Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Steve Irwin: More Than Just a Crocodile Hunter

Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter

When I first heard that Steve Irwin had died, I felt a sort of numb disbelief, as though the very atmosphere had been altered, had lost something which could not be replaced.

Those first few moments were surreal, not unlike learning that a close relative or loved one has passed away suddenly, inexplicably. The shock was made even more surreal, and confusing, because I did not know Steve Irwin, never met him, never saw him in person, probably never came within a thousand miles of him at any time in my life. I knew him solely through the otherwise impersonal medium of my television.

And yet that simple fact is, by itself, a testament to the spirit of this man that we all knew as the Crocodile Hunter.

Steve Irwin had a way of endearing himself to his audience, of bringing his audience into his world, into his mind, his heart, his very soul.

He didn’t film from afar with a telephoto lens, quietly narrating from the safety of an all-terrain jeep. Instead, he brought his audience face to face with the wildlife he loved, into their world and their environment. It was impossible not to feel his passion and exuberance, his all-consuming love for his life’s work.

And it was this passion and utter genuineness that broke through the barriers of distance and airwaves, and made Steve Irwin seem like your next door neighbor or your favorite cousin, instead of just another television personality.

Steve’s passion, and compassion, was undeniable, and infectious. I think anyone who loves wildlife, anyone who has ever marveled at the colors on a peacock’s tail, anyone who has ever watched a flock of birds swarming in the late summer sky and felt a sense of oneness and peace with nature – anyone with a basic love of the earth and all her creatures has a little bit of Steve Irwin inside them. Steve simply had a unique gift, an ability to voice his passion, and the means to bring it to the world in a unique and enduring way. Steve Irwin, indeed, changed the world through changing the landscape of wildlife conservation and bringing awareness to so many countless millions.

When I first saw Steve Irwin almost ten years ago on the Discovery Channel, I was fascinated. Who wasn’t fascinated with this man who willingly went one on one with crocodiles and came face to face with the most poisonous snakes on the planet, and did it all with an enthusiasm that was contagious and entertaining? I was an instant fan, instantly captivated. And I learned much from Steve Irwin. Through the veneer of catchy language and heart-stopping wildlife encounters, I learned to have a greater and more broad appreciation of the world’s fauna, to see the beauty in the animal kingdom, to view animals not as our enemy or as game to be hunted, but as co-habitators of our planet, to be respected, cared for, and loved. Indeed, Steve Irwin taught me the idea of wildlife stewardship, something I had never genuinely considered before. Wildlife is not just to be gawked at for entertainment or slaughtered for food – it is our responsibility, as stewards of the planet, to ensure that all of the earth’s creatures are cared for, respected, and appreciated. Human beings are not lords of the animal kingdom – instead we are, and should be, caretakers and custodians, neighbors and co-habitators with wildlife on this little blue planet.

I was frequently amazed and inspired by Steve’s passion for his work. It was clear that he had a true and all-encompassing love for the animals he dedicated his life to. He put himself in constant danger, both wildlife danger as well as political danger, to protect the animals he loved and to bring his message of conservation to the world. Who couldn’t be inspired by a naturalist who would go into war-torn East Timor to rescue a suffering crocodile? Some might have called him crazy, but he was not crazy at all – he was simply filled with a love and devotion that most of us never have the privilege of experiencing.

What I learned from Steve Irwin was this: if I can love like he loved, if I can have passion for my life’s work like he had passion for his life’s work, if I can pour myself into life with gusto, verve and vitality like he did, then I can live a life worth living, and I can affect change in my world too.

Steve’s spirit of love, compassion, and stewardship for our world came at a time when such awareness was sorely needed. In a world rife with hatred, terror, war, and religious hypocrisy, Steve’s boyish enthusiasm, ability to love completely and utterly, and his message of conservation was, and continues to be, a welcome respite. So instead of focusing on the tragic nature of his death, I prefer to focus on his spectacular life, his infectious zeal, and the importance his life’s work has had on the future of our world.

To me, Steve Irwin was not just a wildlife expert who taught me more than I ever thought I wanted to know about snakes and spiders. Instead, he was, in fact, a role model for living. A personal hero, someone whose fervor and vivacity were inspirational, someone whose passion, ardor, and conviction I want to emulate in my own life.

My only regret is that it took Steve’s death to make me realize these things. I was confused by my reaction to the news of his death, because I had not realized, consciously, what a role model he had been for me. I did not realize until after his death how much his message and life had touched my own life.

But Steve is still here, still with us, his spirit lives on in the wild, reminding us how to love utterly, to live fully, to appreciate the beauty of creation, and to care for the environment and the wildlife that inhabits it.

I still see Steve Irwin everywhere I go, in every bird, every bug, every cat creeping along a tree branch. Every time I see a creature that people love to hate – a spider, or a snake, or a colorful little lizard crawling across the pavement – I think of Steve, and I see Steve, and I hear his message of compassion and conservation. He gave his life for what he loved, the greatest gift anyone can give. He has not left us...instead, he has given himself to us completely and utterly, and that’s a gift that does not go away just because the earthly body has died.

So here’s to you, Steve, to the family and friends you have left behind, and to the legacy of love you have forged for wildlife and human beings alike. Your spirit is in our hearts, in our souls. And when you have touched people’s lives like that, you can never die. Indeed, you live eternally.


Anonymous said...

Well said. I couldn't have put it more passionately.

Anonymous said...

A great tribute Scott. I admired him the most for his environmental work. I watched Larry King Live (a rerun obviously) last night when Steve was on there and he was talking about how we are not good stewards of the environment, etc. A big loss and what a tragedy.

Anonymous said...

They are also going to release the video of his death to the public because he always said that if he died doing what he love, he wanted the cameras to keep rolling. Even if he was getting eaten by a crocodile, he said he wanted them to show it because that's nature. :(