Creatures that have bitten Steve Irwin

"Some people tempt fate. Irwin chucks it under the chin, scratches it behind the ears and grabs it by the tail."
- Paul Farhi, The Washington Post

Prior to his death, Steve Irwin knew the imminent danger that he faced each time he approached a deadly creature. By his own estimate, Steve Irwin had been bitten by thousands of animals. He had knee reconstruction surgery three times and once required a crocodile's tooth to be removed from his knuckle. Surprisingly, he was never envenomated by a posionous snake, but he was bitten by a number of them: most of them, in fact. Snakes aren't the only creatures to acquire a taste for Irwin.

This illustrious list includes:

  • A 4-ft komodo dragon (while in Sumatra);
  • A tree snake that fell into his boat and bit him repeatedly;
  • A Reticulated Python. Retics can be constrictive, but this particular snake only seemed interested in biting;
  • A number of cockatoos and parrots. According to Irwin, "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."
  • Several lizards, a pair of Tokay Geckos and a Perenti goanna;
  • A python (captured on film in the first season of Crocodile Hunter, Episode 2);
  • Many alligators;
  • There are 23 different species of crocodile, and as far as I can tell he's been bitten by all of them, including:
    • Graham, one of the crocodiles at the Australia Zoo. Graham gripped Steve's hand and dragged him underwater, but Steve managed to ease his way out. (This was caught on film in an episode named "Graham's Revenge.");
    • Agro, another resident of the Australia Zoo who attacked Steve while he was mowing the lawn;
    • Toolmaker, a 6-ft female crocodile at the Australia Zoo, who bit him for the hell of it;
    • Anthony, one of the crocodiles that Steve, the Australian Army and the World Society for the Protection of Animals rescued and sheltered in East Timor (also caught on film in a Crocodile Hunter episode).
  • A bearded dragon, which bit Irwin on the nose.

Steve was struck in the face with the venom of a spitting cobra in Masai, kicked by a cassowary, groped by a baby orangutang and licked on the face by a fierce snake. He insisted, "Although I've taken a few bites, it's always been my mistake, not the animal's."

To Steve Irwin's credit, his practical knowledge about animals was considered highly valuable. He was a consultant on Survivor II: The Australian Outback and worked with a state-funded crocodile relocation program in northern Australia.


Primary sources:
http://www.sciam.com/explorations/2001/032601croc/box1.html
http://www.jeffmajor.com/croc/episodes.html

Steve Irwin, while a popular defender of Australian wildlife, is not always on the side of the environment. One particularly publicised stand ignores several environmental factors and promotes industries that cause widespread environmental degradation in Australia.

Update 4th September 2006: Steve Irwin was killed after being stung in the chest by a sting ray during filming off North Queensland.


Contents:

  • Controversy over serving kangaroo meat at CHOGM resort
  • Protest against the harvesting of kangaroos for human consumption by Steve Irwin and wildlife groups
  • Arguments for the harvesting of kangaroos for human consumption
  • Rebuttal of Irwin’s arguments
  • Brief rant
  • Acknowledgments


Controversy over serving kangaroo meat at CHOGM resort

In January 2002, controversy arose over the fact that delegates to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) would be offered kangaroo steaks at an Australian themed barbeque during the meeting at the Sunshine Coast. The 50-odd delegates, during their immersion in Australian culture, would taste Australian cuisine, and get a good look at some of Australia’s native wildlife on the paw, rather than the plate, in a specially created little zoo at the Hyatt Regency Coolum resort. The resort – the center for the meetings – usually has kangaroo steaks on the menu, and the CHOGM delegates were to be offered this extremely tasty, nutritious, and environmentally and economically friendly meat.

However – a very vocal protest was made – representing the unsuitability of kangaroo meat for consumption at such a gathering, or, indeed, at any time. Steve Irwin, the Crocodile hunter, was largely the public face of the protest. Mr. Irwin was to be seen on various different shows and channels on national television, clutching a kangaroo joey, and saying approximately (I’m fairly sure this is it, but was unable to find the exact wording):

"Who could ever eat a true-blue little Aussie sheila like this? We should be expanding our excellent beef industry instead of eating our precious native animals."

