For over a decade, Steve Irwin, better known as The Crocodile Hunter, entertained the masses as he tamed and toyed with some of the world’s most dangerous animals. Before a tragic underwater encounter took his life, Irwin was fearless – as long as he did not face one animal.
A Risk Taker
Steve Irwin’s whole career centered on his ability to connect with and interact with wild animals. This risky career made him a celebrity, but he flat out refused to work with one of the planet’s most intriguing species…
Becoming The Crocodile Hunter
Stephen Robert Irwin did not become the Crocodile Hunter overnight, however, from a young age he seemed destined to achieve this fate. He did not have a globally broadcasted series yet but became infatuated with animals at a young age. His parents Bob and Lyn Irwin founded their own zoo called Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park after they moved from Melbourne, Australia. Steve grew up surrounded by giant reptiles learning to care for them as he got older.
Handling Animals Three Times His Size
Growing up around crocodiles was not enough for Steve. He had to be in the middle of the action. His parents started him off slowly, allowing him to feed the animals daily and handle some maintenance duties. For his sixth birthday, Steve received a huge present – a 12-foot long scrub python. Little Steve would have been no match for the massive snake, so he had to play with his new pet with his father’s supervision.
Stepping Into The Ring With The Beasts
Before long, Steve was ready to take on his future namesake. Bob Irwin finally introduced Steve to crocodiles when he was nine years old. He would not let him get near the ferocious reptiles without his supervision and until Steve had learned enough about them. That same year, Steve had his first bout with a crocodile. With his father nearby, Steve wrestled a crocodile as if it were one of his pals.
Taking Over The Family Business
As Steve grew older and became more skilled around his scaly friends, he took on more and more responsibility in the park. He became a volunteer with Queensland’s East Coast Crocodile Management program which gave him even more hands-on opportunities wrestling, capturing, and caring for crocodiles. He caught more than 100 crocodiles which were housed at his family’s reptile park or relocated to similar parks and zoos. In 1991, Bob and Lyn stepped aside, and Steve began managing the park.
One Happy, Reptile-Loving Family
The zookeeper had a chance encounter that would change his life in 1991. Terri Raines was touring Australia as she visited various wildlife rehabilitation centers when she decided to stop by Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park. She was a naturalist from Eugene, Oregon and they fell for each other instantly. On meeting Steve, Terri said, “I thought there was no one like this anywhere in the world. He sounded like an environmental Tarzan, a larger-than-life superhero guy.”
Tying The Knot
It only took four months of dating before Steve proposed to Terri. She ecstatically said yes, and they were married in her hometown of Eugene on June 4, 1992. In typical Steve Irwin fashion, the couple spent their honeymoon not relaxing on a beach in Bora Bora or enjoying the lush hillsides and wineries of Tuscany but trapping crocodiles together. This truly was a match made in heaven. The film footage from their “romantic” getaway would soon launch them into stardom.
A Romantic Proposal Was Not His Style
When Terri describes Steve’s proposal, it never includes any grand romantic gestures. She said, “We worked in the zoo, and we were cutting down this widow-maker tree that had been hit by lightning and had to come down. It took us a day. We were absolutely exhausted. I’ve got leaves in my hair, I’m sweating, and we’re sitting there at the end of the day and I’m thinking,’My back is killing me.’ Steve says, ‘So what do you reckon, you want to get married?’”
A Honeymoon For All To See
In an unusual move, Steve and Terri brought a friend with them on their honeymoon. They wanted someone to capture their magical vacation of trapping crocodiles, so they asked John Stainton to join them. With such great footage professionally shot by Stainton, Steve and Stainton decided to do something with it. In the end, it became the pilot episode of The Crocodile Hunter, the show that introduced and endeared Steve to millions of people.
An International Sensation
The Crocodile Hunter debuted in Australia in 1996. It was such a hit domestically that it began showing up on North American television the following year. Audiences could not get enough of Irwin. Between his khaki shorts, enthusiasm, and catchphrase “Crikey!”, Steve became one of the most recognizable people on Earth. The show was a perfect combination of entertainment and natural world education. He showed people how to love the world around them, even if they could eat you whole.
Finding His Niche On TV
The Crocodile Hunter was only the beginning for Steve Irwin. Its success became so sweet for Animal Planet that they expanded the property into a few spinoffs. The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course was a fictional feature film starring Steve and Terri as they attempted to save crocodiles from poachers and the CIA. Animal Planet also aired Croc Files and Crocodile Hunter Diaries, a children-focused show and a close-up look at the Irwins’ lives, respectively.
