Monday, September 04, 2006

Provoking Nature: The Death of the Croc Hunter

The only bit by Croc Hunter Steve Irwin that I really enjoyed was the ESPN commercial where the Gators football mascot comes out of the elevator and Steve attacks. The other stuff actually qualified as a pet peeve of mine - disrespecting the wild kingdom and acting foolishly in the face of danger. As a skin diver and scuba diver in the Persian Gulf, I did some borderline stupid moves, but I never tried to provoke a creature just to see what would happen. Stingrays were a danger, but only if you stepped on one. I remember a woman who did that and ended up on crutches for quite a while. That's why as you walked from one of the islands out to the deeper water where the coral was, you shuffled your feet to give the stingrays a chance to swim away. Watching them "fly" along the bottom was a beautiful sight, especially leopard rays with the exotic pattern on their skin. It should be enough to get this on video, but instead these TV stars try and interact so they can say, "That was close" or in Steve's case with the crocs, "Crikey, that was close." Mother Nature is not a reality show. It's tough enough surviving out there without having a TV host yanking your tail to see what will happen. The same is true of the young man who enjoyed encountering wild grizzlies. He got some awesome footage as well, but he did not show the right respect for the situation; he acted like a bear would cut him some slack simply because he had a loving attitude. The wild kingdom doesn't do touchy-feely. It is more touchy-eaty. They say the audio track on his video camera that captured the sounds of a bear killing him and his girlfriend, is one of the most excruciating things ever recorded. I don't think it made the film. My greatest disdain is for people who talk about how misunderstood sharks are and go swimming with them. I remember one photographer who said he had a fool-proof system for chasing off a threatening shark, allowing him to swim with these frightening beasts. What took away from his point was that he was missing one leg from the knee down, courtesy of the shark that didn't get the memo. The guy had a special fin that was around 3-feet long, and he was still filming underwater. Anyone who would jump on the back of a shark is a natural born idiot. It is a disgrace to our species. Now, we were spear-fishing in shark-infested waters, so that was a little risky. Plus we were on Arab fishing boats, often with no radio, several hours from port out in the Gulf with none of our parents around. I sometimes have to explain how our parents would let us go on these dhow trips, but they were more into adventure themselves, having moved from America to the Middle East. They really did let us do some crazy stuff for kids our age. I remember one time a younger boy shot a strange fish - not the kind of game fish we were supposed to be hunting. As he took it off his spear, a barb came out from under the fish's tail and stung him in the arm. He was in a lot of pain, but one of the other kid's Dad was a doctor, and he'd lent his son his black bag so we'd have some medical help. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it's true. The son looked in there and pulled out a pain-killer that put the kid out asleep for the rest of the day. Thus our adventure could continue. Even in this, the kid shot a strange fish that he had no business shooting, and he paid an immediate price. There wasn't enough respect for Mother Nature.
Look, I know the Croc Hunter has a local connection - a wife from Eugene, and I am genuinely sad about his passing. I liked the guy. Plus, I'm sure he helped in environmental causes, but I don't think he helped by his example. Wild animals are to be respected. Even our pet dogs are only docile because they're isolated. You put 20 dogs in a pack and let them loose to find food, and you'd be surprised how wild they still are. And if your pet cat was 6 feet long, it might have already attacked you. Ask Roy from Las Vegas.
I don't know what this film shows of Steve Irwin's death, but I bet at some point he interacted with the sting ray in a way that provoked its defense systems. Steve loved to tease crocs into an attack posture. That was so stupid. Do you realize crocs have been killing animals on the water's edge since those animals were dinosaurs? Have a little respect. No, have a lot of respect. The only reality show title that makes sense for the wild kingdom is Fear Factor.


At 1:55 PM, Blogger Christine said...

no kidding. when I read that 'news flash' i almost started laughing. Even though that's not too humane. I couldn't imagine a more ironic way for this man to die. A freak accident with a Barb through the chest into the heart...

At 9:23 AM, Anonymous Jeri said...

