Believe it or not: Croc hunter Steve Irwin feared parrot bite
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2006-10-02
The sudden demise last September 4 of television’s Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin was quite a shock. The vivid image that Steve Irwin projected which almost borders on a caricature does not seem compatible with news about the end of his life. But what proved even more surprising were the circumstances of his death and the outpouring of sympathy from all over the world.

Irwin was filming in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Port Douglas in Queensland for his new documentary which was ominously titled “The Ocean’s Deadliest.” It was typical of him to come as close as possible to the creatures that he was filming. As related by his friend John Stainton, Irwin came too close to a Bull Sting Ray, the largest of the stingrays, and must have unwittingly threatened it.

Irwin positioned himself above the Bull Ray while his cameraman was filming right above him. In shallow water, with the ocean floor below it and Irwin above, Stainton theorized that Irwin may have given the Bull Ray the impression of being boxed in, causing it to panic and react. The Bull Ray instinctively raised its sharp tail—piercing Irwin’s heart in the process. The heart stab is more than enough reason to kill a man. A wound from the same tail can leave a toxin that is also known to be deadly if left unattended within six hours.

Thus, it was a shock to most of us that Steve Irwin should be killed by a sea creature that we thought all along is docile. Many times, we have seen other divers play with stingrays in other documentaries and we got the impression that stingrays were as friendly to humans as dolphins.

I will be frank and admit that when I first saw Steve Irwin on his television series “The Crocodile Hunter” and his other subsequent appearance in a movie, I thought that he was just another one of the animal show presenters who relied on the ‘over acting’ gimmick. Irwin projected quite the opposite of what David Attenborough personified which was the subdued, dignified British demeanor.

Irwin struck me as acting more than he was presenting or narrating a documentary. Plunging into the sea in his dry land khaki attire was another instance that suggested to me that he was rather generous with these attention getting gimmicks that we normally expect from comedy show hosts. In fact, Irwin’s antics struck me as close to slapstick comedy.

It was after hearing the news of his death and the outpouring of sympathy from his world audience that I took an interest in the life of Steve Irwin. It was then that I realized that there was indeed a passion to what he was doing, a deep burning desire to promote animal conservation and habitat protection. I saw Steve Irwin in a totally different light.

Born Stephen Robert Irwin, animal life was very much in Irwin’s genes. His father Bob Irwin is a wildlife expert while his mother Lyn was a wildlife rehabilitator. Steve Irwin was raised early on in the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park which his parents operated. This is where Steve’s ‘romance’ with the crocodile started.

How can Steve be other than what he turned out to be when at age six his parents gifted him with a 12-foot scrub python! By the time he was nine years old, he was already wrestling with crocodiles.

In 1991, Steve took over the family-run park and renamed it Australia Zoo in 1992. It was during a park performance in 1991 when Steve met Terri Raines, an American lassie he was fated to marry and start the third generation of animal loving and caring Irwins. Steve and Terri spent their honeymoon trapping crocodiles and this became the pilot episode of their television series “The crocodile hunter.”

The series aired on Australia television in 1996 and a year later was running already in the US and Canada. By 1999, Steve Irwin was already a recognized personality in US television and was featured in the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” The croc series ran in over 137 countries with easily an aggregate audience of 500 million television viewers. Steve Irwin became the best promoter of the Aussie language.

Steve Irwin proved to be an achiever—expanding the zoo operations, developing a successful television series that served a world audience, creating the Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation and the International Crocodile Rescue. His organizational vision included plans for an Australia Zoo in Las Vegas and other parts of the world.
In 2002, Australia Zoo was awarded Queensland’s top tourist attraction. Steve Irwin not only promoted animal protection and conservation but he also became Australia’s best tourism promoter. No wonder Australia Prime Minister John Howard appeared so crestfallen when he heard of Steve Irwin’s death.

Steve Irwin’s sense of humor extended even to projections about his own death. He once said that he insists that the camera keeps rolling even if a crocodile was eating him up already. Fate indeed loves a jest. Irwin’s fatal accident with the Bull Ray was all caught on film.
Interviewed by CNN’s Larry King in 2004, Steve Irwin admitted having paid the price of suffering from so many animal bites in the course of his work. Asked what exactly he feared the most, Steve replied: “A parrot’s bite!”

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