi will not be the only star of the show: Her late father will appear with her in scenes filmed before his death. "We'll never refer to the fact that Steve is no longer with us," says John Stainton, who was Steve's manager. "The way that it works is that Steve plays co-star to Bindi. It's just the little reactions that she gives to her Dad who's, you know, doing sort of silly stuff."
The opening sequence of Bindi, The Jungle Girl
features animated shots of Bindi and Steve in a jungle, accompanied by a theme song with lyrics, "The Croc Hunter taught her/ and now his only daughter/ is Bindi the Jungle Girl."
"Bindi the Jungle Girl is really lucky because she lives in a tree-house and she gets lots of animals in and out," Bindi tells Australian Story
of her character. "She hangs out with lots of wildlife. She just loves kissing a koala or hugging a snake."
And like her father, Bindi is fearless. "Some people think that I would be afraid of them, but I'm never ever afraid of an animal," she says. "I just get excited and some that are dangerous I just think, 'Oooh! What's going to happen?' and things like that."
Bindi is already proving to be comfortable in the public eye. She gave a moving tribute to her father at his Sept. 20 memorial
service and presented an award
at the Oct. 11 Nickelodeon Australian Kids' Choice Awards 2006.
"Bindi's an amazing little girl," says her grandfather, Bob Irwin. "She is a real professional. The thing about Bindi is, she seems to enjoy it."
But is it too early for her to be working, less than two months after her father's death? Says Steve's best friend, Wes Manion, "Filming for her is very much like other kids' soccer. … Bindi has been basically going, 'Come on, I want to start filming again, I want to start getting out there, I want to start spreading Dad's message.' And I think that's part of her way of coping as well."
Responding to critics who might say Bindi is too young to be in the spotlight, Stainton says, "I think they don't understand that this little girl is very much enjoying what she's doing. She is in control."