Death of the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin

I woke up early this morning and proceeded amongst the mundane chores of kitchen clean-up and feeding the masses when my husband Warren commented “the Crocodile Hunter is dead.”

Figuring he was spoofing me, I didn’t believe Warren at all. It wasn’t until he actually showed me the link on Matt Drudge’s news highlights that the truth dawned. Steve Irwin is no more. As I write this, the morning news shows are finally starting to clue in…Labor Day weekend slowed the normal “Breaking News” flashes and updates. It was nearly an hour before FOX and CNN started briefing the material.

I know I shouldn’t be affected by the demise of a man I never knew, but I am. Come to think about it, this very holiday weekend marks the 9th anniversary of Princess Diana’s car crash in 1997…another shock to the system. These golden haired, child-like celebrities seemed so naive, and their lives lay open to the world audience. Their entire homelife was subject to public scrutiny and criticism. Even so, they were mostly beloved and enjoyed in the media. It’s like losing a family member when they’re snatched away at such a young age. I always expected to live into my 80’s, watching a gray haired Crocodile Hunter wrestling with some large snake or reptile, always eluding the Grim Reaper by inches.

My first thought upon realizing the sad news was true went to our German friends who visited us in this obscure corner of Upper Michigan, just north of the Mackinac Bridge, almost a decade ago. They spent the entire summer in our camper, working under the table for a nearby tourist restaurant in order to earn money as they traveled the world. Truly the best house guests we ever had, they stayed for months and we enjoyed every minute. One of their routine indulgences was to venture into the house after work in order to watch “The Crocodile Hunter” show on The Discovery Channel. They were almost religious about this particular pilgrimage. The animal orientation, Steve Irwin’s enthusiasm, and the exotic setting of Australia, transcended any language or cultural barriers. We were all swept up in their interest, from our young 5 year old son to “Gramma Hagen” in her 80’s, we all loved that show and it re-runs. Even after they left, we always followed Irwin’s marriage and the eventual birth of his two children.

The Germans’ trip was cut short after they left us, ending in Central America with a bout of dengue fever. Once stabilized, the youngest adventurer came home for better hospitals and her sister and boyfriend followed. It wasn’t until two years later that they finally made it as far as Australia. Unfortunately, they turned away from the Australian Zoo because of the high price of admission. I wish I’d have known at the time, we would have paid their entrance fees just to read their observations about our mutual hero. Of course it’s too late for that now, and I’m sure they regret not going.

My favorite memory of Steve Irwin will always be from a special he did on some of the most deadly snakes in the world. I remember that particular episode vividly. He was in the United States and searching for the habitat of the Eastern Diamondback. He was somewhere in the mountains east of the Mississippi, maybe Tennessee. He’s wearing that signature khaki shorts and shirt, hunkered down & squatting over some brush. A look of absolute terror comes over the intrepid outdoors man – for the first and only time, I see he is truly afraid. Stealthily, he slowly moves one leg up and over, backing away into the brush, barely breathing. Finally he explains that he had heard a warning rattle of an Eastern Diamondback, strategically coiled…right under his crotch area there in the leaves and brush. I remember distinctly how a chill crept up my spine, and sure enough, they showed this big snake slithering off into the rocks, into a nearby hole. One or two inches to either side and he’d have stepped on the thing, and probably been bitten. Even worse, what if the reptile had struck while he was squatting above it? Definite possiblity of being childless after that!

Now that I think of it, Irwin did die doing what he did best. At the peak of his game, he successfully hunted exotic animals
with cameras and taught the world’s homebound, chair bound or just work bound masses all its wonders. I know his stories and adventures inspired many young people to travel beyond the borders of their own country and appreciate exotic areas worldwide. The money he’s raised saved countless animals from death and maybe even extinction. He popularized a lot of the less cuddly types, and did a great deal for ecology and conservation efforts.

I’m confident that his wife will carry on this tradition, and of course Steve lives on in his young daughter and son. No one will ever match the pure excitement and joy he could express on camera as he worked with all these dangerous creatures on land and in the sea. I will always remember him fondly, and sure do appreciate the passion he displayed for animals. All that said, the loss of this vibrant man leaves a huge emptiness in my heart. I can only imagine the devastation for his real family and personal friends.

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