Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Wildlife Educators

Since the death of Steve Irwin, I have read where people called him everything from an aggravator of animals, to an idiot for taking his child in the pen with a crocodile. My own opinion is while he may have aggravated some animals, that aggravation went a long way toward educating the public about why the animals are important to our environment and why we must respect their future and allow them wild places to do their wild things.

Having spent some years working with wildlife at a wildlife rescue center, I saw how badly the public needed education about their own communities and the wild creatures who shared their neighborhoods.

I raised an orphaned baby opossum. She was a gentle creature from the day I took her into my care. At that time she was about the size of a mouse. After feeding her and encouraging her to go to the bathroom, she would wrap her tiny arms around my finger and sleep in the warmth of my hand.

She grew up to continue to be just as gentle. We would take her to schools and clubs to demonstrate what opossums were all about. I would pick her up and she would wrap one of her front legs around the back of my neck while sniffing the air around us. People would come up and pet her and talk to her. They were always amazed that her fur was very soft and she didn’t smell bad. I never bathed her, she took care of that just as cats do.

Okay, yes she lived in a cage at night and no she didn’t have a “typical opossum’s life”. She traveled around my house with my three cats following her, and I’m sure the cats were wondering what in the hell she was. She never showed any aggression toward the cats nor them toward her. She did not live a “normal” life but I know she did more for her species by being an educational animal than probably anyone else could have.

Little kids loved her as did adults once they got past their old ingrained ideas of what a opossum should be. I’m pretty sure when those kids grow up, they will not see opossums in the wild quite the way their parents did. They learned that they aren’t nasty vicious animals. They are just little animals trying to live and share the earth. One little opossum taught them that when no one else could.

So if Steve aggravated some animals but saved the lives of others in the process, then I think Steve was a hell of good guy! He only used a few animals to secure the future of so many more. Steve was not an idiot, Steve was an educator. He had a dangerous job but so do many other people. Steve made a difference for wild things and wild places.

(Some interesting things you might not know about opossums here)


Anonymous rebellious renee said...

I agree with you about Steve Irwin.
I don't really understand all the criticism of him....maybe some people just feel more important when they criticize people who are famous.

I loved how he always talked about how we must respect animals and nature. He will be sorely missed.

September 06, 2006 4:17 AM  
Blogger Blueberry said...

I think he was a hell of a good guy too (I blogged about him on the 4th). I believe he was trying to help the animals, not "aggravate" them. Of course it "aggravates" a croc when a bunch of people move it from one place to another but if it's in a place where it's endangering itself or humans, then it needs to be moved to a safer place for both parties. I am still very sad about him. As for his parenting, I wish he could have been my dad.

...and I LOVE opossums!

September 06, 2006 4:48 AM  
Blogger spadoman said...

RIP Steve Erwin, Educator, Father, Husband and Animal Lover.

September 06, 2006 5:01 AM  
Blogger Jamie said...


You are absolutely right. What happened to Steve was one of those totally freak accidents not some malice on his part. His joy and verve taught more people about animals than a thousand books.

Interesting about you being a wild like rehabilitator. I knew one in New York. She took in anything orphaned or injured, but her specialty was raccoons.

September 06, 2006 5:33 AM  
Anonymous Knox Rover said...

I've always enjoyed Steve Irwin's show and especially his enthusiasm and passion for nature and life itself. It's hard to believe that such a dynamic lifeforce could be extinguished.

One thing I've noticed over the past few days is the effect he had on children. Like PoP's opposum, he opened their eyes to animals not always on the "cute list." Children adored him and learned about nature through him, and their parents thought he was great because he both entertained their kids and educated them. I wonder how many future zoologists, veterinarians, wildlife officers, and nature rehabilitators he unknowingly created? The ripple effect of his life will continue for years.

September 06, 2006 6:28 AM  
Blogger Pogo said...

I was always amazed that Irwin was as knowldgeable as he was about the attack/defense habits of the animals he "annoyed." I think a great deal of the critcism he got was due to people's tendency to humanize the animals he interacted with and their failure to realize that animals in the wild aren't annoyed by their surroundings, but rather are reactive to them either in self defense or in order to eat. John Boy & Billy (yes, I admit I listen to them for mindless redneck humor on my way to work from time to time) occasionally did a hilarious parody of his show - with the predictable consequence of Steve getting eaten piece by piece in each episode. You are absolutely right that the good he did to inform folks of the challenges wild animals face through loss of habitat and civilization's encroachment far outweighs any "annoyance" he may have caused the animals he showed us. Crikey, he'll be missed.

