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The Crocodile Hunter

Steve Irwin talks to Scholastic News

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"Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin holds a pure bred Sumatran tiger cub
"Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin holds a pure bred Sumatran tiger cub at Australia's Mogo Zoo in 2004. (Photo: Will Burges/Reuters)

April 2002

Steve Irwin spoke to Scholastic News just prior to the release of his film The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course in the spring of 2002. He talked about working with dangerous animals, a job that recently took his life.

Irwin died doing what he loved, filming animals he passionately cared about and fought to protect. His enthusiasm for his work, along with his love of all animals, comes through in this interview.

SN: Hi Steve!
IRWIN: Hello, mate! How are you?

SN: Fine. Our first question is: Why do you love crocodiles so much?
IRWIN: Crocodiles are modern-day dinosaurs. They date back nearly 200 million years, which means they’ve actually outlived the true dinosaurs that we know of.

They’re actually an archosaur, which is a very ancient order of animal. They happen to be the largest reptilian predators on the face of the Earth. And they’re carnivores—they eat meat. They eat, sleep and hunt in the water. They’re ambush predators, which means they camouflage their body, wait for their food source to come close enough, and then they’ll strike from the water and catch their food.

Most Australian crocodiles can strike so hard and fast that half their body length comes out of the water. It’s so quick that there’s not an animal in the world that can get away from them. It’s deadly fast. Half the body length of a crocodile is up to its back legs, so they’re half tail. And that is why I love crocs.

SN: They sound like amazing machines.
IRWIN: Yes, they’re the most powerful predators on Earth. And Australia, of course, is one of the greatest strongholds of saltwater crocodiles. Saltwater crocs are the largest out of the 22 species of crocs on Earth.

SN: What’s your most valuable skill as a crocodile hunter?
IRWIN: My most valuable skill is my instinct. . . .I’ve been working with crocodiles since I was 9 years old.

I look for personality traits—they’re all individuals. I should be moving before they move, that’s the most important thing, because they can actually strike quicker than I can move.

SN: You can sort of read a crocodile?
IRWIN: It has taken me more than 20 years to be able to read a crocodile successfully. However, I still do make a few mistakes and a couple of accidents have happened. Maybe I’ve been a little sleepy and they’ve gotten one on me—and it hurts! They have very large penetrating teeth, which are designed to capture, kill, and consume large mammals—that’s what crocodiles like to eat.

SN: So what is the most dangerous part of a crocodile?
IRWIN: They derive their power from their tails. . . . But it’s their heads you’ve got to worry about. That’s the dangerous end. Not only do they possess those huge, great penetrating teeth—they’ve got 3,000 pounds per square inch jaw pressure. This means they have the ability to crush bones—their jaws are that powerful!

SN: What animal’s bite are you most afraid of?
IRWIN: Parrots. I don’t know why it is, but I’ve taken a fair few parrot bites and by crikey, they hurt. . . .If I get bitten by a parrot, a croc, a snake or anything else, it’s never the animal’s fault, it’s always my fault. To get bitten by an animal, you must have made a mistake, and I respect that.

SN: Made what kind of mistake?
IRWIN: Well, you made a mistake because you got too close, you didn’t move quickly enough, your rescue techniques weren’t accurate enough, or you didn’t observe the body posture before you went in on it.

SN: Why would someone ask you to come and rescue a crocodile? Do ranchers call because a croc has been eating their sheep?
IRWIN: That’s right, mate—when there’s a conflict between crocodiles and people. Mostly, [the crocs] are eating domestic animals, like rancher’s dogs. Someone will say, “Can you come and remove this crocodile or I’ll kill it.” And rather than see crocs killed, I’ll catch them and relocate them to a remote area where they can never run into a problem with people again. Or, worst-case scenario, they have to come back to my place and live because they’re just too naughty.

SN: What can kids do to help crocodiles and other wild reptiles survive?
IRWIN: The number-one thing is to never purchase native wildlife products, such as alligator-skin boots, crocodile-skin belts, kangaroo-skin pouches, tiger skin or teeth, or ivory. Don’t buy or eat shark fin soup—that’s another one. Don’t buy turtle shells or native animal furs. Crikey, the list is endless!

SN: But not all alligators are wild. Now, there are alligator farms.
IRWIN: Who cares! That’s why I say never purchase native animal products. That way, you don’t have to try to differentiate between farmed and non-farmed.

A lot of these farms are actually terrible places. The animals are held in very unnatural environments, which is damaging both psychologically and physiologically. You don’t have to worry about making that differentiation if you don’t purchase any wildlife products.

SN: Thanks Steve!
IRWIN: Don’t worry, mate!

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