December 2001
 
Croc Hunter's Biggest Fears

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The TV Guide 21 December 2001

 

LOVE BITES

News Source: The TV Guide, page 14-15, 21 December, 2001

Steve Irwin has done a lot of incredibly stupid things in the name of wildlife conservation, including wrestling alligators several sizes too big for him and irritating venomous snakes by grabbing them by the tail.

Time and again, the intrepid director of Australia Zoo is dodging enormous reptiles with their mouths open and stampeding pachyderms the size of Ford Expeditions. And he makes it look easy, despite once leaving a few fingers a bit too long in a Bengal Tiger's mouth.

But that doesn't mean the 39 –year-old naturalist is totally crazy. He knows what the bite from a fer-de-lance in just the right spot can kill him in minutes. He has no doubt about highland gorilla's capacity to rip his arm off. He is not surprised by the fact that s grizzly bear can knock a man's head off his shoulders.

Indeed, the wildlife researcher is definitely scared to death of several species. At the top of his list is the Australian Saltwater Crocodile. "Crikey! They go at you from an ambush position and you can't see them under the dark, dirty water," he says. "They've got 3000 pounds per square-inch jaw pressure and can strike so fast you can't even blink. A kangaroo within six feet of the water's edge is dead in its tracks."

A close second is the tiger shark. "If you're in a shipwreck or somehow stuck out there in the ocean and one of those is circling you… whew! Now that's scary!"

Through rarely lethal, Irwin dreads working with parrots, too. "It doesn't matter if it's a budgie or and African grey, they all have a really nasty habit of biting me. I've got a couple of big holes in my nose where this sulfur-crested-cockatoo tried o rip it out of my face. Their beaks are like bolt cutters."

But the most frightening encounter of all, according to Irwin, was the helpless feeling of falling in love with US naturalist Terri Raines. They met during her extended visit in Oz nearly a decade ago, when she made an unplanned sidetrip to the Queensland Reptile & Fauna Park in Beerwah just to see Irwin put on one of his legendary croc demonstrations.

After a whirlwind romance, they were wed in June, 1992. "Getting married scared the daylights out of me," he recalls. "My palms were sweating. I didn't know if I was going to stand there or wet my pants."

Fortunately, Irwin urges his fans to resist the temptation to stick their arms down the throats of hungry lions just because they saw him do it on TV. He grew up in a zoo and cut his teeth, arms and legs while an apprentice to hiss herpetologist father and wildlife rehabilitator mother. "I'm a professional, born and raised with crocodiles and snakes," he says. "I've been 39 years in training – never, never do what you see me do. But, believe me, there is a fear factor in everybody, including me."

The key to success, according to Irwin, is a total passion for animals. "I'm so in love with wildlife that I would have qualms about putting my life on the line to rescue and injured animal," he says "I have a fear-trigger like everyone should have, but I keep it suppressed.

"When you see something that looks very, very dangerous and out of control, it probably doesn't look as dangerous from where I am standing. That's because I have a sixth sense which enables me to do and get away with things that, I guess, no one else can."

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