The Crocodile Hunter: A Legacy of Conservation
by Bryanne McDonough | published Mar. 4th, 2016
This year will mark the 10th anniversary of the tragic death of Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter. A television icon and wildlife conservation enthusiast, Irwin left behind two children, Bindi and Robert Irwin, and his wife, Terri Irwin. The Irwins are like the Kardashians of Australia, if the Kardashians were authentic and dedicated their lives to conservation. Bindi and Robert have both hosted successful television shows and co-authored multiple books, while Terri runs the Australia Zoo.
The Australia Zoo began as the Beerwah Reptile and Fauna Park in 1970, owned and operated by Lyn and Bob Irwin, Steve Irwin's parents. Growing up in a zoo meant that Irwin was always close with animals. According to his biography on The Crocodile Hunter website, at the age of 6 he caught his first venomous snake, a Common Brown. He started helping his father catch crocodiles at age 9 by wrestling them in the water. In the 1980s, Irwin spent his time in the remote area of North Queensland, developing techniques now utilized across Australia to capture and manage crocodiles.
Irwin met his wife, then Terri Rains, when she visited his family zoo. In 1992, they got married in Oregon where Terri grew up. Instead of a honeymoon, they filmed a wildlife documentary which later turned into the popular series "The Crocodile Hunter." Despite his television fame, Irwin still owned and managed his family's zoo, which he had renamed to the Australia Zoo. In July 2006, he launched a 10-year business plan to make the zoo one of the best in the world and a beacon for conservation enthusiasts everywhere.
Little could Irwin have known that just a few months later he would die in a tragic accident. He was filming a new documentary near the Great Barrier Reef when he was stung by a stingray's toxic barb. Although it is unusual for a stingray injury to be lethal, paramedics say it was likely that he died instantly, according to ABC News. At only 44 years old, the Crocodile Hunter's death was a tragedy felt worldwide by many who had enjoyed his show.
Now, his family has turned its grief into a passion for conservation efforts around the world. The Australia Zoo's Wildlife Warriors was originally founded by Steve and Terri and aims "to be the most effective wildlife conservation organization in the world through the delivery of outstanding outcome-based programs and projects, inclusive of humanity," according to their mission statement. The family has many other pursuits as well, but they always come back to their core mission: conservation.
Bindi Irwin was born into the spotlight and had appeared on numerous talk shows before the age of 9. Bindi, now 17, has gone on to be very successful in many pursuits. In 2007 she launched a clothing line called Bindi Wear International and started "Bindi the Jungle Girl," a nature documentary show. She has acted in several movies and shows, including "Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove," in which Robert Irwin also starred. In 2013, she launched two more shows: "Bindi's Bootcamp," a children's game show, and "Steve Irwin's Wildlife Warriors," featuring the conservation group's efforts. Recently, Bindi Irwin won the mirror ball trophy on the 21st season of "Dancing with the Stars."
When Bindi was 10, she was quoted by Access Hollywood on what she wanted for her birthday:
"If there's one thing I really want for my birthday, that is for the mining company not to mine my daddy's reserve."
Her wish was granted in Nov. 2013 when the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve was declared safe from mining by the Australian government.
Although only 12-years-old, Robert Irwin has been just as successful as his sister. He has starred in "Robert's Real Life Adventures," a television program that follows the Irwin family's everyday life running the zoo and aiding conservation efforts around the world. He is also the co-creator of the book series "Robert Irwin: Dinosaur Hunter," which he did illustrations for.
The Irwins understand that wildlife conservation is an increasingly prevalent issue worldwide; the extinction of species is at a much greater rate than nature intended.
"Wildlife populations of vertebrate species — mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish — have declined by 52 percent over the last 40 years," according to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), one of the biggest conservation groups in the world.
Protecting animal species is more than just keeping adorable animals alive. Ecosystems rely on animals for many different functions. Broken ecosystems mean less of the comforts humanity has grown to enjoy. The Irwin's fame and love of animals make them perfect advocates for the animal kingdom, and conservation efforts are especially important in Australia.
"Australia has one of the worst mammalian extinction rates in the world," Irwin said in his book "The Crocodile Hunter: The Incredible Life and Adventures of Steve and Terri Irwin."
Australia has one of the worst mammalian extinction rates in the world.
One out of three mammalian extinctions of the last 400 years occurred in Australia, according to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC). This is partially due to Australia's unique ecosystem: the AWC also reported that 87 percent of mammalian species in Australia are only found there. In addition, 94 percent of frogs, 93 percent of reptiles and 45 percent of bird species are unique to the continent.
Using the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve and the Australia Zoo, the Irwin family continues to educate people about wildlife and conservation efforts, urging them to help the cause. The Crocodile Hunter was a television hero to many, but a personal hero to his children and those who knew him. It depicted Steve Irwin as a fun-loving, easy-going animal lover. In reality, he was all that and more.
"He really was an expert in the field. The guy was incredible. His knowledge was incredible," said zoologist Jack Hanna, a good friend of Irwin, to ABC News.
In his book, Steve Irwin wrote:
"If we save our wild places, we will ultimately save ourselves."