Steve Irwin was instantly recognizable with his khaki shorts and Australian accent. He became famous for his daring adventures with animals. But despite everything, even the Crocodile Hunter had a few fears…
We Bought a Zoo
Steve Irwin was destined to have a love for animals. His parents, Bob and Lyn Irwin, both worked in wildlife and even founded their very own zoo. They called it Queensland Reptile and Fauna park.
But it would take years before the world would know Steve as the Crocodile Hunter - but his love for all things wild and reptilian started at a young age. He grew up surrounded by crocodiles, snakes, and many other animals. This was the start of a lasting legacy.
A Love for Reptiles
From an early age, Irwin was extremely interested in the animals he was growing up around. He was given something different from a typical Lego set for his sixth birthday present. His parents gave him a giant python! The 12-foot scrub python is a non-venomous snake usually found in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
Steve would often help his parents with daily activities around the zoo. He would assist with animal feedings and be involved with daily care and maintenance tasks. While most kids finish their homework or run around with the neighbors, Steve had a different childhood. A childhood that would lead him to be known worldwide.
His love for crocodiles began at a young age. Steve's dad, Bob, had been educating young Steve on reptiles and crocodiles - especially how to handle them. Then, at the age of nine, Steve wrestled with his very first crocodile. Don't worry - it was under his dad's supervision.
As the years went by, his love for the dangerous creatures grew. Irwin volunteered for Queensland's East Coast Crocodile Management program, where he captured over 100 crocs. Some were housed in his family's zoo, while others were relocated to other locations.
"An Environmental Tarzan"
Steve took over managing the zoo when his parents decided to retire in 1991. When he took over running the place, he renamed it the Australia Zoo. That was not the only significant life change the Australian had that year: in 1991, he met and fell in love with Terri Raines.
Raines was a naturalist from Eugene, Oregon. She was traveling around Australia. On a whim, she decided to stop by the zoo and see a crocodile demonstration. Immediately upon seeing Irwin, she was smitten. Terri explained, "He sounded like an environmental Tarzan, a larger-than-life superhero guy."
A Natural Proposal
Four months after dating, Irwin popped the big question. Terri recalled, "We worked in the zoo, and we were cutting down this widow-maker tree… We were absolutely exhausted. I've got leaves in my hair, I'm swearing, and we're sitting there at the end of the day… Steve says, 'So what do you reckon, you want to get married?'"
Of course, Terri said yes! The lovebirds were married in Terri's hometown of Eugene, Oregon, on June 4, 1992. Then, they returned to Australia for their honeymoon and to start building a life together. Except, in Irwin fashion, this wasn't just any typical honeymoon…
Where It All Started
For their honeymoon, they didn't go to islands to sit on the beach or travel around romantic destinations in Europe. Instead? They went crocodile trapping. The newlyweds also brought a friend along with them. John Stainton filmed the couple as they trapped crocodiles around Australia together.
All of the footage Stainton filmed from their honeymoon became the pilot episode of The Crocodile Hunter - the show that made the Irwins a household name. While it may not have been a magical vineyard or a tropical getaway, this adventure was perfect for the wildlife-loving Irwins. And it was the beginning of everything.
The Crocodile Hunter first debuted on Australian television in 1996. Then, a year later, it made its way around the world. The series aired in over 130 countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom. It became an instant success, and the world fell in love with the Irwins.
From his charming demeanor to his striking khaki outfits, Steve became a global phenomenon. It seemed like everyone in the world was saying, "Crikey!" because of him. The Crocodile Hunter aired for 11 seasons, and the world joined the Irwins as they explored the Australian Outback and other parts of the world.
The Irwins' show was so successful that they created multiple spinoffs. In the Croc Files, Steve and Terri starred in this wildlife docuseries more geared towards children. Their other spinoff was The Crocodile Hunter Diaries, which followed the daily lives of the Irwins as they worked at the Australia Zoo.
The adventurous couple also made their acting debut in the feature film, The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course. Steve and Terri star as themselves in the action comedy. Not only were the Irwins busy making television together, but they were also making a family.
It's a Family Affair
Steve and Terri welcomed their first child, daughter Bindi, into the world in 1998. She was named after Steve's favorite animals, a saltwater crocodile and a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. A few years later, Steve and Terri welcomed their second child, a son named Robert. Robert was named after Steve's dad, Bob.
As was only natural in the Irwin family, the children also developed a love for animals at an early age. Much like Steve had loved being around the zoo's wildlife, his kids also loved being surrounded by animals. Bindi and Robert became regular fixtures on their parents' television shows.
Crocs & Kids
While millions of people tuned in to watch The Crocodile Hunter, some were not so pleased with the Australian's actions. PETA spoke out against Irwin and other celebrity "wildlife warriors." They felt their actions contradicted their message of habitat protection and endangered species conservation.
Irwin was involved in a controversy which he received much backlash from. In 2004, Irwin was feeding a crocodile with one hand while holding his infant son in the other. People accused the Australian of child endangerment, but no formal charges were actually made against him.
