Understanding Steve Irwin’s Legacy Of Conservation And Education

Ten years ago today, Steve Irwin died after being stung by a sting ray. If you’re here, chances are, you were a fan, and more than likely, you’re thinking, ‘ten years? Can it really have been that long ago?’ It doesn’t seem it. It doesn’t seem like an entire decade has gone by since the conservationist, zookeeper, television star, documentarian, and beloved family man last appeared live on our TVs — his beaming face radiating in the joy of shared discovery. There’s a reason it doesn’t seem that long. A reason that it seems like only yesterday.

When I first heard Steve Irwin had died I was at the YMCA. I was running on a treadmill, listening to music and I looked up at the bank of tv screens. One had the news on with a headline that read something like “Crocodile Hunter Killed by Stingray”. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a mistake. I cried right there, on a treadmill in the middle of the Tacoma YMCA.

-Kay Cochran, Zoological Aide, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

People talk about remembering big events in history. Everyone who is old enough remembers where they were when JFK died. I remember exactly where I was when I learned Steve Irwin died.

– Nicole Rambo, Keeper, Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

Steve Irwin may have died on September 4th, 2006, but his passion for wildlife and the world’s biodiversity did not. It ignited, burned, and spread in the hearts of the people who grew up watching The Crocodile Hunter, The Crocodile Hunter Diaries, and The Croc Files. It was fanned by the appreciation of the conservationists who recognized his contributions to the cause. It continues to be kindled in the work done by Australia Zoo, the zoo founded and run by Irwin’s family, and Steve’s very own Wildlife Warriors conservation organization.

Ten years is a long time. In ten years, there are doubtless friends we’ve fallen out of touch with, once vivid memories that have faded, plans we’ve dropped or revised, opinions once strongly held, that we’ve flipped on completely. Some of us are entirely different people than we were ten years ago. Ten years is long enough to have forgotten who we used to be, or who we wanted to be, or who someone else was that once mattered to us. But ten measly years haven’t diminished Steve Irwin, or his legacy. Widely and fondly remembered by animal lovers across the planet, Steve’s influence and inspiration are alive in the world, evident in all people focused on protecting and conserving the Earth’s wildlife.

Let’s look back at some of the reasons Steve Irwin continues to be such a vibrant presence, a decade after his passing:

CRIKEY! He Had Passion!

Whether you were a dedicated fan or happened to catch only a glimpse of Irwin as you channel surfed, it was impossible not to notice that the eponymous crocodile hunter was genuinely excited about wildlife. Re-watching an episode of The Crocodile Hunter, we encounter a boyish exuberance, a breathless enthusiasm for animals that some of us only touched during our childhood obsessions with dinosaurs, then worked to tamp down in adolescence, as our peers moved on to other interests. Steve’s every encounter seems marked by a sense of discovery and wonder; this animal at this moment is special, important, amazing and worth our attention and consideration. His attitude is infectious. It is inviting. He wants us to be just as passionate, and he’ll give us every reason to be.

I remember watching his show as a kid. He was everything I wanted to be. I wanted to work with wild animals. Wander the outback, the savannah, the jungle looking for any and all creatures, teaching people all about them, and how we could help preserve their habitats. I watched him endlessly; every episode I had memorized. When my best friend came over to play, I would frequently talk her into playing a jaguar, or a snake, or a monkey simply so I could recite what I thought Steve would have said about them.

Steve Irwin shaped what kind of zoo keeper I wanted to become. People frequently ask me if, because I am a zoo keeper, I am more of an animal person, than a people person. Steve Irwin taught me that in order to help wildlife, I had to get people interested in them just as much as I was. I learned that it is so easy to get kids excited about animals, and so fun to share my own enthusiasm. I think I can thank Steve Irwin for showing me that I can very well be an animal person, as well as a people person; that it is essential that I am both in order to be the best zoo keeper that I can be.