Protest against the harvesting of kangaroos for human consumption by Steve Irwin and wildlife groups:

In an interview with Scientific American, in March 2001, Irwin had already expressed these views:

SA: Some people support moving out some of the cows and sheep and farming kangaroos instead.

STEVE: Oh yeah. I vehemently oppose that. I mean, that is wrong. Australia has already been hit by the bulldozers to grow those cows and sheep. We've got the dams in place, we've got the grazing areas already there. To turn around and say we could farm kangaroos and eat them is an absolute atrocity. Why would you want to eat the Australian icon? Here on the coat of arms is the emu and the kangaroo, the two animals that we want to farm and eat and kill. That's ridiculous. I'm a proud Australian, a very, very proud Australian. I believe that kangaroos and emus need to coexist with grazing areas. That's what has to happen. Anyone who thinks that they can grow kangaroos and get cows off the land is not thinking straight. It won't happen.

Again in the same article, though referring to crocodiles rather than kangaroos, the context took into account all wild animals:

But I sincerely and vehemently oppose "sustainable use," where people think they can farm crocodiles and kill them, and turn them into boots, bags and belts. Killing any wild animal will never save it, regardless of what anyone says.

The protest over the CHOGM menu – from wildlife groups as well as Mr. Irwin, was successful, in that kangaroo meat was removed from the restaurant menu during the span of the delegates’ stay. Steve Irwin and various wildlife groups such as the Australian Wildlife Protection Council (AWPC) continue to protest against the harvesting of kangaroos for any reason – game meat, pet meat or skins, and protest the culling of kangaroos as well. To a large extent, the protests must be seen as successful. In the Victorian newspaper “The Herald Sun” on September 21, 2002, it was reported that legislation had been passed banning the commercial killing of kangaroos in Victoria.

Arguments for the harvesting of kangaroos for human consumption:

I have already posted a fairly in depth write-up on this topic under the heading Kangaroo harvesting. The main points of the case for kangaroo meat consumption by humans are listed below. But first – a definition of what it is that I’m suggesting we do here:

Kangaroo harvesting is most beneficial to the environment when carried out on existing sheep or cattle stations. Kangaroos are not suited to being intensively farmed, and such an operation could not be commercially viable. Harvesting of kangaroos by a professional shooter on grazing properties allows the number of sheep/cattle to be slightly reduced without economic loss to the grazier, or the numbers of sheep and cattle can be maintained, or even slightly raised. The first option is most environmentally sound, and is my preferred option.

Benefits of kangaroo harvesting:

Benefits of eating kangaroo meat:

Rebuttal of Irwin’s arguments:

Again – I have countered the arguments presented by wildlife groups in my write-up under Kangaroo harvesting. Much of this is merely a summary:

“Anyone who thinks that they can grow kangaroos and get cows off the land is not thinking straight. It won't happen”.

Excuse me, Mr. Irwin, but it does. We won’t get all the cattle off the land, or all the sheep, and there’s no suggestion that we will. Not even the majority. But just moving a few is enough to reap huge benefits both environmentally, and, often, economically. During my studies (B.Sc. Resource and Environmental Management) I researched the topic of kangaroo harvesting very thoroughly, and was for some time in contact with graziers in central Queensland who were doing exactly that. Moving some sheep off the land, and harvesting some kangaroos for game meat. They monitored the numbers of kangaroos harvested, and those remaining. Their correspondence and data confirmed the information gleaned from countless papers on the subject. The strategy outlined in the previous section does work.

But I sincerely and vehemently oppose "sustainable use”… Killing any wild animal will never save it, regardless of what anyone says.

Well, firstly, the issue isn’t really “saving” the kangaroo – the numbers indicate that they’re doing just fine. But most species were wild once, even if only back in their dim genetic past. A species that becomes necessary to humans, and that is harvested sustainably, is going to be protected. Sheep and cattle are among the most populous mammal species on Earth – because we need them. Harvesting of wild animals does have to be within a strict, researched and policed quota – which this industry is. Sustainable use, by its very definition – works. If it didn’t – it wouldn’t be sustainable, now would it?

Why would you want to eat the Australian icon?