A Nationwide Scandal
Australian of the Year is a national award in Australia and is given to outstanding Australian citizens on their Australia Day. Steve Irwin was nominated for the award in 2004 - and according to the memoir of former Olympian Lisa Curry, he was meant to receive it.
Curry revealed a shocking revelation in her memoir. When she was the chair of the National Australia Day Council, they were going to award wildlife expert Steve Irwin with the award. However, when photos of Irwin holding his infant son while feeding the crocodile were released, they changed their minds. It was the ultimate scandal.
Nothing kept Irwin back from discovering and learning more. In the 1990s, Irwin and his father actually discovered a new species. While they were on a crocodile-catching trip, a frog got caught on their fishing line. Irwin grabbed a few photos and sent them to a turtle expert.
The turtle expert confirmed that this was indeed a new species, so they named it after themselves. The turtle is called Irwin's turtle, and its scientific name is elseya irwini. From catching crocodiles to finding new species of animals, there was nothing this family couldn't do.
His Other Hobbies
Wrestling with crocodiles is an around-the-clock job. While Irwin wasn't out in the Outback or taking care of the various zoo animals, he had to stay in shape and quick-witted to be able to keep up with his day job. To remain in excellent physical condition, Irwin trained in Gaidojutsu.
Gaidojutsu is a type of mixed martial arts that Greg Jackson created. It combines elements of catch wrestling, Muay Thai, and basic judo locks. Irwin trained with Jackson! He was also a big fan of Australian Rules football and rugby, playing rugby as a teenager. In addition to all of that, Irwin was a surfer.
It was always apparent that Irwin loved animals. He always acted as their biggest advocate, using his platform to promote animal education. Steve was especially concerned about the loss of animal habitats and the conservation of endangered species. He founded the Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation to carry this mission out.
Irwin also firmly believed that you could not blame the animal for their behavior. He thought that his extensive knowledge and training should help him avoid precarious situations like getting bitten by snakes. If he got bit, then it was his fault for not understanding what was happening around him well enough.
A Lover of All Animals Except for…
Even though Irwin had grown up amongst animals and dedicated his life to promoting education about them, there were some animals that the wildlife expert was not so fond of. And there was one animal in particular that he really didn't like. It was none other than the parrot.
Irwin told Scientific American magazine, "For some reason, parrots have to bite me. That's their job. I don't know why that is. They've nearly torn my nose off. I've had some really bad parrot bites." What did all these parrots have against the Australian?
A Flying Foe
He could wrestle with crocodiles and trained in martial arts, but he was scared of the colorful bird. Though, Irwin did have a good reason. While the fascinating birds may be beautiful to look at, they can be unsuspectingly dangerous. The macaw's bite strength is 700 pounds per square inch, equal to a large dog's strength.
After some close encounters with parrots, Irwin decided that he was going to avoid the birds moving forward rather than risk anything. There was no need for the Crocodile Hunter to hurt himself from a parrot when he had crocs to wrestle with. But parrots weren't the only animal that Irwin tried to steer clear from.
The Most Dangerous Animal
Typically, when people think of dangerous animals, lions, tigers, and sharks come to mind. However, in Steve's Most Dangerous Adventures, there is another member of the animal kingdom that the Crocodile Hunter calls the most dangerous animal. And it is different from what almost anyone would expect.
It is the hippopotamus. Even though hippos are herbivores, they are incredibly aggressive animals with mighty jaws. Male hippos can weigh from 3,500 to 9,900 pounds, and female hippos weigh around 3,000 pounds. No wonder Irwin wanted to avoid them.
Hungry, Hungry Hippos
In an interview all the way back in 2001, Steve recalled, "I ran into some really angry hippos. In some countries of Africa, hippos are known to cause more human fatalities than any other species even more so than Nile crocodiles. And by crikey, they get grumpy. They pushed me right out of the river."
Talk about waking up on the wrong side of the bed! Hippos are more dangerous when they are in groups together. Also, since they are highly territorial animals, an outsider approaching their space can agitate the entire herd and cause a major chain reaction.
Stay Away at All Costs
Steve Irwin was not the only one who was extremely cautious about the hippopotamus. Discover Wildlife reported that hippos are the cause of 500 human deaths per year. To compare, lions kill, on average, 22 humans per year. The hippo is way more dangerous than its African counterparts.
Hippos will charge after boats and capsize them, causing the people on board to drown or to be crushed under the hippo's massive size or with their exceptionally sharp teeth. They can also run at a speed of 20 miles per hour. This is an animal no one should mess with.
Since hippos are so incredibly dangerous, Steve Irwin had every right to steer clear of them. During one encounter with a herd of hippopotamuses, Irwin completely abandoned his canoe! There was no need to disturb the group because the risk was too high.
Irwin said about the experience, "They've got huge great tusks, and when they get angry, they charge straight at ya. I was quite fearful and respectful of them, so I went around 'em. I left my canoe in the end." Sometimes it is better to observe these wild beasts from afar.