September 06, 2006 6:30 AM  
Blogger BBC said...

I've never had any ingrained ideas of what a opossum should be. Other than I think some folks eat them. I've only seen one in my life, some asshole was screwing with it as he slowly killed it.

My only thought on Steve is that if you keep messing with the most dangerous critters here you are taking a chance of getting killed. So he was being a bit stupid about that. I tend to just give them their space and live and let live.

September 06, 2006 6:48 AM  
Blogger bluegrrrrl said...

Whatever the critics might say, Irwin was an educator like no other, and he loved what he did. He respected and genuinely seemed to care about the wildlife he worked with, which is one hell of a lot more than most people can say. And he died fully immersed in his passion and life's work. What a way to go!

September 06, 2006 6:49 AM  
Blogger fallenmonk said...

Good for you PoP. It is not always easy for people to change their attitudes about creatures they were taught to dislike. Steve was one of those people that showed hundreds of millions of people (mostly kids) that what they have always been told about "nasty" creatures was not the whole truth and that every creature has a place in the world and should be respected.
He was a wonderful man and his legacy will carry on for a long time.
I know I will miss his "in your face" antics and education.

September 06, 2006 7:31 AM  
Blogger Frederick said...

I went to watch Barnyard at the drive in with my two kids and wife. The male cows had udders. The male cows had udders! I know, I know, it's entertainment. It a movie. An animated movie. But it just made me think that if there weren't people like Steve Irwin, Jean-Michel Cousteau, yourself and others we might still believe that, "here be monsters."

September 06, 2006 8:01 AM  
Anonymous rebellious renee said...

fred bieling....
everytime I see one of the new Burger King commercials depicting chickens with male voices, all I can think is "some asshole from New York had to come up with this thing"....

September 06, 2006 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Adorable Girlfriend said...

Anyone who judges someone harshly after a tragic accident is someone who is needs to be in therapy. It's not our fault his or her mother and/or father didn't love them enough. Simply ignore him or her.

September 06, 2006 12:57 PM  
Blogger Frederick said...

rebellious renee:

LOL,wait...I'm from New York!

September 06, 2006 1:36 PM  
Blogger azgoddess said...

wow - what a great thing you did

and i am with you - i've always been an animal lover..i used to bring home anything that was injured and still moved and me and my mom would take care of them and let them go free when all better...

a robin was the hardest...

and i did this with my kids and grandkids...taught them that we are not the only species on this planet...

he will be missed!

September 06, 2006 2:01 PM  
Blogger Human said...

Pretty much agree about Mr.Irwin.
A treasure lost.

September 06, 2006 5:29 PM  
Blogger oldwhitelady said...

Oh, yes. Steve Irwin was a good man. He enjoyed his job, and he brought enlightenment to the people watching his shows.

September 06, 2006 6:13 PM  
Anonymous Rex Kramer, Possum Trainer said...

Hold on a taught an opossum to use the bathroom?

POP, as your agent, I insist you let me book you on Letterman!

September 06, 2006 6:43 PM  
Blogger DoctorBoogaloo said...

There is no shortage of boors and dickheads. There was only one Steve Irwin. And that one was brilliant.

September 06, 2006 7:45 PM  
Blogger DrewL said...

We all know that you have to do things to entertain when in actuality you are trying to educate people. It's the way we are. One who can entertain and educate at the same time is a gifted person. Steve Irwin was a gifted person, and his talents and contributions will be missed.



September 06, 2006 8:58 PM  
Blogger Lew Scannon said...

I have a Crocodile Hunter board game I used to play with my boys. They used to love it when I went "danger, danger, danger" in an Aussie accent, as that was what the card said that made you press the button that activated the croc.

September 06, 2006 9:15 PM  
Blogger Donnie McDaniel said...

