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Crocodile Hunter widow plans expansion

world Updated: Mar 20, 2008 11:28 IST

The widow of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin announced plans on Thursday to massively expand his Australia Zoo and turn it into a tourist attraction comparable to Disneyland.

Terri Irwin also denied rumours she was poised to sell the zoo in Queensland state and return to her native United States with children Bindi and Robert.

Under the plans unveiled on Thursday, Australia Zoo will expand more than tenfold from 28 hectares (70 acres) to 400 (990 acres) over the next five years, with staff numbers increasing from 550 to 2,000.

The revamped attraction will include a 350-room hotel and an African safari park, although Irwin said it would maintain her late husband's focus on conservation.

"(We) want to be Destination Australia, kind of like that Disney feel where a lot of Australians go and see Disneyland and then say, 'what else is there to do in America?'," she said.

"It will be so exciting for people to come here and be able to see the wildlife, spend the night, stay as long as they want, have the spa treatments and the guided tours and the experience and then to be able to lash out and see the rest of Australia."

Irwin said she was staying in Australia, declaring: "Australia Zoo is Irwin family owned and always will be."

She also denied a rift with her husband's father, Bob, who left the zoo earlier this month amid reports he was unhappy it was becoming primarily an entertainment venue, rather than a conservation resource.

"I just can assure everyone that I love Bob dearly ... he's gone through so much grief losing his wife and his only son that I will respectfully just leave it at that," she said.

Steve Irwin, who became internationally famous for his risky stunts with dangerous animals, was killed by a stingray barb in September 2006 while filming on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.