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We advocate on all animal protection and exploitation issues, including experimentation, factory farming, rodeos, breeders and traveling animal acts.

Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704


Irwin's death a sobering reminder

Detroit Free Press

Buffalo News Outdoors Page 

When Steve Irwin, TV's "Crocodile Hunter," was killed by a stingray off his native Australia last weekend, a lot of people reacted with surprise.

What surprised me was that it took this long for him to push his luck too far.While Irwin held himself out as a protector and defender of wildlife, he made his living exploiting and harassing animals for a television show.

His up-close-and-personal exploits with dangerous creatures like crocodiles and poisonous snakes sent an utterly wrong message to people who watched the programs, especially children.

I haven't figured out how Irwin managed to get so close to a stingray that it could shove an 8-inch barbed stinger into his heart. In order to get stuck by a ray, you have to be inches away from it. I know that because once, while showing some people how easy it was to get 10 cents worth of hook and leader back after catching a small stingray, I got careless and the ray stabbed me through the hand.

The point of the 6-inch stinger entered the web between my thumb and forefinger and came out of my palm near the wrist, and I got to spend a night in a hospital and several weeks being treated by a hand surgeon.

The reason I got stuck wasn't because rays are dangerous, but because I did something very stupid. And by the way, all those stories you've heard about how excruciatingly painful a ray sting is? Believe them.

Irwin's chest must have been nearly touching the ray for him to sustain that kind of injury, and I suspect it must also have happened in very shallow water, where a normally unaggressive stingray would feel threatened by a big and potentially dangerous animal swimming over it.

Whenever I saw Irwin on TV, using his head to tease a crocodile or poisonous snake into striking, I would think of Timothy Treadwell, the self-anointed "Grizzly Man" who set himself up as a "protector" of grizzly bears in a part of Alaska where there was no need to protect them.

Treadwell, who claimed to have a special "friendship" with grizzlies, would camp among them, and his shtick was to get on Dave Letterman or some other TV show by showing videos of himself way closer to grizzlies than was allowed by the rules of the national parks where he camped.

Park officials knew what he was doing, yet refused to stop him. Everybody just kind of laughed off Crazy Tim's antics until the day he got himself and his girlfriend killed and eaten.

I sometimes wondered how long it would take before Irwin made the same mistake. Now we know.

In the course of a long career of dealing with lots of wild animals, I've been bitten by a chimpanzee, several species of monkeys, a bottle-nosed dolphin , a fur seal, weasels, a baby leopard, squirrels, a coyote and more species of fish and birds than I can remember. In almost every case we were doing something that the animals didn't like.

We all tend to be so fascinated with wild animals that we forget why we put that adjective before "animals."

Steve Irwin kept animals in a zoo and charged people to come in to see him and other employees treat them like dangerous toys. The very name of the film he was making at the time he died, "The Ocean's Deadliest," should tell you that this was just another exploitative, sensationalist effort aimed at the Reality TV generation.

Irwin's death should be a lesson to anyone who spends time where animals are still wild. We call them wild for a reason, and we need to give them the space and respect they deserve.

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