I think that Steve Irwin had more respect for nature than anything else.
I suppose it is all in how one choose's to look at things. I saw a man who genuinly loved and respected the animals he taught us about. You obviously did not see it that way.
I have interacted with rays in Bali, Tahiti and on the Great Barrier Reef. They are beautiful and gentle creatures. This was an ACCIDENT! To say that he did not respect nature is immature in my opinion.
To say that "i almost started laughing" as Poison Apple said is just simply sickening.

At 9:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, pretty harsh Bill and poison apple.

The man was very much a friend of nature in a whole that decidely is NOT. He will be missed.

At 10:28 AM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

Don't misunderstand me: I felt bummed out by this. It didn't make me laugh, especially with 2 young children. And these are thoughts I had long before this incident. Why provoke something? Why interject yourself into the story? You know I only spear-fished for a little while, and we ate what we caught. But soon I was content just to swim around and look at everything. The beauty of it was precisely that there was nothing but the natural world. I could have poked things and tried to freak them out. I always thought that was bad behavior. Every shot I've ever seen of Steve Irwin he was trying to cause a near miss or a close call. He wouldn't just pick up a snake - an action that could damage it right there. He'd hold it close to his face and then dodge it when it tried to strike him. I don't think that behavior shows enough respect. I say put the snake down and watch it in its own world. That's enough of a thrill.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger TR said...

I agree with some of Bill's points and I think Poison Apple has some issues that will soften with age but when my boys were little and in their 'dangerous animal' phase we loved to watch his specials together. I remember an episode where he went searching for poisonous snakes in his native Australia (home of more venemous snakes then anywhere else in the world) and he leaped out of his jeep and then proceeded bare handed to pick up a Boomslang (one of the most dangerous snakes in the world) by the tail, ducked as it tried to bite him and then bring it under control so he could show it to his viewing audience then kissed it on the head and gently released it. The whole sequence was insane but his ability bordered on the mythic, like the tale of the baby Hercules strangling two dangerous snakes in his crib. I can't say I admired the guy as a naturalist the way I did David Attenborough, but he was one of a kind, a larger then life human who had no fear. I'll miss him.

At 12:23 PM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

I'll miss the guy, too. I thought he was a real fresh hit with a huge TV audience. I think I get this. Any questionable behavior on his part, was more than offset by his work to highlight the environment. That may be true but out of those 200 million there has to be some children who will see a wild beast and think, "Let's grab it!" because of the Croc Hunter.
One other point to Jeri: I can't see calling this an accident. Sometimes an elephant accidentally crushes its trainer; sometimes it does it on purpose. This sting ray sounds like it was striking out at another creature. It wasn't just flapping its tail and it happened to hit. The hideous bad luck part is that it went into Steve's heart. That is such an unfortunate piece of bad luck. I swam with many poisonous snakes in Arabia, but they could only bite you in a few places like the skin between your fingers. The fact that this ray hit Steve in a lethal spot is a shocking bummer. I also just read that his manager says he didn't pull the barb out so hopefully it was even quicker than originally reported.

At 4:13 PM, Anonymous jeri said...

Ok..Touche on the 'accident' point.
And I apologize for the 'immature' statement that I made.
I understand the all of the points you are trying to make except the 'respect' one, although there are several connotations to that term. I think he had incredible respect for nature and the animals that he so loved. I suppose one of the saddest parts of his story is that society in general paid him to do the things he did.
I do, however, believe that you are mistaken about the fact that "his manager says he didn't pull the barb out".


Stainton described the footage of his friend dying as "terrible."

"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.

At 4:41 PM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

Yeah, my only source on the barb thing was a client of mine who has been wrong before. I think it is quite a statement if he yanked it out. The guy had tons of courage, didn't he?

At 4:58 PM, Blogger Jenni Simonis said...

I'd just like to leave a quick comment...

It has been said that the video specifically shows that he did not provoke the sting ray. He was swimming above the stingray, which was buried in the sand.

As he went above it, it apparently felt cornered, and it lashed out. Unfortunately, that was right into Steve's chest.

I've watched Steve on tv since before he became a huge hit. Him and his family were so personable that you felt you knew them-- like they were part of the family.

I feel so bad for his family, especially his children who will have to grow up without their father.

It's too bad, as he was doing so much work to save animals all over Australia and the world. Many people don't realize that he used much of the money he earned to save wildlife all over the world.

He will definitely be missed.

At 8:41 PM, Anonymous ellie said...

I cannot believe how much coverage this is getting. Seriously. People everywhere are talking about the croc guy, meanwhile we're in the middle of a freakin' war (not to mention all the other hell that is breakin loose). I guess it just goes to show that TV and celebrities are a great distraction from reality.

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

It's the personal familiarity that adds to the genuine shock. If we had gotten to know the 8 American soldiers who were killed in Iraq during the last two days, by seeing them on TV over the last ten years, we'd be really rocked by that, too. That's what made Spike Lee's film about Katrina so powerful. I watched the news coverage but he interviewed individuals about their personal story and it hit me much harder.

At 4:09 AM, Blogger Pixie said...

I do agree that some of the things he did were foolish. But I think that it was more of a case of showing the everyday person that these animals (specifically reptiles, which many people have a fear of)are unlikely to attack unless they're provoked. Most people's reaction to a snake if they see one is to kill it. When, if you let it go on its way it will most likely leave on its own. Also being able to see their power (As with the cros) or their beauty (as with snakes) may give someone who may not have thought twice about killing it if they came across it second thoughts.
I'm gonna miss Steve, and my heart goes out to Terri and his kids. I feel so sad for them.
Also, I think that Germaine Greer's comments about his death are utterly horrid, and I hope none of his family has heard them. They don't deserve having something like that said about someone they love and have just lost.

At 12:23 PM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

I wish I had held off on this post. It was too soon for a discussion of these issues. The guy was great as a live-wire life force. Maybe I was venting a little because seemingly reckless people can make you mad, especially in your own family. You feel like saying, "Take better care of yourself. Play it safe. I care about you." Steve was given a python by his parents as a 6-grade birthday present. He came by his calling in life honestly. One thing is also obvious: He had courage for days. That's not a bad trait.

At 9:38 PM, Blogger LaurelhurstDad said...

Ellie, the news is saturated with this story because Dick Cheney demands it. He needs something to take the spotlight off George and his latest round of speeches comparing people who care about America with Nazis.

Or maybe Clinton killed him. Hard to tell these days.

At 1:54 AM, Blogger Jenni Simonis said...

I think a big reason why this is so much in the news (not just in the U.S. either) is that so many people felt as if they almost knew Steve. He did a really good job of connecting with his audience. You got to watch footage from his wedding, them having their two children, Terri getting chased by a snake while using the "dunny" for the first time (on their honeymoon), etc. You got to watch Bindi and Bob grow up. You truly felt as if you were part of the family.

These were people who went out of their way to protect animals and the environment. They could have had a huge house, limos, etc. Instead, Steve was in his khakis and they lived in the house he grew up in. The money went into things like animal conservation (and probably funds for their children).

There have been some news stories on the fact that usually by now such a story would have been replaced by something else. However, it keeps going. Animal Planet has over 8,000 comments to the family. I think CNN has over 10,000 and The Age (an Australian news source) has around 10,000 as well. That doesn't include the ones from other news sites, books of condolences that are being collected at zoos around the world, and the like.

There have been plenty of celebs that have died that I liked. I was a bit sad they were no longer here, and I felt for their family. But it's nothing like what I felt over Steve's death. In visiting message boards at places like Animal Planet, it's clear that I'm by far not the only one.

It's been hard explaining to our four year-old that Steve died and is in heaven. I can't even imagine being Terri and having to tell their two young children that their daddy is gone. Poor little Bob keeps crying for his daddy.

Steve was one in a million, and the conservation community lost one of its best friends when he died.

Sorry, I'm not usually like this. It's just something about the way they genuinely cared about animals and people. I've made sure to give a donation to his wildlife charity so his work can continue.


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