A Committed Conservationist…………….
A farewell to Steve Irwin who was passionate about raising awareness in respect of animals and the environment in his own inimitable style.

The name Steve Irwin may not be instantly recognisable but many were familiar with the hyperactive, stereotypical Aussie bloke who wore khaki coloured shorts and shirt.  I recall watching TV programmes in which he would walk around the Australian bush in bare feet, which astonished me, bearing in mind the large range of poisonous snakes, spiders, and various insects that are indigenous to that country.  Mind you, this was tame compared to wrestling with crocodiles. J

Sadly Steve Irwin, aged 44, died on Monday 4 September 2006.  It is reported that he was in the area of Batt Reef, off Port Douglas in north Queensland, Australia, filming the TV documentary series Ocean’s Deadliest.  Weather conditions had halted filming and not someone who could sit still for too long, he made the decision to film some shallow water shots for a segment in the television programme that his daughter was hosting.  A bull stingray plunged its powerful barbed tail into his chest.  It was described as if he had been stabbed in the heart.

How ironic that a man who made a career from having close encounters with some of the world’s deadliest creatures, was killed by a usually docile fish.  Stingrays are members of the Dasyatidae family of cartilaginous fish, with about 70 species worldwide.

I have seen stingrays in the wild and in the large aquarium in Sydney (NSW, Australia) as they majestically moved through the water and naively had no knowledge of their potential fatal weapon.  Specialists have said that stingrays only sting in defence, as they are not aggressive.  The bull stingray must have lashed out in fear.

His family did not approve of a full state funeral, which was offered.  Bob Irwin (his father) said that Steve would want to be remembered as an ordinary bloke.

That ordinary bloke was born on 22 February 1962 in Essendon, Victoria, Australia.  In 1970, his parents founded the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park, later to become Australia Zoo.  The park specialised in rehabilitating ill or injured baby kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and koalas, and Steve Irwin grew up surrounded by wildlife.

After graduating from high school he moved to Northern Queensland, where he became a crocodile trapper – removing crocodiles from populated areas where they were considered a danger.  The crocodiles that he caught were sent to the family zoo.  He became a volunteer for the Queensland Government’s East Coast Crocodile Management program.

In 1991 he met Terri Raines, from Eugene, Oregon, U.S.A and they married in 1992.  The couple had two children, Bindi Sue born in 1998 and Robert (Bob) Clarence in 2003.  It is reported that Steve Irwin was as passionate about his family as he was about conservation.

Steve Irwin’s long time friend and manager, John Stainton, appeared understandably shocked on the Larry King show on CNN shortly after the tragic event.  He explained what a great experience it was working with him and how the first episode of his show, The Crocodile Hunter, was built around a crocodile trapping trip that Irwin and his wife undertook for their honeymoon.  Discovery Channel bought the programme in 1996 and it rapidly became a phenomenon, being screened in 130 countries.

Another guest paying a sincere tribute on that Larry King show was Philippe Cousteau, the grandson of the famous French oceanographic technician, who was with the film crew in north Queensland on that fateful day.

Although normally seen on TV, Steve Irwin did have a small role in the film Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001) which starred Eddie Murphy and starred in the 2002 film  - The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course.

Like most media personalities he courted controversy.  In January 2004, whilst holding his baby son in one arm he fed a chicken carcass to a 4-metre saltwater crocodile with the other and this provoked a barrage of criticism.  Irwin later claimed he was in complete control of the crocodile.  Comparisons were made with the incident when Michael Jackson held a baby, covered mostly in a white towel, over a hotel balcony.  Both acts attracted press coverage but one has to question whether this was exploitation of children.

Love him or loath him, Steve Irwin served as a bridge from the animal world to the human world although he admitted being slightly afraid of parrots.  It is reported that some Australians found his stereotypical behaviour and catch phrases e.g.  Crikey ! as an embarrassment.  Germaine Greer, the Australian born author allegedly launched a vicious assault on him in the immediate aftermath of his death: making reference to macho heroes.  According to one report Irwin was part of an endangered species.  The former leader of the labour party said:  “One of the saddest things I have seen in my lifetime has been the decline in Australian male culture.”

Taking aside the characture image, the serious conservation message he worked so passionately to get across is critical.  Now that most politicians have caught on, that portraying an environmentally green image wins votes and will be rewarded with even more press coverage, thankfully more debates are taking place.  The debates need to be followed very quickly with radical action.

Al Gore’s (the former Vice President of the U.S) documentary film:’ The Inconvenient Truth’ has attracted limited media coverage.  In my personal opinion it should be part of the compulsory global school curriculum.  Pollution does not recognise border controls therefore the environment problems we are facing are global.  Many scientists believe that we are fast approaching the point of no return.

Some of the information on the website link: www.wwf.org.uk/climatechangeinfo
makes scary reading but it is about time we accepted some responsibility for our actions.  The information is targeted at people in the U.K. but the climate change will not only impact a select few countries it is a problem for all us to accept and deal with.

