[This summary does not include some of the great film clips found in the audio version…give it a listen, by clicking the Title above.]
The famous Australian “Crocodile Hunter” and environmentalist Steve Irwin was killed September 4th, 2006, during filming in the Great Barrier Reef. Apparently he was swimming over a large Sting Ray, in shallow water, when the Ray stung him in the chest, perhaps causing a heart attack. He was 44, leaving his wife and TV partner Terri and their two children.
Irwin brought the least lovable creatures to televisions and movie theatres around the world in his documentaries for Animal Planet, his own Crocodile Hunter TV series, and a semi-spoof movie “Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course.” At least half a billion people, in 136 countries, watched the intrepid Irwin dodging snarling crocs, the most poisonous snakes, lions, and leopard seals. Did I mention the deadly insects walking on his face?
Steve Irwin, and his character knock-offs, have appeared everywhere. Lately he was in a Federal Express commercial (where the anti-venom arrived too late by some other courier), in the cartoon series South Park, and even in a trailer for Eddie Murphy’s Dr. Doolittle sequel.
Born in 1962, into a working class family in Australia’s bush region, Irwin followed his father’s love of reptiles, learning how to leap into the water and rope a crocodile at the age of 8 or 9. He actually has footage of that. During his twenties, Irwin trapped and relocated pest crocodiles in agricultural or urban areas, that would other have been killed according to the prevailing Australian culture. He then took over his father’s run-down zoo, called the Australia Zoo, building it up into a world-class tourist attraction.
While Irwin attracted a mass audience of young people thrilled with his mad bravado handling dangerous animals, he communicated a message of respect and conservation to a new generation. Steve was a committed environmentalist, always showing the wonder of nature.
In recent years, with his television fame, Irwin promoted and raised funds for large animal conservation, particularly the Tigers of India and Indonesia, and well as primates, and rare reptiles.
At home, Irwin called for a new conservation ethic for Australia. He was worried about the huge amounts of marginal land cleared each year for agriculture and urban building, land removed from the fantastic array of species surviving only in Australia.
According to an article in the Age, satellite mapping showed more than half a million hectares of bush were cleared in Australia in the 1990’s – a rate landing Down Under Land as among the worst in the world for destruction of wild habitat, following only Brazil, Indonesia, Sudan, and Zambia. The World Widllife Fund reported 100 million birds, mammals, and reptiles were wiped out every year during the 1990s, including hundreds of thousands of kangaroos and wallabies, and at least 19,000 Koala bears.
When they could, Steve and Terri bought large tracts of wild land for preserves, and worked with farmers to test ways of co-existence with creatures like Kangaroos and Koalas.
But Steve went way beyond Australia. When rare birds and other species, including jaguars, were threatened by a new dam in the Macal River Valley in Belize, Steve flew in his camera crew for a feature to save them. He became a kind of publicity doctor of last resort for rare animals all over the world.
The Crododile Hunter did a special series in Africa, showcasing the special challenges faced by wild-life there. And Steve rambled around Asia, always with his film crew, finding the elusive Orang Utan, in one of the most touching TV moments ever filmed. He showed us the last Indonesia glacier melting away, warning of climate change. With sudden close-ups, even spiders and bugs became stars on his show.
Irwin always advised tourists not to buy wilflife products, expecially tortoise and turtle shells, or animals skin belts. It seems appropriate that’s the Irwin’s Australia Zoo became the last home for the giant tortoise, knwon as Harriet, reputed to have been taken by Dawin on his 1835 voyage to the Galapagos Islands. The 176 year-old tortoise, weighing 330 pounds, finally died in Steve’s zoo.
Just this spring, the pop sensations “The Veronicas” dedicated themselves as Ambassadors for Wirldlife Warriors Worldwide, the new group set up by the Irwins. Another sign of the young audience turning to Steve’s inspiration to save creatures.
A passionate environmentalist has died, doing what he loved best. See ya, Steve.