LIFE'S a zoo for Chris Humfrey, and he wouldn't have it any other way, writes SARAH HUDSON
Crocodiles, quolls, venomous snakes and fairy penguins may wander around Chris Humfrey's Macedon private zoo but, out of the thousands of creatures under his care, it is one humble green tree frog that really has a place in his heart.
Slimy little Jabba sits in pride of place in his glass home in Chris's office and has kept watch over his owner for about 30 years.
"I found him when I was aged five on a family holiday - he was sitting on the urinal in a Coffs Harbour public toilet," Chris, 37, says.
"But he's not part of the zoo anymore, he's gone into retirement."
Jabba - indeed, the menagerie of 160 different species on the 5ha property - is a testament not just to Chris's lifelong love of all creatures, but also to the zoologists' dedication to environmental education.
If his boyish looks seem at all familiar to you, that's because you've probably tuned into the recent ABC TV series, Wild Life, which revealed the 24/7 chaos and capers of life at the Wild Action zoo in Macedon, and his crusades around the country ferreting out the slithery and furry with his wife, Nicole, and two daughters.
Otherwise, you may recognise Chris from his two-year appearance on TV's Talk to the Animals, or perhaps he has paid your workplace a visit with an educational animal display.
Chris is fast becoming the new face of the environment in this country.
Many have compared him with the late Steve Irwin - a comparison he does not shrink from.
Yes, there is the same devoted enthusiasm for nature and, yes, Chris has an Irwin-esque energy for life (albeit without the Australian vernacular).
"I'm borderline ADHD," says Chris, who recently developed stress-induced blindness in his right eye that has permanently reduced his vision by 20 per cent.
"I'm eccentric, but I figure it's OK as long as I keep on the right side of it and don't fall off."
He grew up at the bottom of Mt Dandenong at Kilsyth and his first memories are of catching tadpoles and finding snakes.
"I do think mine was the last generation where children got out of the house and explored, where mum and dad kicked you out and you spent your day outside. It wasn't so commercial or computer-driven back then," he says.
"We closet our kids up now. We are losing that hunter-gatherer instinct. After all, we are animals - we've just forgotten we are. We've lost our love of nature."
From about the age of five he had a mini zoo in the backyard. His father, a teacher, built his son a reptile shed, in which Chris housed about 40 snakes, terrifying his parents with carcasses of rats and mice stored in the freezer to feed his brood.
Then there were the possums, exotic birds, kangaroos and the odd crocodile.
When the Humfrey family went away for holidays, Chris and his brother collected local creatures and set up mini zoos at the front of the caravan, charging 15c for visitors.
When he studied science (majoring in zoology) at Melbourne University, his human housemates grew tired of the other tenants and moved out.
"I realised it was getting far-fetched and I needed a proper facility, so I turned from hobbyist to professional," Chris says.
In 2000, he bought the Macedon property, a former deer farm complete with enclosures; and in the same year married Nicole, whom he met at uni where she was studying microbiology.
The wild ride has not stopped since.
One night recently, Chris says, he was awake all night - the dingoes were on heat and were fighting.
"Because I live on the property I hear them fight. I got up at 3am with a torch to break them up," he said.
"This is not a nine-to-five job, it's 24/7. There's always something happening.'
- Wild Action zoo, Macedon, details: www.wildaction.com.au