HRH Prince Charles of the United Kingdom (The Prince of Wales) has been trying to put forward messages about the benefits of organic farming and many other environmental sensitive subjects for decades.  For years he was branded an eccentric aristocrat who had no understanding of the trials and tribulations faced by the working classes.  Now the environment is becoming a fashionable commodity and manufacturers can start to appeal to consumers with a green message e.g. Hybrid cars, HRH must wonder why hardly any one would listen previously.  His ownership of an Aston Martin is controversial but it is reported he allegedly does not use that gas-guzzler very often.

A speech by HRH The Prince of Wales at a dinner hosted by President and Mrs Bush at the White House, Washington D.C., U.S.A., on 2 November 2005, included the following: -

“My wife and I are deeply grateful to you, Mr. President, and, Mrs. Bush, for your generous hospitality towards us, but more so, as I am only too conscious of the enormous challenges and responsibilities which face the 43rd President of the United States.  And I need hardly say that so many people throughout the world look to the United States of America for a lead on the most crucial issues that face our planet and, indeed, the lives of our grandchildren.  Truly, the burdens of the world rest on your shoulders.”

The full speech can be seen on: -

During President Bush’s State of the Union Address in January 2006 he made the now famous comment: “ America is addicted to oil.”  One may not agree with the words that followed but are relieved that this critical issue was given such high profile.

If one listens to the issues brought to the attention of the global media by the Clinton Foundation (as one prime example) it becomes clear how inter-linked these problems are.  Some one somewhere has to break the vicious circle.  If a community are starving as a result of continued corruption, civil war, lack of education and healthcare in their country – how can anyone start lecturing them not to kill one more animal, as it is an endangered species.

The universal appeal of someone like Steve Irwin reached out to the young and old alike. Many children are boisterous and some may say get over excited about certain topics.  Steve Irwin, in this sense, was like a big kid, excitedly telling the world how important all animals are.  He was also passionate that children should be educated about conservation from an early age.

Illegal and unsustainable trade in wildlife is a serious conservation concern.  Involving thousands of species, the illegal international trade in wildlife runs into billions of dollars annually.  Steve Irwin urged people not to buy products made from endangered species or threatens the environment in which they live.

We, as consumers, should recognise the power we have.  If everyone stopped buying ivory products (e.g. it is reported that thousands of ivory products are for sale mainly in five European countries: U.K., Germany, France, Spain & Italy), products made with tiger bones, shark fin soup etc..  this would de-motivate the traders.  When I first moved to Switzerland in 2001, there were many culture differences to absorb but one that did surprise me was the imperious wearing of real fur products.  Also coming from London where many years prior to that, retail outlets trading in animal fur products had been forced to close due to protests it was like taking a step back in time.  This is one of those subjects that gets the hackles raised for various reasons.  Yes, one can argue that thousands of years ago humans had to wear animal skins to survive etc..  In the 21st century with the technology available there is no need to wear animal fur. Maybe communities leaving near the North Pole may have a valid reason (as one example) but people parading around the streets of Europe – maybe not.  At one time flashing the fur went out of fashion but sadly celebrities have been seen recently wearing real fur again which will spark the vast hoard of celebrity clones to copy.  In my personal opinion, wearing fur is used as a status symbol.  Traditionally, synonymous with the rich and famous, the perception is that it will enhance our social status.  It is acknowledged that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (of the U.K.) does wear fur occasionally, which does not attract as much media criticism as when junior members of the British Royal Family do the same.

What do we tell the future generations when they ask why some animals became extinct?  How do we explain that (for example) Wild Tiger no longer exist because we allowed it’s natural habitat to be systematically destroyed and we were unable to find an alternative to traditional Chinese medicine so we continued to kill the beautiful member of the cat family.

It is recognised that cultural sensitivities have to be taken into account when one attempts to tackle anything on the scale of traditional Chinese medicine but what will happen to those cultural sensitivities when there are no more Wild Tigers left?  The traditional medicine will not stop being sold, an alternative will be found but a very high price would have been paid to get to that point.  There must be organic herbal alternatives and such a diverse, creative, intelligent culture must be able to develop an alternative other than using bones from a Wild Tiger.

During an interview with Larry King in 2004, Steve Irwin claimed he was making enemies amongst those who were involved in whale hunting as he was exposing the barbaric methods used.  The International Whaling Commission has rejected Japan’s call to resume regulated commercial whaling.  In the 21st century one has to ask why is there any need for whaling.  Reports state the whale population needs to be curtailed to protect the fish supplies as if humans should have the ability to control nature with little or no respect for the consequence.  It is said that humankind is the deadliest creature in the oceans therefore does the human race need to be culled?

Whilst filming a documentary in Antarctica in 2004, Steve Irwin was placed under Australian Federal Government investigation for a possible criminal breach of wildlife laws.  Interacting with Antarctic wildlife is strictly forbidden.  These claims were denied on a Larry King show (CNN) and no further prosecutors took action.  Allegedly, Steve Irwin was clinging on to an iceberg whilst observing humpback whales.  Out of another controversy comes the momentous message how vulnerable these animals are in the 21st century climate.