A Humbling Lesson
It is humbling to know that the man who wrestled hundreds of crocodiles and interacted with some of the most dangerous beasts in the entire world had his reservations and fears. Just like Indiana Jones, who was afraid of snakes, Steve Irwin had a fear of parrots and hippos.
While many of these animals are frightening to most, they were just part of life for the Australian. Irwin grew up surrounded by animals and cared for them his entire life. He may have been cautious around certain species, but he was a fan of all species. Being around animals was second nature for Steve Irwin - no pun intended.
“I Put My Life on the Line”
Steve Irwin always went to bat for animals. He did everything he could to raise awareness, spread education, and support the species with which everyone shares a planet. In fact, it was more important for Irwin that the animals were okay over his own safety and well-being.
He confessed in an interview with Scientific American, "I put my life on the line to save animals. I have no fear of losing my life if I have to save a koala or a crocodile, or a kangaroo, or a snake, mate, I will save it." Like his wife, Terri said when she first laid eyes on him, he was a "larger-than-life superhero guy."
When Tragedy Strikes
But unfortunately, one day, everything changed. While Irwin was shooting on location for a docuseries called Ocean's Deadliest, a devastating accident occurred. Bad weather caused the filming crew to change their plans for the day, so Steve took the opportunity to film footage for his daughter's show, Bindi the Jungle Girl.
They were shooting around for shallow water. Irwin was swimming by a seven-foot stingray that he wanted to catch on film, but he got too close and startled the animal. And its tail pierced Irwin's heart. On that day, September 4, 2006, the world said goodbye to The Crocodile Hunter, mourning one of the most beloved icons.
Remembering a Hero
His death shocked the world. This was the man who wrestled crocodiles for a living, and it all seemed too surreal that we had lost him. There was a massive outpouring of grief around the world. Fans sent their condolences to the Irwins and grieved the loss of such a monumental figure.
The Prime Minister of Australia at the time, John Howard, stated, "I really do feel Australia has lost a wonderful and colorful son. He took risks; he enjoyed his life. He brought immense joy to millions of people, particularly to children." However, the question remained: what happened to the footage from that day?
The Forbidden Footage
Irwin had been filming for his daughter's show when the unfortunate accident happened. The tape could have been handed over to a news source or TMZ, and millions could have been made from the footage. Except for no one ever got their hands on the recording.
Cameraman Justin Lyons felt that the public should not witness this tragedy. So, he handed the footage over to Irwin's widow, Terri, to let her decide what to do with the footage. Ultimately, she decided to destroy the tape, and Lyons went on a press tour to ensure everyone had the actual facts of that terrible day.
"Crazy, Silly Accident"
Justin Lyons had been by Irwin's side for a decade. He was a cameraman on Irwin's first documentary in 1996 and was with him through everything after that, up until the very end. They were close friends, but despite it all, he was not all that surprised at how his friend met his final moments.
Lyons told the Los Angeles Times, "It was probably always going to be something weird with Steve... it would always be a crazy, silly accident. And as it turns out, that's exactly what it was." It wasn't at the hands of a hippo or by a crocodile. It was a stingray, a species that Irwin had swum with many times before.
A Lasting Legacy
While he may be gone, The Crocodile Hunter will never be forgotten. His former hometown of Beerwah even named a street, Steve Irwin Way, after him. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society also called their main ship after the Australian icon, the MY Steve Irwin.
The ship protects marine life by acting against illegal whaling and fishery activities. Additionally, Irwin received a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2018. His wife, Terri, and two children, Bindi and Robert, were there with none other than a snake for the emotional ceremony.
Home, At Last
Following his death, the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve was established in 2007. The reserve expands over 330,000 acres and hosts many unique ecosystems. They have even recorded over 48 different species of fish in their rivers! The reserve also hosts a variety of species that are not found elsewhere in Australia.
Most importantly, the wildlife reserve is "vital for the sustainability of saltwater crocodiles and is home to one of the largest breeding populations of these crocodiles on earth." It is a more than fitting way to honor the memory of the Crocodile Hunter.
Where Are They Now?
In the spirit of their family, the two children have also developed a love for animals that they share with audiences worldwide. Bindi hosted her own television show, Bindi the Jungle Girl, at the mere age of 9. She also won season 21 of ABC's Dancing with the Stars.
Meanwhile, Robert, Bindi's younger brother, has also been busy. He hosted a series called Wild But True and co-created a book called Robert Irwin: Dinosaur Hunter. Robert has also made multiple appearances on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, bringing an animal friend to show to Jimmy and the audience.
Safe to say, the "crikey" continues. Irwin's famous catchphrase became the title of the family's newest television show, Crikey! It's the Irwins. First debuting in 2018, the series documents Terri, Bindi, and Robert as they work and live their daily lives at the Australia Zoo.
While Steve may no longer be with the world, his legacy continues to live on through his family, fans, and all the wildlife around the globe. Steven Irwin wrestled crocodiles, was afraid of parrots and loved khakis. But most importantly, he loved his family - the ones at home and in the animal kingdom - and that will never be forgotten.