The animal community was devastated when, on September 4th, 2006, Australian Steve Irwin was stung by a stingray’s barb, which punctured his heart, and caused fatal cardiac arrest. A larger than-life-figure, his death (one of only three known to have been caused by stingrays) seems mythically ironic: an unusually passive Irwin inexplicably hit in the most unlikely of places. After years of cringing and gasping at his fearless antics as the “Crocodile Hunter” it is hard to believe Irwin was not invincible after all. As one Animal Fair staffer said, “The first time we watched his show, my father and I were shaking our heads in disbelief. It seems impossible that someone was really performing those stunts.”
The Crocodile Hunter series premiered in October, 1996 on Discovery’s Animal Planet network and Irwin soon became a frequent guest in family rooms, around the world. His series was so popular that in 2002 it was spun off into the movie Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, which grossed over nine billion dollars on opening weekend. Other productions included The Croc Diaries and New Breed Vets. Irwin, along with his wife, Teri, dog Sui, and all the family and friends at the Australian Zoo, was an international sensation. The legions of fans who have logged on the Animal Planet’s memorial forum are a testament to this.
Irwin’s child-like enthusiasm for animals was overwhelming and his message of conservation and conscious consumerism was infectious. He used the Australian Zoo and his entertainment projects to raise funds for protecting the Australian wilds that he held so dear, including the personal purchase by Steve and Teri Irwin of over 60,000 acres of wildlife habitat for the sake of preservation. The Irwins also set up Wildlife Warriors which is still financed by the Australian Zoo, even though the charity is run independently of the family. In fact, quiet philanthropy was a hallmark of Irwin’s life; though he became a household name with his shows, far fewer people were made aware of all his private efforts to save species and individual animals.
Though Irwin was not without controversy, his actions on-camera often sparkling hot debate within the environmentalist community (and even once with children’s activists), it is inarguable that his heart was in the right place. His eternal love for nature was obvious. When Irwin emphatically said, “Crocs rule!”, we knew he meant it.
– Victoria Harkavy