Steve Irwin - A Showman? Or A Passionate Wildlife Conservationist?

Steve Irwin was an inspiration to so many, but the scathing attacks on his work and methods raise the question “How should Steve Irwin be remembered?”

If you love animals, you probably grew up snuggling dog and cats as often as you could. Excitement, and joy coursing through you every time the chance to pet an adorable puppy or kitten came your way. And after some research on the life of Steve Irwin, I’ve come to understand that he was no different from someone who grew up snuggling puppies. When you think about his life story really, it becomes so much easier to understand “The Crocodile Hunter”, especially amidst the heavy criticism he came under when PETA published a scathing article on Steve Irwin’s birthday, early this year. 

Irwin was particularly well-known for the easy, comfortable way in which he interacted with inarguably dangerous wild animals and reptiles. Creatures that evoked a very strong fear response in most people, seemed to fascinate Steve Irwin. His very apparent fondness for these animals and the easy comfort with which he interacted with them reminded me of someone who has an innate understanding that only comes with a lifetime of experience. He was barely done being a toddler when his parents moved to Queensland and opened their own Reptile and Fauna Park. At only 9 years old, Steve Irwin was already helping his father on the field. Anyone who knew him often remarked that he had a way with the animals he worked with.

Around a month after Steve Irwin’s tragic death, Alastair Fothergill, a BBC producer came out in criticism of Irwin’s methods. He called Irwin a “showman” and implied that what he did was an intrusion. Thirteen years since, PETA also came out with an article at the start of 2019, with the exact same angle. The question then becomes, “How should he be remembered?” 

From where I stand, while there is a grain of truth in the criticism of his work, the unnecessary bitterness with which he was attacked seems a tad unfair. PETA’s article comes across as purposely inciteful. Because it’s such an angry sounding, bitter article, it simply sounds like propaganda. The importance of “dragging a frightened snake out of a hole” goes beyond matters of “respect”. It is well understood that wildlife requires protection. But Steve Irwin’s methods and the way he worked helped dispel a lot of the fear and misunderstanding that surrounded the animals Irwin worked with. He spread awareness, not just of their existence but he spoke of them as beings that sparked empathy and compassion in millions of people across the world. I grew up loving reptiles because of Steve Irwin, and I’m willing to bet he did the same for many others. 

One of the biggest complaints against Steve Irwin is the way he jumped on animals and was overly dramatic in his way of presenting things. But when you stop for a second and think about Steve Irwin not just as a wildlife conservationist, but also as an individual whose entire life was spent around these animals, you realise what you’re seeing is a man sharing his passion with the world, unencumbered by the need to be anything but himself.

Irwin has done A LOT for wildlife conservation that goes well beyond the shows that made him globally famous. Irwin and his family founded the Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation, which later became the Wildlife Warriors Worldwide. He was also instrumental in founding several other conservation sanctuaries. His contributions to the world of wildlife conservation has been instrumental in the protection and rehabilitation of thousands of animals! 

The heartwarming thing about the completely unnecessary attempt at defamation, was the many people that came to Steve Irwin’s defence, bringing up plenty of things that PETA has yet to answer for. Really proving the adage - when you point a finger, three point back at you. 

No matter where you stand on the whole debate about Steve Irwin’s work, it’s hard to deny one thing. He made wildlife accessible, interesting and got MILLIONS of people to tune in to watch with joy and fascination. Hell, even Sir David Attenborough was a fan!

Ketki Bhosale

Ketki Bhosale

Jeevoka member since Oct 2019

Ketki has always believed in the power of words and the magic they have the potential to carry.... because of this, she has pursued a career in writing and today spends her working hours telling the stories of animals that need help. She likes to spend her free time challenging herself in the kitchen (fancy dog treats anyone?), watching her dog splash around in lakes, and scribbling music lyrics to half composed songs in her notebook. Inspired by her experiences with her dog, Ketki also likes to spend her time understanding mental health and the impact animals can have on ones mental health.