Steve Irwin’s memorial service was held in the morning of Wednesday 20 September 2006 at the Animal Planet Crocoseum at Australia Zoo in front of thousands, including the Australian Prime Minister John Howard.  Mr Howard had previously described him as “one of Australia’s great conservation icons,” and personally invited the environmentalist to a barbecue for President George W Bush held in Canberra in 2003.

It was an incredibly moving ceremony attended by his colleagues, people of various ages and animals. The Australian music star John Williamson sang True Blue, which was allegedly Irwin’s favourite song.

 If anyone witnessed his daughter’s speech, it made one wonder how someone so young could be so strong.  It included the following: -

“I know that Daddy had an important job.  He was working to change the world so everyone would love wildlife like he did.  He built a hospital to help animals and he bought lots of land to give animals a safe place to live.”

"I have the best daddy in the whole world and I will miss him every day.  When I see a crocodile, I will always think of him."

It provided hope that she and her brother will have the courage and ability to continue with the critical conservation work.

Terri Irwin’s first interview following her husband’s death was with Barbara Walters on the show 20/20, ABC News, on 26 September 2006. Details can be seen on: -

Allegedly ABC’s Australian story on Monday 16 October will broadcast the first TV interview with Bindi Irwin since her father died whilst she is sitting on her mother’s knee.

If you wish to find out more details about The Australia Zoo and how to adopt an animal, please look at: -

Steve Irwin was nicknamed The Crocodile Hunter and some say he packed 10 life times into his 44 years. Only a few humans can make such an impact during their journey on this planet.

Cynics will say why do we have to live worrying/feeling guilty about animals and how much we use the car and recycle packaging etc.. It won’t make any difference.  Some people are disillusioned and view the problems as being insurmountable.  Some are just selfish and lazy.

In my personal opinion, no one person can save the planet but we can all make a difference.

Switzerland has for many years led the way in terms of the emphasis on recycling and rubbish management i.e. before just throwing everything into the bin, thinking about how it can be recycled. 

For all those who have relatives, friends, or colleagues in the U.K. the next Stop Climate Chaos mass public event is planned to take place in London on Saturday 4 November 2006.  More details can be seen on: -

The common mantra of people today is, “I’m busy.”  If you ask someone courteously about his or her well being, the typical reply is, “I’m so busy.”  You will commonly hear how hectic their place of work is; they don’t have a moment to stop, to listen, or think etc..

Reports have shown that the more materialistic wealthy the typical western world becomes the more unhappy it is becoming.  Levels of anxiety, stress, and depression have risen alarmingly but allegedly we have more financial wealth. 
Can anyone take the hint yet?

Isn’t it time we stopped for one moment, looked around and started seeing what is really happening to this planet.  Cynics will ask if I personally have scientific proof that the ice caps are melting at an alarming rate.  No, I am not a scientist and have no facts on paper in front of me.  But what I do know is that the heat wave that I experienced in 2003 was extreme and had a devastating effect on not only frail humans but also wildlife (through water shortages etc.).  When I was young, if the temperature in the U.K. reached 22-24 degrees C it was considered to be a warm summer.  The exception was in 1976 when there was a freak heat wave and drought – in some areas of the U.K. people were forced to use standpipes in the street to collect fresh water.

This summer the temperatures throughout the U.K. and Switzerland reached over 35 degrees C and we are told these temperatures will become the norm.

The soaring summer heat wave during July resulted in roads melting, in parts of the U.K. and the surge in power for air conditioning systems put pressure on electricity supplies.

The increasing temperatures will impact our lives in many ways from the plants we grow in the garden to the mixed harvests that farmers are facing.  There are record fruit crops but the grain harvest is likely to be badly hit.  The National Farmers Union in Wales (as one example) reported that the shortage of grass is resulting in farmers having to feed winter stocks to the cattle now.  Rising temperatures could lead to an increase in insects and pest infestations e.g. fleas, wasps, mice, and rats.

Most scientists agree that climate change is largely due to human activity mainly the increased use of fossil fuels.

The key point is that we do not own planet Earth, we are just the caretakers for the future generations.  Many parents/guardians are proud of their children and that is great but are we proud of the state of the world we are leaving for them?

It is reported that planet Earth cannot sustain the current growth in the human population.  Religious sensitivities and traditions will have to debated and challenged if the population is to be kept to manageable levels.

We can all take small steps to ensure that the most important leap of progress is made.

Some simple and easy steps: -

Use energy efficient light bulbs.

Turn off electrical appliances where practical e.g. do not leave televisions on stand by.

Only fill up the kettle with the minimum amount of water required.

Recycle your paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, glass etc..
There is no excuse if you live in Switzerland, as the recycling collection points are easily available not like many other countries.

One example: -
If every week we all cut out just one 14km journey by car, our CO 2 emissions would be reduced by 13% each year.

We cannot all live a life as action packed as Steve Irwin but we can be passionate about protecting Planet Earth in a way that is compatible with our lifestyle and abilities.

When your grandchildren or future generations of relatives ask you, “What action did you take, what will you say?”

More information and details are on: -





Select:  Economy  - Environment and energy


© Theresa Avery    October 2006


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