-Kay Cochran, Zoological Aide, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

WHAT A BEAUTY! He Loved And Valued The Animals We Feared – And Taught Us To Love And Value Them Too!

Steve and Terri Irwin honeymooned amongst crocodiles. If that weren’t enough testament to their love for the reptiles, their first child, Bindi, was named after Steve’s favorite crocodile — who he brought to Australia Zoo in 1988 as part of Queensland’s East Coast Crocodile Management program. Once classified as a “problem croc,” Bindi’s future would likely not have been a long one had Steve not been able to relocate her to the zoo, where she was re-homed with crocodile Graham and went on to successfully raise babies.

The relationship between crocodiles and people can be a complicated one; ancient, apex predators, crocs are, on sight, exceedingly impressive and instantly recognizable as carnivores. That is, when they can be seen. Their ability to melt away into their surroundings — to appear to be nothing more than a patch of mud or a rotting log, until one is much too close — has not necessarily endeared them to the public. They are an animal that demands respect, with none of the typical mammalian features that cause us to so endear other large, potentially dangerous, and charismatic “poster animals” for conservation. Yet for each half-hour episode of The Crocodile Hunter, we saw crocodiles demystified and beloved. Seeing them through Steve’s eyes, it was hard not to fall in love too.

I think for me the biggest impact was that ALL animals matter. Not just fluffy dogs. Everything from the biggest croc to the deadliest spider is equally as awe inspiring as it is deserving to survive. I think Steve gave me (and I’m sure many of us) the foundation that humans are just another species sharing this planet.

– Nicole Rambo, Keeper at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

My favorite animals are invertebrates. I love marine invertebrates, animals that don’t have faces, animals that people don’t understand as well. Sea stars and crabs, sea anemones, jellies. I think it’s really fun to tell people what they are, that they are animals just like us, they just have a different way of living. I think Steve was really good at that too. He was good at getting people excited about animals that people were afraid of, or creeped out by; snakes, alligators, crocodiles, spiders; those animals that aren’t as well understood. He was always so enthusiastic about them.

-Amy Hale, Visitor Interpretive Programs, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Enthusiasm like his was contagious. I don’t know if I would have been so fascinated by reptiles as a kid if he hadn’t constantly been on TV calling them beautiful and powerful. Steve helped connect our love of animals to a broader duty to care for the planet as a whole.

-Sarah Maddox, veterinary student, conservationist

WILDLIFE WARRIOR! He Went Beyond The Camera And Into The Field, And Inspired Us To Do The Same!

“I consider myself a wild-life warrior. My mission is to save the world’s endangered species,” Irwin said in a 2006 interview with Australian reporter Anna King Murdoch. Raised by conservationists, Steve used his considerable fame and success to promote the protection and preservation of native and endangered species. He bought land in Australia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the US, with the goal of securing and maintaining habitat for wildlife. He was as outspoken in his support of considerate ecotourism as he was in his condemnation of illegal poaching and the purchase of products made from endangered species. Despite living life at a pace Tasmanian devil’s pace, he founded the International Crocodile Rescue, the Lyn Irwin Memorial Fund, and the Iron Bark Station Wildlife Rehabilitation Facility and Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation — later renamed Wildlife Warriors.

From Kenya to Cambodia, Wildlife Warriors and Australia Zoo continue to support conservation projects across the globe. Bindi Irwin, today an actress and conservationist, wants “to make sure that his message never dies.” Cheers to that, Bindi. Here’s to ten years more and beyond, of sharing Steve’s passion for the world and its wildlife.

His children are his greatest legacy. In them, not just in his work, he left the world a better place than he found it.

– Laura Strong, Zoological Aide, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Inspired? Consider visiting a conservation-minded zoo, where you’ll meet ambassador animals, converse with passionate conservationists, and discover ways that you can make a difference to the world’s wildlife. Special thanks to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium; a leader in conservation, education, and inspiration.