As the two year anniversary of Steve Irwin’s death nears, I’ve decided to once again approach the topic of Steve Irwin’s legacy regarding respect of animals. The last time I spoke on this topic was on my own forum and the die-hard Irwin fans were not happy with me.
Let me preface my comments about Irwin’s work with animals by speaking of my admiration for him as a husband, a devoted father, a loyal friend, the kind of son parents dream of having, and Australia’s spokesman. His death created a hole in the hearts of many people dear to him and that is a great tragedy. My comments address the manner in which Steve Irwin chose to apply his knowledge and handling of animals in his televised interactions with them.
As Irwin’s popularity grew in the late 1990′s/early 2000, we were living on a small farm raising numerous farm animals including pygmy goats, chickens, ducks, turkeys, sheep, pigs and a few equines. We had the usual barn cats and a livestock guard dog, too. To offset the farm expenses, I began to host educational farm tours for school groups to introduce them to our state’s agriculture and the role farm animals have in our lives. It was during this time that I came to disdain the legacy Steve Irwin had given the younger generation regarding animals.
As group after group arrived at our farm, I became alarmed at the utter lack of respect for animal’s personal space by children who had clearly been influenced not only by the entertainment media’s anthropomorphic treatment of animals but also Steve Irwin’s cavalier manner of brusquely invading an animal’s personal space as seen hundreds of times on his T.V. show “The Crocodile Hunter”. The nadir of this rude and unsafe disregard for animal personal space came when I witnessed children taking flying dives and tackles on top of chickens, ducks, the cats, and pygmy goats while yelling, “CRIKEY!” There was no doubt where they had learned that from. It was by the grace of God no animals or children were harmed and we had to cease allowing any access to the animals.
PETA spokesman Dan Mathews said: “He made his career out of antagonising frightened wild animals, and that’s a very dangerous message to send to young children.”
For once, just once, I agree with PETA. What Steve Irwin inculcated weekly by example to hundreds of thousands of children, I was struggling to reverse with education in my own little corner of the world.
Irwin’s often aggressive intrusion into the personal space of wild animals yielded predictable results, i.e. animals reacting in fright or defensive aggression. T.V. viewers were not seeing wild animals in their natural state of existence but rather being provoked by human presence which changed behavior dramatically. Nature shows when I was a child were filmed from a distance so that animal behavior was not influenced by humans (i.e. predator).
Ultimately, Irwin paid a great price for his professional disrespect of a wild animal’s space when a bull stingray reacted defensively to Irwin’s close proximity and barbed him in the heart.
“It shows that Steve came over the top of the ray and the tail came up, and spiked him (in the chest), and he pulled it out and the next minute he’s gone,” Stainton said. (Watch how a stingray strikes — 2:35) Irwin’s manager John Stainton
Irwin’s family and advocates defended Irwin’s last act as not being aggressive or too close to the animal. However, other naturalists disagreed:
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, when someone is hurt by an animal, it is your fault,” he said. “You have to be careful of that. You have to know what your limits are. What that animal is. Animal conservationist Jack HannaÂ CNN article
I concur completely with Jack Hanna. In the equine world, it is universally understood that if your horse harms you or others, it is a human error, not a horse error. This was certainly implied in the T.V. show, The Crocodile Hunter Remembered,
Eric Castillo, Aquarium of the Pacific
“These animals her are normally very docile, very friendly animals which allows us to put them into the touch pools right here. They are not mean, malicious creatures in any way though if they are provoked, they do have a defensive mechanism that protects them from any type of predator out in the ocean. But it is very, very rare to be attacked like this.”
Hostess: Authorities in Australia said that after they viewed the footage they were confident that Steve was not disturbing or provoking the stingray in any way, shape or form when he was attacked. What do you think happened in his case?
Castillo: I don’t know the specifics of the exact incident that happened. Obviously it is a very tragic incident but these animals do haveÂ a defensive mechanism and I do want to stress that these only sting in a defensive nature. It’s not like they are going to attack prey with the barb.”
Eric Castillo repeatedly brings it back to the issue that stringrays only use their barbs defensively. What he fails to conclude specifically but leads the listener to conclude is that Irwin provoked a normally docile creature to a defensive reaction because of his close proximity.
“Have I messed with nature? Yeah, I guess you could say that.” TImothy Treadwell
Timothy Treadwell, i.e. the “Grizzly Man”, is another “animal conservationist” who pushed the envelope of respect for wild animal space and paid a dear price. Treadwell was an amateur naturalist who believed it was his calling to protect the grizzly bears of the Katmai National Park in Alaska. His 90 hours of tape and thousands of photos show a man who has no respect whatsoever for the wild nature of these bears. He gives them childish names and gets within touching distance of many of them while cooing to them in a high-pitched voice people often use when talking to babies. His films are an astonishing expose of stupidity and disrespect for the animals. Treadwell and his girlfriend were mauled and eaten by a grizzly bear in October 2003. Cable channel, Animal Planet, is about to debut “Grizzly Man Diaries” based on Treadwell’s videos of the Katmai Park bears and once again, viewers will be treated to images of wild animals being anthropomorphized and their wild state of existence altered by a human intent on imposing his personal human agenda on them.