A Family Man
Terri and Steve’s life together was glorified on television from nearly the start of their relationship. It was natural that their children would eventually become a part of the program. They have a daughter, Bindi, and a son, Robert. Bindi Sue Irwin is named after Steve’s two favorite animals: a saltwater crocodile named Bindi, and a Staffordshire Bull Terrier named Sui. Both kids would become regular guests on his various programs. Bindi later won season 21 of Dancing With The Stars.
Keeping Fit For The Crocs
Wrestling crocodiles is no easy task. Steve Irwin stayed in great physical form so he could more easily handle the wild crocodiles. For exercise, Irwin trained in Gaidojutsu. Gaidojutsu is a form of mixed martial arts made popular by MMA trainer Greg Jackson. Irwin was also a huge fan of Australian rules football and rubgy. On one occasion, he stopped by training camp for the Brisbane Broncos rugby team where he tried to tackle star player Shane Webcke unsuccessfully.
While millions of people loved tuning in worldwide to see Steve and Terri handle various animals, some were not pleased with his show. Many people that the Irwins were exploiting the animals on his show for personal gain and celebrity. He received a wave of backlash in 2004 when he fed a crocodile with his infant son in his arms. People accused Irwin of child endangerment, but he was never formally charged. He claimed that his son was never in danger.
With his celebrity at its apex, Steve went out on location to shoot for a docu-series called Ocean’s Deadliest. Inclement weather had shut down production at Batt Reef that day, so Steve decided to do some shallow water snorkeling to capture some footage for his daughter’s show, Bindi the Jungle Girl. This September 4th, 2006, would be the Crocodile Hunter’s last day on earth. Sadly it came at the “hands” of an animal that Irwin had dealt with numerous times before.
A Stinging Defeat
Equipped with his snorkel and fins, Irwin began swimming in the chest deep water. He encountered a beautiful near-seven foot stingray which he had hoped to capture on tape swimming away from him. When Irwin got too close, the stingray became startled and began wildly stabbing at him with its barbed tail. The stingray appeared to react defensively as it felt cornered. One of the strikes pierced Irwin’s heart, and he bled to death.
The Public Mourns
Steve Irwin’s death hit many of his fans hard. An outpouring of public grief and reflection fell across the world. Australia’s Prime Minister at the time, John Howard, offered a tribute of his own. He said, “I really do feel Australia has lost a wonderful and colorful son. He took risks; he enjoyed life. He brought immense joy to millions of people, particularly to children.” Howard was right – Irwin brought joy to more people than he could ever know.
Keeping It Out Of The Press
In the era of TMZ, it is shocking that the press never got a hold of the videotape from Steve’s fateful swim. After Steve’s death, cameraman Justin Lyons gave the footage over to Terri. He agreed that the public should not be able to witness the tragedy. Terri appropriately decided to destroy the tape as seeing it would cause enormous heartbreak. Lyons went on a press tour to keep the facts straight in the media.
A Wild Finish
As tragic as Steve Irwin’s death was, many of his closest friends were not surprised at how he met his maker. Justin Lyons spoke to the Los Angeles Times about Steve. He said, “It was probably always going to be something weird with Steve…it would always be a crazy, silly accident. And as it turns out that’s exactly what it was.” While dying at the hands of an animal is ironic for the Crocodile Hunter, there were a couple of animals he did not mess with.
Taking The Blame
Before he died, Steve was known for never blaming the animals for any injuries he sustained. You can see Steve bitten by animals on numerous occasions on The Crocodile Hunter, but do not expect Steve to ever get mad at the animals for striking him. Steve believed that his knowledge of animals and his extensive training should allow him to avoid these occasions. He would blame himself for not understanding the situation well enough.
What’s In A Name?
Growing up in Beerwah meant that Steve grew up in a small town of only 6,000 people. As his status grew, Beerwah became more and more proud of their prodigal son. To honor their fallen hero, Beerwah named a street after him. In an odd case of irony, the street is very dangerous and has had a history of accidents. It’s quite fitting that Steve’s life was anything but normal with danger lurking at every corner.
A Perfect Honor For Steve
In addition to an Australian road, Steve also would never have the chance to see his name on the side of a massive ship. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society named their flagship 194-foot ship, the MY Steve Irwin, after him. Steve would be proud to see the boat bearing his name in action against illegal whaling and fishery activities. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society acts to protect marine life and to keep the public informed.