Why not? If he was talking about the other one – Emu – I could understand…I didn't like it (sneff said it can be fantastic though). But what’s sacred about the Australian emblem? Heck, the national emblem for Wales is the leek. Nuff said.

I believe that kangaroos and emus need to coexist with grazing areas. But he also believes (surprise surprise) that: I think it's an absolute disaster that Australia, the government, allowed kangaroo culling. Total disaster.

So – er…what are we meant to do, Mr. Irwin? The current practices are unsustainable. Even changing to something useful like rotational grazing isn’t going to fix it all. If we can’t cull kangaroos and we can’t harvest them…but we can’t lessen the number of cattle and sheep or the farmers’ll go broke – what then? Seriously, people – culling kangaroos is fairly necessary. If we can eat them as well – bonus. Nature reserves cull kangaroos – I know…I worked at one. It’s an environmentally acceptable – nay – necessary – practice.

Various other issues that wildlife groups such as AWPC claim are reasons to “end the slaughter”:

  • Cruelty – The RSPCA has approved the current method of killing. Shooters must have a licence and are renowned for their marksmanship.
  • Diseased meat – As mentioned above – the meat is extremely healthy indeed. Not a problem.
  • Threat to species – None of the kangaroo species are endangered or listed as threatened in any way. National quotas for harvesting and culling are low, and seldom met. Kangaroos can repopulate quickly due to complex reproductive strategies, and most individuals killed are males – of which there is a surplus in the population.


Brief rant:

This makes me so mad. An in-the-public-eye “conservationist” presenting impassioned arguments trying to stop this industry. He hasn’t done the research. Seriously - I researched this exhaustively. Ok, that was a few years back, but those facts don’t change. I haven’t accused him of just doing it for publicity, though that was my first thought, because after looking at what the Australia Zoo does, I don’t think that’s what Steve Irwin’s about, despite his dumb crocodile hunter antics. And in some ways he is well informed – his choice to not become a vegetarian was fairly environmentally sound.

Another statement he made, incidentally, which has nothing to do with kangaroo harvesting, was the following:

Scientific American: What about this idea of trying to save wildlife by keeping indigenous animals as pets, to increase their value and as a way to keep more of them alive?

STEVE: Yeah, I don't think it's realistic, and I oppose it. Because the animals that need our help the most—let's take one icon, the koala. No one could look after a koala. They have specialized requirements. One koala needs 300 eucalyptus trees per year, and that's if the trees are in good tip. And you need eight different species, so for us to cut for our koalas, we've got a guy on a full-time job.

Two words for you, Mr. Irwin, Sir: “Gould’s Finch”. The koala was a rotten example. Nobody in their right mind would suggest that strategy for the koala. But Gould’s Finch is only extant today because it was turned into a pet.

Oooh this guy makes me mad.

</rant>

Acknowledgements: “Interview with Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin” – Sarah Simpson, Scientific American March 26, 2001.
http://www.sciam.com/
http://www.awpc.org.au/
The wild harvest and marketing of kangaroos: a case study of J. R. Hardman. Published Brisbane 1996.
Commercial harvesting of kangaroos in Australia Tony Pople. Published Canberra 1999.

Steve Irwin is the type of character who has the ability to evoke varied emotions amongst his viewers. Often laughter (whether with him, or at him), respect for the work he does, admiration for the fact that the man can take his unique personality, and use it to further his passions across the world. Unfortunately over the last few days, one emotion seems to be more prominent than any other.

Bloody idiot.

This type of reaction probably comes as no real surprise to the vast majority of those familiar with Irwin's antics - how else would most people react to a man who wrestles crocodiles, seems to have a complete lack of fear when it comes to the most venomous creatures in the world, and who will get down on his belly, slithering along a river bank with a lizard (and looking as though he's more comfortable moving this way than walking). However this time, rather than the usual shake of the head in amazement at the danger he puts himself in, the reaction has been one of anger.

