Steve Irwin’s tragic death in 2006 left the world of animal conservation without one of its loudest and proudest names. However, his legacy has continued thanks to the tireless efforts of his wife and children. Here’s how the Irwin family have kept the spirit of the original crocodile hunter well and truly alive.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1962, Steve Irwin was surrounded by animals as a youngster. He spent much of his childhood working at his parents’ reptile park in Queensland, and by the age of nine he was already wrestling crocodiles. In 1991 he was officially appointed the park’s new manager, and seven years later he rechristened it Australia Zoo.
Irwin became a TV star in 1996 when he showcased his lively personality, love of khaki and animal expertise on The Crocodile Hunter. After being a hit in his homeland, the show went on to enjoy success in the U.S and U.K. It was eventually broadcast in well over 100 different countries and concluded with a three-hour special in which Irwin visited everywhere from the Yangtze River to the Himalayas.
Irwin also became a fixture on the Animal Planet network with various other documentaries including The Crocodile Hunter Diaries, Croc Files and New Breed Vets. In 2002 he played himself in a full-length feature film, The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course. Four years later he voiced Trev the elephant seal in the animation Happy Feet.
Sadly, though, Irwin never got the chance to see his performance. While filming at Queensland’s Batt Reef in 2006, the star was stabbed hundreds of times by a stingray, piercing his heart in the process. He was pronounced dead by nearby medical staff shortly after. Irwin was aged just 44.
A whole host of public figures paid glowing tributes to Irwin following the news of his death. John Howard, then Australia’s prime minister, said the country had “lost a wonderful and colorful son.” RSPCA Queensland CEO Mark Townend described Irwin as a “modern-day Noah,” while fellow TV conservationist David Attenborough later hailed him as a “born communicator.”
Irwin was survived by his wife Terri and children Bindi and Robert. The star had first met his future spouse in 1991 when she went to his family zoo. “I thought there was no one like this anywhere in the world,” Terri once said of her initial attraction to Irwin, according to Who magazine. “He sounded like an environmental Tarzan, a larger-than-life superhero guy.”
Irwin once described himself to The Age as a “wildlife warrior” whose mission in life was to “save the world’s endangered species.” His efforts to do so included launching an eponymous conservation foundation, as well as the Iron Bark Station Wildlife Rehabilitation Facility and the International Crocodile Rescue organization. He was also a vocal opponent of illegal poaching and implored the public not to buy products such as shark-fin soup and turtle shells.
Irwin was also honored numerous times for his animal conservationism, most notably in 2001 when the Australian government gave him a Centenary Medal. Several newly discovered species of animals have been named after him, too, including a snail in 2009 (Crikey steveirwini) and a turtle he helped to identify in 1997 (Elseya irwini). Moreover, in 2018 he was given his own Hollywood Walk of Fame star.
And Irwin’s family have done their utmost best to continue his legacy. In 2008, for instance, Terri helped to bankroll a $250,000 research project conducted by Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute on humpback whales. “Our oceans are in jeopardy and the more research we gather about whales, the more knowledge we have to help us save, protect and preserve our delicate oceans,” she told Associated Press at the time.
In 2014 the Australian Geographic Society crowned Irwin’s daughter Bindi the Young Conservationist of the Year. Three years later his son Robert became a Scouts Australia ambassador in an attempt to inspire youngsters to partake in conservation efforts. Robert also became a regular on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon as a wildlife expert.
And Irwin’s family’s efforts to promote conservationism among their peers don’t end there. Bindi helped to produce a book series named Bindi Wildlife Adventures and presented a Discovery Kids show titled Bindi, the Jungle Girl. Robert also appeared on the same network as the face of Wild But True.
In 2018 the Irwins announced they’d be inviting cameras to document both their personal and professional lives in a new reality show. Premiering on the Animal Planet network, the first episode of Crikey! It’s the Irwins featured Robert attempting to feed a massive crocodile at the family zoo. The youngster had previously spent several months training as a croc wrangler with his father’s friend, Wes.
Appearing alongside her mother and brother on Today to promote the show, Bindi Irwin proudly said that animal conservationism is “a part of who we are, it’s not just what we do. We do want to carry on in Dad’s footsteps, and make sure everything he worked so hard for continues on.”
Terri then spoke about how surreal it was to be back in the spotlight. “It seems like it’s been way more than 11 years [since Irwin’s death], and in some ways the blink of an eye,” she said. “It’s a bizarre little time warp you get into when you’re dealing with grief, but we’re glad to be back.”
Terri also talked about how honored her late husband would have been at receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. “Steve would have been so excited,” she said. “He loved everything about filming, and getting that mainstream message to people. Even if you’re not into conservation, to try and enlighten people to love wildlife.”
Robert then commented about how much he’d started to resemble his late father. “Mum… found this old photo of dad and showed [it to] me. I said, ‘It’s no big deal, that’s a photo of me,’ and she said, ‘No, it’s dad when he was your age,’” Robert explained. “I’m so privileged to be able to continue his amazing legacy.”
In a trailer for Crikey! It’s the Irwins, Terri also declares how proud she is of her family’s conservation efforts. “We work together, we live together. I love our animals and I love living here,” she says. “We’re excited to share our work at Australia Zoo and our conservation adventures with the Animal Planet audiences all around the world.”
The family care for well in excess of 1,000 animals at the Australia Zoo, of which Terri is now the proprietor. As well as the star attraction – crocodiles – visitors can also enjoy seeing various other reptiles, birds and mammals up close and personal. It was named among the Q150 Icons of Queensland in 2009 during the state’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
The family have also continued Irwin’s work with conservation organization Wildlife Warriors Worldwide. In 2017 Bindi told People, “Dad was amazing because he left this legacy that people will never forget. He didn’t just say to love the cute and cuddly animals – he tried to get people to understand and respect the animals like crocodiles and snakes and really break down those barriers.”