Steve Irwin

Wildlife television presenter whose series 'Crocodile Hunter' made him an international celebrity
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The Independent Online

Stephen Robert Irwin, crocodile trapper, zookeeper, television presenter and conservationist: born Melbourne, Victoria 22 February 1962; married 1992 Terri Raines (one son, one daughter); died off Port Douglas, Queensland 4 September 2006.

After spending a lifetime devoted to animal conservation and watched by television viewers all over the world as he plucked crocodiles from rivers to move them to safe habitats, Steve Irwin died in the most unlikely of circumstances - especially for someone who had been surrounded by animals from childhood.

In the documentary series Crocodile Hunter, the khaki-clad Australian wildlife television presenter with the boisterous charm wrestled with the scissor-jawed reptiles and accepted bites as part of the job. But he met his death at Batt Reef off the Queensland coast yesterday when he was attacked by a stingray, which plunged its lethal barb into the left-hand side of his chest while he was filming for his eight-year-old daughter Bindi's underwater documentary Deadly Sea Creatures. Only two such deaths have been recorded in Australian waters over the past 61 years.

"I'm a thrill-seeker," Irwin once said, "but, crikey, education's the most important thing." "Crikey!" was the catchword familiar to tens of millions of viewers, used whenever he happened upon something interesting.

Irwin was the modern-day embodiment of the television underwater explorers of the 1950s and 1960s. Jacques Cousteau, who was one of Irwin's heroes, completed more than 30 voyages on his converted minesweeper Calypso, pioneered new techniques in underwater photography and made dozens of award-winning cinema and television films - accompanied on many adventures by his first wife, Simone. Another husband-and-wife team, Hans and Lotte Hass, filmed their own, sometimes dangerous exploits in the deep as they roamed the oceans of the world.

Irwin also featured his wife, Terri, in his programmes after their crocodile-trapping honeymoon, in 1992, was filmed for the original Crocodile Hunter documentary. The successful series of the same name followed and Irwin carved out his own, distinctive style, Australian almost to the point of stereotype, actually using terms such as "Sheila" and "Fair Dinkum".

However, Irwin also caused controversy. Two years ago, he held his new-born son, Bob, on one arm while feeding a 13ft crocodile with the other, but the television star insisted that the infant was in no danger. Months later, it was alleged that he broke laws banning interaction with Antarctic wildlife when he went close to humpback whales, penguins and a seal while filming the documentary Ice Breaker, but he insisted he was simply "bobbing around" and no charges were brought following a month-long investigation by Australia's Environment Department.

Born to two animal lovers and conservationists in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon in 1962, Irwin received a 12ft-long scrub python for his sixth birthday. After the family moved north of Brisbane to Beerwah, where they opened the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park, he enjoyed feeding and caring for the animals and, by the age of nine, was getting experience as a crocodile trapper, removing the reptiles from populated rivers and relocating them to the park.

When he grew up, Irwin did similar work for the Queensland government's East Coast Crocodile Management programme, living in infested creeks, rivers and mangroves while catching crocodiles single-handed. When his parents retired in 1991, Irwin took over the family park and turned it into a tourist attraction as the Australia Zoo.

His subsequent success with Crocodile Hunter (1992-), Croc Files (1999) and The Crocodile Hunter Diaries (2002) turned him into an international celebrity. As a result, he was cast as himself in both the 2002 film remake Dr Dolittle 2, starring Eddie Murphy as the doctor who can speak to animals, and The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course (2002), in which he mistakes CIA agents for crocodile poachers - a picture that took an impressive $9.5m at the US box office in its opening weekend.

Irwin dedicated his life's work to conservation and was never deflected from his course by news of the ravages unleashed on the Earth. "I am optimistic globally," he said: "So many scientists are working frantically on the reparation of our planet. Unfortunately, there are countries who are still destroying it, but we really hope the conservation message rubs off in our film. Every cent we earn from Crocodile Hunter goes straight back into conservation. Every single cent."

At the Australia Zoo, Irwin established programmes to help endangered species such as the koala, giant land tortoise, Fijian crested iguana and Komodo dragon. The star also set up the Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation - later renamed Wildlife Warriors Worldwide - to protect habitats and wildlife, create rescue programmes and finance scientific research into endangered species, and he was credited with influencing the Australian government's decision to ban crocodile hunting in northern Australia last year.

Anthony Hayward

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