On the 2nd of January, 2004, Steve Irwin conducted a show at his Australia Zoo. Nothing particularly unusual there - these shows are common, the highlight generally being Steve Irwin in a crocodile enclosure, feeding a large crocodile. The crowd will cringe, ohh and ahh as he holds out a piece of meat to a large reptile, dropping it into the animals opened jaws, seemingly getting far closer than common sense would dictate before letting the meal out of his hands. All good entertainment, the crowd gets to see Irwin risking life and limb in the flesh, all the while gaining an education on these animals. This show was a little different to the normal however.

In his right hand, Irwin held a chunk of meat for a large, hungry crocodile. Tucked under his left arm, he held his one month old son, Bob.

The backlash was immediate and severe. Queensland’s Department of Families has requested unedited video footage of the incident, following scores of complaints from the public - both those at the show, and those who saw footage on TV. Queensland police investigated the incident, but will not be laying charges. The story was splashed across news headlines both in Australia and overseas - The New York Daily News ran a headline 'Steve Irwin - Australian for Stupid', while the UK's The Daily Mirror ran with 'Crocky Horror Show'.

Irwin has said since, "If I had the time again maybe I would do it differently", while also stating "But it's all about perceived danger . . . I was in full control." Comparisons have been made between this incident, and Michael Jackson holding his son over the edge of a balcony. It appears that these comparisons have deeply hurt Irwin, and he has claimed to be considering a withdrawal from the public eye following the outcry over his actions.

Unfortunately, Irwin seems to have some very strange ideas regarding the actions he took, and doesn't really seem to understand why there has been such an outcry over what has been widely described as a stunt. News reports have contained a number of quotes by Irwin - some of these are listed below, along with some thoughts of mine.


"If you knew how much I loved my kids . . . you would know that I would never, ever, put them in any danger, not in a million years."

Unfortunately though, this is exactly what Irwin did. I have no doubt that he respects the creatures he has made the focal point of his life. I have no doubt that he realises that he is putting his own life in danger every time he steps into an enclosure with an adult crocodile, feeding it by hand. I would hope that he never loses respect for these creatures, and thinks himself immune to the danger they pose. Wild animals are unpredictable - never forget this Steve.

"Children need to be taught the dangers of crocodiles."

Being the son or daughter of Steve Irwin, I imagine that learning the danger of crocodiles would be very important. However, Irwin's son is one month old. At this age, a child has not gained the ability to sense colour, has no control of eye muscles, and has only the most basic sensory capabilities. A one month old child in the presence of a crocodile is learning nothing.

"Every time I put my children in my car I am scared because my wife and I have no control over the traffic"

This said in defence of his actions, and an apparent attempt to reinforce how much Irwin and his wife Terri do think about putting their children in danger. The problem here is that although the words are true - you do have no control over the traffic, and there is always the risk that an idiot driver will cause an accident, taking your child into a crocodile enclosure is an entirely different prospect. However much Irwin wants to disbelieve it, he has no control over a large crocodile. He does however, have the option to not expose a helpless baby to this danger. Even though the road may pose more danger, this is no justification for exposing your child to additional danger.


Unfortunately, Irwin has only made matters worse for himself. The day after the incident with Bob, the Irwin's 5 year old daughter was ordered into a crocodile enclosure during another public show, and made to thrash around in the water in an effort to encourage the crocodiles to come out. Terri is quoted as saying "Now flail around and look helpless. That's the girl - good girl." Irwin then tastelessly described his daughter as "the other white meat". The door to the adjoining crocodile enclosure was closed, Bindi was never in any danger.

The most disturbing aspect of this behaviour is that although Irwin steadfastly maintains that his actions are designed to teach his children, who are destined to grow up exposed to many dangerous creatures, to be croc savvy, he contradicts himself. Thrashing around at the edge of the water in order to encourage crocodiles to come out is in no way a technique designed to ensure his child’s safety. This is a high risk behaviour, taught to a child who may not understand what she is doing - let alone the children watching this display.

The fallout from these incidents has not settled yet - whether Irwin will withdraw from public life or not is something that remains to be seen. Regardless of his decision, The Crocodile Hunter has dropped several levels in the estimation of many people. Irwin is now learning that while the public will laugh, gasp, and respect what he does himself, matters are very different when his children come into the equation.





Sources:

www.news.com.au
www.smh.com.au
www.abc.net.au

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