When the world was first introduced to Australian native Stephen Robert “Steve” Irwin back in 1996 on his Animal Planet show Crocodile Hunter, audiences couldn’t help but love the wide-eyed, ebullient conservationist at first sight. His knowledge for animals and his exuberant personality drew people to him like no other wildlife expert before or since. It is hard to believe that we said goodbye to Steve ten years ago.
You'll be my hero for my entire existence. I love you more than words can describe. pic.twitter.com/R9OUzGWUwO
— Bindi Irwin (@BindiIrwin) September 3, 2016
Irwin not only knew about animals, he felt like he was one with them. Giant, hairy tarantulas and heavy-lidded tigers felt at ease in his capable hands. However, what he was most famous for was his natural connection to reptiles. He had no problem crawling on the ground next to bacteria-laded monitor lizards or wrapping himself up in hundred pound boa constrictors. Then, of course, there were the crocodiles. Irwin swam, played and fed these toothy, prehistoric creatures, treating them more like family pets than dangerous animals. He felt more at home in the murky swamps than he did in his own living room. He even went so far as to name his first child, daughter Bindi Sue, after his favorite crocodile. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for these amazing beasts.
Just some of the outrageous things Steve Irwin did in his career as the Crocodile Hunter
Some people thought he was crazy. They couldn’t understand how someone could get this close to what they considered to be death machines. He not only hung out with these menacing beasts but made a point to pick them up as well. Irwin could be seen more often than not lovingly petting the heads of spitting cobras or ticking the bellies of hissing alligators like a real life Dr. Doolittle. It was hard to understand why he continued to risk his life for animals that surely just wanted to kill and eat him. But for Irwin, these creatures were beautiful and were meant to be admired. Yes, they were dangerous. But they were also exotic and amazing and they offered so much information. After his family, his main passion in life was conservation and keeping the world a clean, natural place for the animals with whom we share this planet. When asked about the income from his television show, Irwin said, “Every cent we earn from Crocodile Hunter goes straight back into conservation. Every single cent.”
This enthusiasm didn’t stop with the TV show. Irwin also owned and operated Australia Zoo near the Glass House Mountains in Australia. Initially started by his parents back in 1970, Australia Zoo was where Irwin learned to love and respect wild animals, wrestling his first croc at age nine. His passion for the creatures in his care only grew after he married his wife, Terri, back in 1992. The footage of their honeymoon spent trapping crocodiles became the first episode of Crocodile Hunter, which aired four years later. With the show, Irwin was able to both educate and inform the public about the animals around them in a fun, hands-on way. Irwin once said, “I believe that education is all about being excited about something.” Calling him excited is an understatement. Irwin could get even the crabbiest television watcher interested in his spiel. By the end of his program, that Grumpy Gus knew something new and probably didn’t even realize he learned anything.
Unfortunately, Steve Irwin was taken from us too soon. To the surprise of no one, everyone’s beloved Crocodile Hunter was killed by one of the animals he loved. On September 4, 2006, Irwin and his cameraman, Justin Lyons, were taking a break from filming sharks at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef for a new nature documentary called Ocean’s Deadliest. While scuba diving, the pair came across a giant, 3.5 meter wide stingray. They decided to film it for 8-year-old Bindi’s debut TV show, Bindi the Jungle Girl. Irwin floated behind the stingray as it swam away, but instead of taking off, the creature propped itself up and began stabbing the conservationist in the chest with its barbed tail stinger. One of those shots got Irwin directly in the heart. Lyons explained that, even if they had had immediate medical access, the damage to Irwin’s heart was too severe. Within minutes, he was dead.
The news of the Crocodile Hunter’s death spread like wildfire. Many could not believe that the 44-year-old was really gone. They would not let the world forget him, however. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society named a ship in his honor. The street that leads to the Australia Zoo was officially renamed Steve Irwin Way. An asteroid discovered in 2001 was named 57567 Crikey after the conservationist’s signature catchphrase. The world may go on, but we will not forget the love, fervor and passion that poured out of this amazing man.