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Steve Irwin: The Crocodile Hunter Who Got Too Close to Wildlife

Editorial / The Australian / September 6, 2006

Virginia McKenna, who starred in the film Born Free, says in London's Daily Telegraph that animals need their space

DID Steve Irwin pay the ultimate price for getting up close and personal with wild animals? Steve took "up close and personal" to the limit and, with all due respect to him, I think it was a mistake. In America there are thousands of people who keep dangerous wild animals - alligators, snakes, lions and more than 5000 tigers - as pets. Thousands more people regularly drop off the side of a boat to swim with sharks. Yet others pay handsomely to ride African elephants through the bush. It's not how it was meant to be. The fundamental truth of the relationship between wild animals and people is one based on mutual respect and, to an extent, fear.

In my experience, the stand-off between a wild animal such as a lion and a human being logically ends with both in retreat. Humans, lions and many other animals are risk-averse. The last thing they want to do is to suffer an injury that will reduce their survival chances. As a result, wild animals rarely attack unless they are threatened or intimidated, or unless they perceive that there is more to gain than there is to be lost.

I have had my own intimate experiences with dangerous wild animals. For nearly a year in 1964, my husband Bill Travers and I worked with a number of lions in making the film Born Free. But the fundamental message of that film was not about getting close; it was about letting go.

Steve's television performances, without doubt, set the adrenalin rushing. He put himself where few others would dare to tread and I can understand how
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