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Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin Dead

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Steve Irwin, the enthusiastic "Crocodile Hunter" who enthralled audiences around the world with his wildlife adventures, died Monday after being stung by a stingray while shooting a TV program off Australia's north coast.

Media reports say Irwin was snorkeling at Batt Reef, a part of the Great Barrier Reef about 9 miles (about 15 kilometers) from the town of Port Douglas, when the incident happened on Monday morning.

Irwin, 44, was killed by a stingray barb that pierced his chest, according to Cairns police sources.

Irwin was in the area to film pieces for a show called "The Ocean's Deadliest" with Philippe Cousteau, grandson of Jacques, Irwin's manager and friend John Stainton told CNN's "American Morning." But weather had prevented the crew from doing work for that program, said Stainton, so Irwin decided to do some softer features for a new children's TV show he was doing with his daughter, Bindi.

"He came over the top of a stingray that was buried in the sand, and the barb came up and hit him in the chest," said Stainton.

Wildlife documentary maker Ben Cropp, citing a colleague who saw footage of the attack, told TIME that Irwin had accidentally boxed the animal in. "It stopped and twisted and threw up its tail with the spike, and it caught him in the chest," said Cropp. "It's a defensive thing. It's like being stabbed with a dirty dagger."

Ambulance officers confirmed they attended a reef fatality Monday morning off Port Douglas, according to Australian media.

Queensland Police Services also confirmed Irwin's death and said his family had been notified. Irwin was director of the Australia Zoo in Queensland. He is survived by his American-born wife Terri and their two children, Bindi Sue, born 1998, and Robert (Bob), born December 2003.

"The world has lost a great wildlife icon, a passionate conservationist and one of the proudest dads on the planet," Stainton told reporters in Cairns, according to The Associated Press. "He died doing what he loved best and left this world in a happy and peaceful state of mind. He would have said, 'Crocs Rule!' "

Australia Prime Minister John Howard said he was "shocked and distressed at Steve Irwin's sudden, untimely and freakish death," according to AP. "It's a huge loss to Australia."

Irwin became a popular figure on Australian and international television through Irwin's close handling of wildlife, most notably the capture and relocation of crocodiles.

Irwin's enthusiastic approach to nature conservation and the environment won him a global following. He was known for his exuberance and use of the catch phrase "Crikey!"

"His message is really about conservation: He really wants to leave the world a better place for everybody," Animal Planet's Maureen Smith told CNN.com in April.

"It's unbelievable, really," Jack Hanna, the host of "Jack Hanna's Animal Adventure" and director emeritus of the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo, told CNN. "You think about Steve Irwin and you think of people who are invincible."

Hanna, a friend of Irwin's, noted that Irwin's persona of the Crocodile Hunter was no act. Irwin grew up around crocodiles, snakes and other animals at his parents' Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park and had been handling such creatures since he was a child.

"Steve really knew what he was doing. He was one of the finest reptile people in the world. He knew more about reptiles than anybody did. He was raised that way," said Hanna.

Though stingrays can be threatening, their sting -- usually prompted by self-defense -- is not often fatal. The bull ray that apparently stung Irwin was "a one-in-a-million thing," Cropp told TIME. "I have swum with many rays, and I have only had one do that to me."

"A wild animal is like a loaded gun -- it can go off at any time," Hanna told CNN. "You have to be careful of that." But, he added, it's not the animals who are inherently dangerous, but the way they may react around humans. "People use the word 'dangerous,' and that sometimes is a word that's not fair to that animal, because that animal is only using the defenses that God gave it," said Hanna.


Rise to popularity

Irwin first became popular with his show "Crocodile Hunter," which first aired on Australian TV in 1992. Eventually, the program was picked up by the Discovery Network in the United States, establishing Irwin worldwide.

His popularity led to a film, "The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course" (2002).

Irwin's image suffered a setback in January 2004 when he held his then 1-month-old baby Bob while feeding a crocodile at his Australian zoo.

In a statement released to Australian media, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer expressed his sorrow and said that he was fond of Irwin and was very appreciative of all the work he had done in promoting Australia overseas.

In 2003, Irwin spoke to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.'s "Australian Story" television program about how he was perceived in his home country.

"When I see what's happened all over the world, they're looking at me as this very popular, wildlife warrior Australian bloke," he said, the ABC reported.

"And yet back here in my own country, some people find me a little bit embarrassing. You know, there's this ... they kind of cringe, you know, 'cause I'm coming out with 'Crikey' and 'Look at this beauty.' "

At Australia Zoo at Beerwah, south Queensland, floral tributes were dropped at the entrance, where a huge fake crocodile gapes, the AP reported. Drivers honked their horns as they passed.

"Steve, from all God's creatures, thank you. Rest in peace," was written on a card with a bouquet of native flowers.

"We're all very shocked. I don't know what the zoo will do without him. He's done so much for us, the environment and it's a big loss," said Paula Kelly, a local resident and volunteer at the zoo, after dropping off a wreath at the gate, according to the AP.

"He has left a legacy," Stainton told CNN. "That people do love some of the unloved animals like crocodiles and reptiles that people wanted to kill. He's actually put a position in their hearts for them. I want that to continue. ... I want people to really go out there and remember Steve Irwin for what he really was, which was a great conservationist, saving wildlife and actually promoting wildlife that people didn't love."

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

 


He was a tireless crusader for respecting wildlife and the environment. He will be missed.

 

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
mikey89
Sep. 4th, 2006 11:04 pm (UTC)
The News however this morning seemed focused on when he had a chicken in one hand and his son in the other while tempting a crocodile.. Sure focus on that instead of the good he's done for animals.
tomonwheels
Sep. 5th, 2006 01:07 am (UTC)
Yes, I know. The media DOES tend to sensantionalize things a bit. He was a trained professional, and I'm sure that if he felt it that there was any danger, he would have gotten his son out of there.

Although, I do agree, it was NOT EXACTLY the smartest or safest thing to do.
kennykin
Sep. 6th, 2006 01:56 am (UTC)
the brightest candles burn out the fastest.
tomonwheels
Sep. 7th, 2006 12:20 am (UTC)
Yes they do.

He's gonna be missed.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )