THE CROCODILE HUNTER AN ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATOR?
by Whit Gibbons
January 11, 2004
I often get from kids during environmental education talks, especially
after I show them an alligator is, "How can I become a herpetologist
like Steve Irwin?" Actually, one child asked how she could become
a herpetologist like me, but the other 200 wanted to know how they could
be like Steve Irwin.
is easy, though accomplishing it is not. First learn a lot about reptiles
by being around them, handling them, and raising them. Develop an engaging
personality. Get a TV show and do exciting things that look scary, adventurous,
and daring. Hope your show gets more attention and more advertisers than
other shows. I point out that Steve Irwin is a good actor, has a fine
camera crew, and knows a lot about reptiles.
Another question, from both kids and adults, is more challenging because
it becomes personal. "What do you think about Steve Irwin?"
After the recent spectacle when, in some people's mind, he put one of
his children in harm's way, I'm sure I'll hear this question even more.
In case you did not see the TV clip or otherwise learn of this stunt,
here's what happened. The Crocodile Hunter had apparently been watching
too many Michael Jackson news clips and decided to feed a large crocodile
with one hand while holding his baby son in the other. Actually, Steve
had a better grip on his baby than Michael did when he dangled his own
from a hotel window, but Steve made up for this by prancing with his little
boy across the lawn in front of the big reptile's nose.
to the question about my personal opinion of Steve Irwin, I have always
replied that he is among my top twenty Australian actors. If I thought
more was needed, I noted that he probably did a service for environmental
education by exposing people to an array of reptiles that would otherwise
go unnoticed. However, some herpetologists consider his antics a disservice
to education because they sensationalize dangerous attributes of animals
that are remarkable biologically without emphasizing their hazardous sides.
with his baby may have brought more publicity than anyone planned. Not
unexpectedly, some people have found fault with him for "endangering
a child." The comments I have been most interested in have been on
a major herpetology listserv associated with parcplace.org,
the Web site of Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC).
The views of individuals involved in herpetology provide a different perspective
from those of people who may never have seen a big reptile up close, let
alone touched one.
Some of the
comments from herpetologists have been a bit harsh: "If he wants
to hang his kid over the crocs, who cares? We have enough 'stupid-genes'
in the population already!" Another said, "I have serious concerns
about people like the Irwins. As a parent-mom of three, I am angry by
what he did."
A more pragmatic
listserv participant observed that "the man is a wizard at self-promotion;
he knew what he was doing with the croc and he never really endangered
the life of his child. But he sure fooled everyone, didn't he? He is laughing
all the way to the bank."
professional herpetologist noted, "My wife was indicating how I better
not do things like that with my two-year-old grandson. Then, right in
front of us a mom with four kids, none of whom were in a seat belt, pulled
into a parking space. I commented on how many mothers we could see in
the shopping center parking lot with kids running free in the front and
back seats of their cars as they are pulling out on the highway. Where
is the public outcry there?"
talks, I expect some obvious questions to arise about the Crocodile Hunter.
Do I think he put his child in any real danger? Probably not. Could it
have ended badly because of an unexpected turn of events? Possible, but
unlikely. Did he do environmental education a service by possibly encouraging
people inexperienced with reptiles to mimic his behavior? Absolutely not.
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