Retrieved from www.nydailynews.com
Stephen (Steve) Robert Irwin was a legendary conservationist of his time. An Australian wildlife expert and an animal rights advocate, Steve attained an international celebrity status when his wildlife documentary series became a household favourite across the globe.
Steve’s love for wildlife was not unusual. He was born on 22 February, 1962, to parents, Lyn and Bob Irwin, who were wildlife lovers themselves. Bob, a respected herpetologist, had an immense interest in wildlife, particularly reptiles; while Lyn, a nurse, was passionate about caring and rehabilitating sick, injured and orphaned wildlife animals. Eventually, the couple’s love and passion for nature and wildlife led them to build Beerwah Reptile and Fauna Park (eventually renamed Australia Zoo) in 1970.
“Born in it, mate, yes, absolutely. So my parents actually guided me in the direction that I’ve gone. They started Australia Zoo in 1970 so I was running around in the wilderness since the day I was born.”
– Steve Irwin
While his parents and environment were undoubtedly critical in developing Steve’s love and desire to protect wildlife, Steve’s innate ability and interest in wildlife should not go unrecognised.
“Loved it [wildlife]. Not only did I take to it like a fish to water, when I was four years of age, my dad noticed that I had a gift with wildlife that he’d never seen nor encountered ever before.”
– Steve Irwin
His appreciation and fearless attitude toward reptiles like snakes and crocodiles were atypical for children his age who would commonly perceive them as “evil, scary monsters”. At the tender age of six, Steve caught his first poisonous snake, and at nine, he was already helping his dad, Bob, catch and relocate small rogue crocodiles which would have otherwise been shot or snared in a net by humans.
“ Since I was a boy, from this house, I was out rescuing crocodiles and snakes. My mum and dad were very passionate about that and, I was lucky enough to go along.”
– Steve Irwin
Steve’s enthusiasm and love for crocodiles and other wildlife evidently continued through his adulthood. In the 1980s, Steve volunteered for the East-Coast Crocodile Management Program in which he caught and relocated problem crocodiles in a bid to ensure humans’ safety while protecting the dwindling species. He also actively participated and initiated numerous conservation projects.
In 1991, Steve took over his parents in managing Australia Zoo, with the vision of making it the biggest and best wildlife conservation facility in the world. While working at the zoo, Steve met his wife, Terri, and they got married later on 4 June, 1992. Terri, a former veterinarian, was a woman passionate, too, in wildlife and conservation. She worked alongside Steve in managing the zoo and other conservation projects. Together the couple had two children: Daughter, Bindi Sue Irwin, born July 24, 1998 and son, Robert Clarence Irwin, born 1st of December, 2003.
Immediately after the couple’s wedding, instead of going on a honeymoon, Steve and Terri set out filming a wildlife documentary for his friend, John Stainton. This one-off documentary programme was so well-received among the Australian viewers that it grew to become the series The Crocodile Hunter with 50 episodes over the years from 1997 to 2004. The viewership of this widely-acclaimed documentary series reached an estimated 500 million people across 136 countries.
From then on, Steve was famously dubbed “The Crocodile Hunter”, and continued starring in other wildlife documentaries. Additionally, being such a distinguished conservationist, Steve was often invited to appear on top-rated talk shows such as The Tonight Show and The Oprah Show. As he strongly believed in promoting environmentalism through sharing his exciting experiences with nature rather than preaching to people, Steve saw his documentary series and guest appearances on TV as excellent platforms to empower the public to engage in conservation efforts.
“… he [Steve] admired these amazing apex predators – highlighting their strength, power and survival skills to the world. He made wildlife conservation matter to people who previously would never have given it a second thought. That was his gift; he grabbed your attention and ran away with it.”
– Kelsey Engle, a long-time zoo curator
Steve firmly held that the most effective solution to conservation is education and saw educating others as his lifelong duty.
“…to educate people about conservation. There’s my reason for living, my passion. This is why God created me.”
– Steve Irwin
Australia Zoo was recognised by Steve as a powerful education tool for the public. He hoped that through educating visitors and providing them with an unforgettable wildlife experience, it would spark their interest and desire to protect and conserve wildlife.
“Unless we do something quickly about teaching kids about our dying animals, there isn’t going to be much left, if anything, for the generations that follow.”
– Steve Irwin
Steve was not just a man of words; he did exactly what he preached. Together with his wife, Steve founded Wildlife Warriors Worldwide, a well-known wildlife conservation organisation that spearheaded and partnered many international wildlife conservation efforts.
Steve’s conservation efforts were recognised and highly praised by both the state and federal government of Australia. In 2001, the Australian government awarded Steve the Centenary Medal for his service to global conservation and to Australian tourism. Later in 2003, Steve was presented the Queensland Museum’s highest accolade to recognise his remarkable efforts in furthering the understanding and appreciation of Australian wildlife at an international scale, and to acknowledge his commitment to conservation and the environment.
Unfortunately, Steve died on 4 September, 2006, of cardiac arrest after being pierced in the chest by a stingray barb while filming the documentary The Ocean’s Deadliest.
While Steve had only a relatively short duration of 44 years on Earth, his efforts in wildlife conservation were tremendous, far-reaching and long-lasting. This was apparent in the global success of his wildlife documentaries which taught worldwide audiences that conservation is fun and fulfilling. Steve’s conservation projects went beyond protecting and conserving native Australian wildlife, to wildlife across Asia and Africa. In fact, Steve Irwin was such a deeply admired conservationist that in 2007, the Rwandan Government named a baby gorilla Steve Irwin, while the Sea Shepherd Conservation society renamed its ship Steve Irwin, both done in honour and remembrance of him.
In addition, a 330 000-acre property on Queensland was set aside in memory of Steve Irwin, to honour him and his exceptional contributions to wildlife across the world. Named The Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, the place is a set of wetlands that is home to rare and vulnerable plants and wildlife. The reserve was even declared a protected area by the Queensland Government in 2013.
Finally, Steve has passed on his love, enthusiasm and passion for nature to his wife and children, who would see that his conservation efforts persist.
“I see part of my role at the zoo is to empower kids, to give them information so they have a voice and can speak up and make a difference. That’s the way I can continue Dad’s legacy.”
– Bindi Irwin
Retrieved from www.australiazoo.com.au
In fact, Steve has left such an indelible mark on the world that November 15 has been declared Steve Irwin Day. This day serves to commemorate the life of Steve Irwin and be reminded of his efforts and impact on conservation.