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Steve Irwin (1962-2006), also known as the Crocodile Hunter, was a devoted naturalist and wildlife conservationist. His premiere documentary in 1992 made him a beloved television star, as well. Many enjoyed and were inspired by his larger than life Australian personality and his almost childlike enthusiasm and love for animals like crocodiles and snakes.
Irwin was born in Melbourne, Australia, to parents Bob and Lyn. His parents were both devoted to wildlife, particularly to reptiles, and they left Melbourne to begin a small zoo in Queensland. The young Irwin grew up with on the job training in zoo management, animal care and also learned to catch crocodiles. At the age of nine, he caught his first “croc” with the help of his father.
When Irwin finished high school, he worked as a volunteer remover of crocodiles, sending his finds back to the Queensland Zoo. In 1991, he took over ownership of the zoo from his father, and the zoo was renamed the Australia Zoo. Though visitors were still minimal at this time, Irwin’s live show evoked the interest of TV executives who thought a documentary would make for exciting television. The documentary attracted interest, and plans were made to give Irwin his own hour-long show.
In 1992, he married Terri Raines, and the two filmed the first of the Crocodile Hunter shows while on their honeymoon. Irwin’s first show met rave reviews when it aired on Australian television. By 1997, his popularity was ensured in the US and UK, when his documentaries began to air.
Later shows like Croc Files would become especially popular to children. Both children and adults looked up to Irwin as a fearless hero, and also a lovable character. He was known for using Australian terms, such as “Crikey,” and “Mate,” which simply added to his popularity as a television personality.
Irwin expanded the Australia Zoo, and as well, worked on more documentaries with Terri. His shows were thought to have greatly contributed to the popularity of the fledgling channel Animal Planet. He also starred in a popular film,The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course in 2002.
Some criticized Irwin’s deliberate flirtation with danger, saying that such shock value might make for good television, but was not in keeping with the safety a television host of an animal show should maintain. People were especially angered over his feeding a crocodile at the Australia Zoo while holding his infant son Bob.
The “baby Bob” incident led to a slight decline in popularity, but Irwin’s steady work kept the Australia Zoo popular. He appeared on several talk shows to defend his decision, but abided by laws passed later on in Australia, which prohibited young children from being close to crocodiles.
Irwin continued filming documentaries for the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and the Travel Channel. He was working on the development of a kids’ show to be hosted by his ten-year-old daughter Bindi Sue, when his life was cut tragically short. In a bizarre accident, he was stabbed in the heart by the barb of a stingray.
Many thought Irwin’s life might reasonably have been shortened by his dangerous occupation, but certainly no one predicted his life would end due to a stingray. These creatures are particularly gentle, and deaths from stingray encounters are extremely rare. Since his death was filmed, analysis of the attack shows that Irwin in no way was behaving in an inappropriate or risky manner around the ray. Mourners are left to wonder why the man, who in his life gave so much back to the earth and creatures he loved, could have died in such a way.
Australian dignitaries offered Irwin a state funeral, but this was declined by the family. He left behind his wife Terri, daughter Bindi and son Bob. His fans will sorely miss him, and they hope that his legacy will inspire others to greet the natural world with care and respect.
Fifty years ago, I was told to be wary of sting rays, because they could sting you. Then for the next 45 years I was told that the are harmless, the prior knowledge was wrong. Then Steve died. So the info from 50 years ago was true. Reminds me of Lions vs hyenas which flip-flopped over 100 years.