Beautiful story POP. Steve will be missed, and I don't know if he can ever be replaced. Your story of the possum brings back fond memories. My brother that was buried 20 years to the day that you posted this, had a way with animals that was amazing. Growing up in a bayou community, we had more than our share of animals to have as pets and help mend. I can honestly say we had just about every critter you can imagine at one time or another. My brother had a family of possums that was just too funny. The mother and 3 or 4 babes. They would follow him around the yard.

During the course of time, we had goats, alligators, ducks, chickens, dogs, cats, owls, coons, nutria, parakeets, cockatoos, a HUGE Rhode Island Red rooster, rabbits, snakes, turtles, frogs, fish, and plenty of other critters to keep us busy.

We had the woods behind the back end of the property to use as our playground. My brother did overstep Mom's line a few times. She got a call one day, and the friend of the family was gong bezerk. When we showed up, Brother had wrestled a 6' gator out of the ditch to take home! Another time, he found a horse that got out of someone's fence. Bobby roped him and tied him up in the front yard. When Mom got home that day, She didn't have to get out the van for us to know what she was saying.

September 06, 2006 11:44 PM  
Anonymous pekka said...

Premature death is always regretable but this particular gentleman never roused my interest enough for more than a cursory glance if the TV happened be on the right channel. Instead of wrestling crocks I prefere watching kind harted individuals who quietly take care of injured creatures, even if they happen to be "just" opossums.

September 07, 2006 1:17 AM  
Anonymous Betty Cracker said...

I was very saddened by the death of Steve Irwin. My daughter and I were big fans.

Not only did Steve do incalcuable good in rehabilitating the image of not-readily-lovable animals in the eyes of the general public, he gave me an alternate exclamation to employ when startled or angry: "crikey." Let me 'splain.

I've always been a fairly foul-mouthed kinda gal, but when my daughter was born, I made a valiant attempt to clean up my language. Instead of dropping the F bomb when my team threw an interception or I dropped a brick on my foot, I trained myself to instead shout "Crikey!" It's satisfying in a way "darn" or "gosh" just isn't.

It became so ingrained over the past several years. In fact, the other day, I lit an old friend's new gas grill in a manner that caused flames to shoot out and singe my eyebrows, and I leapt back and screeched, "CRIKEY!" My friend, whom I've known for a very long time, couldn't quite believe I didn't say a certain other word.

So, rest in peace, Steve. You helped many different species of animals, including your own.

September 07, 2006 3:12 AM  
Blogger andi said...

I posted on this Tuesday morning when I crawled back into work from the three-day. I'm still a wreck. I can't seem to imagine the world without Steve Irwin. I keep turning these accusations over in my head and I just can't make them mesh with the man's ethics. If he was really an unethical bastard out for self-promotion at the expense of his animals, how on earth could he have kept his team together? His folks at the Australia Zoo are obviously sincerely dedicated to animals, so why would they continue to be involved with Irwin's operation if they didn't trust him and his methods?

The man was driven, manic, and probably a little too much of an adrenaline junkie, yes. He was also a brilliant naturalist and helped me affirm my own enduring fascination and appreciation of snakes, sharks, crocs, gators, and other animals that slither and like to bite when aggravated.

He was bitten I don't know how many times on his shows, and he showed enormous appreciation and respect for those animals even when they had their teeth sunk firmly into his flesh. That says a lot.

I think on some level he must have known that he was destined for a death at the hands [sic] of an animal. I think his wife and colleagues knew it, too, and certainly other people (myself included) were expecting it.

I just didn't expect it so soon.

I hope Terri and Bindi and Bob have the desire and motivation to carry on the passion for wildlife conservation. I hope it carries them through their grief.

And I surely do hope that Steve's energy comes back to us soon, in whatever form it takes. We need it.

September 07, 2006 6:49 AM  
Blogger DBK said...

I never had an issue with what was doing. He wasn't killing animals, and we all of us annoy other people enough that, if he annoyed a few animals, well, I guess I annoy the squirrels when I shoo them off my bird feeder and what of it? Irwin was a conservationist and loved creatures. My only comment on his strange death is that he did tempt fate and sometimes that's what happens. You put yourself in dangerous situations enough times, the time may come where you get hurt or killed.

September 07, 2006 8:08 AM  
Blogger Turtle Guy said...

Wise words.

September 07, 2006 11:42 PM  

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