Who was Steve Irwin?
As the host of the Discovery show Crocodile Hunter and an avid conservationist, Steve Irwin is probably one of the most popular Australians to have ever lived, and the impact of his life’s work has been felt all over the world.
Long before his fame as the Australian Crocodile Hunter, though, Steve was already doing his part to save the animals.
Born to wildlife conservationists Lyn and Bob Irwin, Steve grew up in Queensland, spending a lot of time in the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park, which his parents started. He learned how to feed animals, maintain their habitats, and at the age of nine began handling crocodiles.
In 1991, Steve took the reins of the park, and in the same year, he met and fell in love with Terri Raines, a naturalist visiting from Oregon. They got married in 1992, and rather than having a honeymoon, they filmed a documentary with director John Stainton, in which the two trapped and rescued crocodiles.
This documentary would become the first episode of the Crocodile Hunter series, which would be picked up by Discovery Communications in 1996, catapulting him into pop culture stardom and cementing him as one of the most iconic Australian figures in history.
The Crocodile Hunter went on for a magnificent 11 years, making it the second longest-running Discovery show after Mythbusters.
Steve also appeared in other shows such as the children’s series Croc Files, and also had a documentary series called The Crocodile Hunter Diaries that focused on his life with Terri and their family, rather than the work they were doing.
Aside from his TV work and management of the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park, which he renamed to the Australia Zoo in 1998, Steve also established the Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation (now Wildlife Warriors) with his wife, which aimed to promote awareness about threatened and endangered animals. He also founded the Lyn Irwin Memorial Fund, which he established in honour of his mother, who died in an accident in 2000.
On a personal note, Steve and Terri welcomed their daughter Bindi on July 24th 1998 and son Robert on December 1st 2003.
What was Steve Irwin doing when he died?
On September 4, 2006, Steve was in Batt Reef working on Ocean’s Deadliest, a documentary that he was co-hosting with Philippe Cousteau Jr.
At the time, filming had been suspended due to bad weather, so Steve went out snorkelling to capture footage for Bindi the Jungle Girl, a children’s nature series he was developing that would be presented by his daughter, Bindi.
While in shallow waters, he came across a short-tail stingray, which he followed in an attempt to capture footage of it. Suddenly, it reared up and started stabbing him wildly with its stinger. The short-tailed stingray is the largest stingray in the world, with a span of about two meters, and its powerful tail ends in a barbed spine that can be as long as eight inches.
Cameraman Justin Lyons recalled seeing the stingray landing ‘hundreds of strikes’ in seconds. Steve incurred a huge gash across his chest, his heart pierced by the stingray’s barb. Justin said that Steve’s last words were, “I’m dying.”
It must be noted that it’s very rare behaviour for a stingray to fatally attack a human. Before Steve Irwin’s stingray attack, only two other fatal attacks had been recorded in Australia. Around the world, only one to two fatal attacks are reported every year. Justin speculated that the incident was a freak accident, that the stingray must have seen Steve’s shadow and thought it was a tiger shark, prompting it to attack.
Justin and the rest of the crew destroyed all footage of the attack on Steve. Today, any circulating footage that claims to depict the incident is fake.
Steve Irwin was 44 at the time of his death.
Steve Irwin’s legacy
After his death, Australia was in mourning. The Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition both had condolence speeches, while thousands of fans visited Australia Zoo to pay tribute.
At a public memorial service on September 20, 2006, his daughter Bindi, who was just eight-years-old gave a speech where she plaintively expressed her love for her late father, but also reinforced his conservationist mission.
“When I see a crocodile I will always think of him and I know that Daddy made this zoo so everyone could come and learn to love all the animals. Daddy made this place his whole life and now it’s our turn to help Daddy,” she told the crowd.
Today, Australia Zoo and Steve's legacy lives on. The Irwin family runs a wildlife hospital, and Steve’s foundations continue to chug along, helping people and animals wherever they can. And two different species are named after Steve; Irwin’s snapping turtle, or elseya irwini, and a tree snail called crikey steveirwini.
Steve's daughter Bindi and her husband Chandler Powell are also expecting their first child, a baby girl and Steve and Terri's first grandchild, and the mum-to-be confessed that Steve would've been a "good grandpa."
"I don't think we would've ever seen our daughter. He would've just whisked her away into the zoo and it would've been perfect," she told Entertainment Tonight.
"But it is so nice that we'll be able to introduce her to her grandfather through all of those documentaries. It's really special."