Steve Irwin’s best friend Wes Mannion has quietly stepped down as director of Australia Zoo, with the crocodile hunter’s widow Terri now in total control of the family business.
Daily Mail Australia can exclusively reveal Wes, a longtime Irwin family friend and prominent figure in the zoo for more than three decades, mysteriously left his position without fanfare and with no explanation offered to the public.
The abrupt end to his tenure came just months after he was chosen to be one of just three guests at Bindi’s intimate wedding when it was expedited to March 2020 and attendee numbers slashed due to the impending nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.
Once a stalwart at family events, Mannion has also been notably absent from the Irwins’ social media accounts ever since.
Company records obtained by Daily Mail Australia show Wes’s role as secretary of the business also ended on the same date that year, July 14.
According to the documents, Terri has been both the sole director and secretary of the Queensland wildlife park since his departure more than two years ago.
Despite eagle-eyed fans raising questions about his absence, the leadership change has not been publicly addressed by Australia Zoo, the Irwins, or Mannion.
Wes is pictured with the Irwins at the unveiling of Steve’s star on the Hollywood walk of fame in April 2018
Documents obtained by Daily Mail Australia show that Wes Mannion’s role as director and secretary of Australia Zoo ended on July 14, 2020
Uncertainty about his employment status first began circulating online in December that year after followers realised the 52-year-old was notably missing from key Australia Zoo platforms and projects.
‘Wondering whether Wes Mannion still works at Australia Zoo is occupying way too much of my brain space right now. But, like why isn’t he on the website anyone or on the Crikey ‘Rona special’?’ one woman tweeted.
Between January 2021 to April this year, several others tagged or wrote directly on the zoo or the Irwins social media pages asking if Wes was still an employee – but did not receive a response.
‘Where is Wes Mannion??? Is he ok? I miss him on the shows and I never here you guys talk about him anymore? Is he still the director?’ a self-described ‘big fan’ – tweeted.
‘Yes he disappeared after Covid,’ another person said.
Daily Mail Australia made several calls to Mannion on Thursday, but all went unanswered.
Wes is pictured with the Irwins at the Steve Irwin Day Gala Dinner in 2018 – having been firm family friends for many years
Australia Zoo has been contacted for comment.
Wes first met Steve as a 15-year-old when he visited Australia Zoo, which was then called the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park, with his parents in the 1980s.
After watching Steve, who was eight years his senior, with a crocodile, he begged the wildlife handler to let him work at the zoo.
The legendary conservationist agreed and the pair became very close, with Wes given the nickname Steve’s ‘younger brother’ and dubbed an honorary member of the Irwin clan.
The then-teenager quickly became an integral part of the animal park and, in 1988, was only the second employee outside of the Irwin family to be given full-time employment.
By 1992, he became the head reptile keeper and curator, then picked up a management role in 1995, before being promoted to director in the early 2000s.
Wes was the only non-relative guest at Bindi’s wedding (pictured) to Chandler Powell in March 2020
Following Steve’s shock 2006 death from a stingray attack, Wes maintained a close bond with the family and said he had assumed a ‘father figure role’, helping Terri raise Bindi and Robert, now aged 24 and 18, respectively.
‘I love Terri, she is [like] my sister, love her to death. Most importantly, I owe it to Stevie to look after her. I know that if I’d died, Stevie would have been like a lion with my family,’ Wes told Woman’s Day in 2007.
‘I’ll never be their dad, you can never replace your father, but I’ll be a father figure and loving uncle.’
Photos posted online over the years have shown the tight knit clans together at various events, including the 2018 unveiling of Steve’s star on the Hollywood walk of fame and Steve Irwin Day Gala Dinner in 2015.
More recently, Wes was selected alongside Terri and Robert as one of just three guests to watch Bindi marry Chandler Powell, 25, on March 25, 2020 – just hours before new laws on social gatherings were rolled out due to the pandemic.
Wes was close with the Irwins for decades but has been notably missing from recent photos
Wes pictured with Robert during a crocodile show at Australia Zoo – where he worked for decades
Four months earlier, he asserted his role as a father figure during a live show at Australia Zoo by telling Chandler he had to ‘prove himself’ ‘before marrying Bindi by walking into crocodile-infested waters.
But in the months after the couple married, the close friend became notably absent from their circle, failing to appear in any recent photos with the Irwins – including the newly weds’ one-year-old daughter, Grace Warrior Irwin Powell.
Wes became bestfriends with Steve after the pair met at Australia Zoo in the 1980s
Although the reasons for the separation remain unclear, it is not the first time the famous family have grappled with internal rifts.
After Steve’s death, Terri fell out with his father Bob, who alongside his wife Lyn founded Beerwah Reptile Park – now known as Australia Zoo – in 1970.
Despite handing ownership of the park to Steve and Terri in 1992, he had remained involved in the business – but abruptly left in 2008 after reportedly being at odds with Terri over how it should be run.
He later reached a financial settlement and bought a property near Kingaroy, and has been estranged from Terri and her children ever since.
In 2019, his fractured relationship with Bindi made headlines after she wrote a scathing post in Instagram claiming he had shown ‘no interest in spending time with me or my family’ and had ‘ignored her’ since she was child.
Bindi said her 58-year-old mother still writes to him and sends birthday cards and Christmas gifts, but claims they have received no reply.
While Bob did not respond to the claims, two of Bindi’s cousins spoke out in their grandfather’s defence saying they were ‘furious’ and ‘appalled’ by her comments.
In another quarrel, Terri has also reportedly fallen out with Steve’s older sister Joy Muscillo and her family after firing her husband Frank, the zoo’s general manager, in 2015.
Wes is pictured alongside Terri, Bindi and Robert at a memorial service for Steve at Australia Zoo in Beerwah, in September 2006
How they were: The Irwins were once close-knit, working together at the family-run Australia Zoo on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Pictured: Bob Snr with his children Mandy, Joy and Steve, Steve’s wife Terri, and their two children Bindi and Robert
Frank was reportedly ‘marched off the property’, with Joy and her adult children, who were also employed at the business, leaving soon afterwards.
Speaking to Daily Mail Australia in 2019, Ms Muscillo said the situation was ‘very sad’.
The management revelation comes amid recent rumours the animal sanctuary is in financial strife and had made several staff redundant last year as it struggled to draw visitors amid Covid restrictions.
Citing sources close to the family, New Idea magazine claimed Terri was considered the option of selling the business for personal and professional reasons.
While the reports are unconfirmed, the Sunshine Coast recently announced it would be extending its business model.
Last week, Australia Zoo revealed it will be renting out its grounds as a wedding venue for couples to exchange nuptials.
‘Tie the knot in our world-famous Australia Zoo grounds with our beautiful animals,’ the venue wrote.
‘Whether you are looking for a small intimate experience or a larger scale event, we have the perfect location for your wedding celebrations!’
Two years after Steve’s death, Bob Snr abruptly left Australia Zoo – which he’d founded in 1970 – after reportedly falling out with Terri about how the business should be run. Pictured: Terri, Bob Snr, Bindi and Robert attending Steve’s memorial service in 2006
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk