Monday, September 04, 2006

steve irwin r.i.p.

the crocodile hunter is dead, speared in the heart by a stingray barb. i'm not particularly fond of any kind of reality show, including going mano a mano with lions and tigers and bears (o my). thus, of all the obituaries i have so far read, i'd like you to see these comments in the telegraph by virginia mckenna:

"The Crocodile Hunter who got too close

One of television's most charismatic characters has gone. Whether you agreed with Steve Irwin's approach to wildlife or not, his undeniable passion for his subject will be missed by millions.

At yesterday morning's meeting at the offices of my charity, Born Free, we contemplated the loss that his family is now coming to terms with. But the question remains; did Steve Irwin, "The Crocodile Hunter", pay the ultimate price for getting up close and personal with wild animals?

The natural world is under increasing pressure and urban populations are now largely divorced from nature. Yet somehow that dissociation sparks a desire to get back in touch with wild places and wildlife. More people now travel the world in search of wilderness than ever before.

Steve Irwin 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 now thousands of people who keep dangerous wild animals – alligators, snakes, lions and more than 5,000 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, 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 adrenaline rushing. He put himself where few others would dare to tread and I can understand how that kind of television had global mass appeal. Yet I fear that there will be some out there seeking to emulate Steve Irwin's bravura who will not survive such close encounters.

I suspect that it's a little like participating in extreme sports of one kind or another. Each successful high-speed race, each free-fall leap from a plane, each mountain scaled or remote cave explored begins to convince the participant of their invincibility. He is, at least for the moment, immortal.

I know that my son, who has helped move adult African elephants from areas in Kenya where they are under threat to relative safety, will attest to the fact that when a five-ton male is down, matters of personal safety – and common sense – seem insignificant and risks are taken that would otherwise seem foolhardy.

Wild animals are exactly that. Their nature cannot be changed by a few generations in captivity, or because the human being confronting them is a "friend". Natural instincts that have evolved over millions of years are, at best, just below the surface.

Witness the almost lethal attack on Roy Horn, part of the Siegfried & Roy Las Vegas tiger show a couple of years ago, or the continuing, regular and tragic demise of keepers and handlers in circuses and zoos across the world.

My heart goes out to Steve Irwin's family. They will be inconsolable. I just wish that Steve's talent, passion and commitment had been directed more towards the conservation and protection of wild animals in the wild.

In a way, I wish he had been able to keep his distance; if he had, he might still be here."

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