Get Those Things Away From Me
Steve Irwin did not scare easily during his too-short life. That did not mean that he loved working with every animal. In an interview with Scientific American magazine, Steve discussed the animal that does not seem to like him very much. “For some reason, parrots have to bite me. That’s their job. I don’t know why that is. They’ve nearly torn my nose off. I’ve had some really bad parrot bites.” Who knew these beautiful birds had an attitude?
A Knock On His Machismo
It seems strange that a parrot would be such a major foe for the Crocodile Hunter. Here was a guy that casually and frequently wrestled with crocodiles for fun. These lightweight and colorful birds caused a great amount of stress for Irwin. He was quite uncomfortable around the tropical birds. With some close calls in the past, Irwin decided that it was better to avoid them than uneasily and possibly clumsily handle them.
Reason For Concern
While the bird may look beautiful and peaceful, a parrot’s beak can do plenty of damage to an unexpected victim. Without the appropriate training, you might find yourself on the wrong end of this bird’s big bite. The beak of a large macaw, the most well-known species of parrot, has the bite strength of 700 pounds per square inch. That is similar to the bite strength of a large dog. No wonder Irwin did not mess around with them.
Putting His Life On The Line
It’s undeniable that Irwin loved all animals, even the ones that scared him. It was more important to him to help animals than it was to look out for his own health. In an interview with Scientific American, Steve said, “I put my life on the line to save animals. I have no fear of losing my life if I have to save a koala or a crocodile, or a kangaroo, or a snake, mate, I will save it.”
The Beast He Avoids
While Steve might be scared of losing an eye from a parrot, there is one animal above all that he would avoid at all costs. In Steve’s Most Dangerous Adventures, a compilation of previously unreleased footage before Irwin’s death, Steve revealed one of the most dangerous animals in the world. It was not a known killer like a lion or a shark, but one of the goofiest looking animals in the kingdom – the hippopotamus.
An Aggressive Herbivore
The hippopotamus seems like an odd choice on paper. For one, the hippo is an herbivore. Biting down on humans does not seem necessary. However, hippos are incredibly aggressive animals, even if they appear lethargic. In a 2001 interview, Steve said, “I ran into some really angry hippos. In some countries of Africa, hippos are known to cause more human fatalities than any other species even more so than Nile crocodiles. And by crikey, they get grumpy. They pushed me right out of the river.”
Taking The Long Way
In one encounter with hippos, Steve went to great lengths to avoid the aggressive mammals. He said, “They’ve got huge great tusks, and when they get angry, they charge straight at ya. I was quite fearful and respectful of them, so I went around ’em. I left my canoe in the end.” He felt it was unnecessary to go back for his canoe and risk upsetting the hippos and getting injured in the process, so he observed them from afar.
Keeping Some Distance
Irwin was no fool around the herd of hippos. Staying away was his best option. Individual hippos are not nearly as dangerous as they are in groups. Hippos are highly territorial. An outsider encroaching on their space can agitate the entire herd and cause them to act out. If the alpha male of the herd is present, you could be in for even more trouble. Irwin understood the risks of the herd attacking him and smartly stayed away.
The WHO Backs Him Up
Irwin had every right to be afraid of hippos, even if they make for cute stuffed animals. The World Health Organization released some shocking statistics about human deaths by an animal. In 2016, they claimed that 100 people died from lion attacks. Over the same year, nearly 3,000 people died because of over-aggressive hippos. People foolishly think that hippos are kind and adorable when in fact they are a bigger killer than the king of the jungle.
No Stopping The Hippo
As more information about the instability of hippos comes out and people understand the danger that they can be, we can hopefully lower the number of hippo-caused casualties. Still, their aggression continues to be an issue. In addition to their hostile attitude, their size allows them to overpower others. They grow to near one and a half tons, an immovable force to humans. When a hippo starts charging your way, you better head for the hills.
What Big Teeth You Have
What makes hippos truly dangerous is their unassuming speed and outrageous bite. If Irwin were to have gotten too close, he could have found himself on the losing end of a powerful bite. Hippos bite strength is harder than that of a lion, tiger, and grizzly bear. With a maximum speed around 20 mph, they are capable of tracking down or chasing away any intruder that threatens them. Irwin would have had no chance outrunning these barreling beasts.