In 2004, the late conservationist Steve Irwin caught a lot of heat for feeding a crocodile while simultaneously holding his baby. The incident captured his lifelong approach to animal conservation, which began with his animal-filled childhood and continues even after his death with the conservationist legacy he left behind. Irwin’s 57th birthday would have been on Friday, and he was commemorated with a front-page Google Doodle.
The beloved Australian television host, most famous for his show The Crocodile Hunter, died in 2006 as a result of wounds from an encounter with a stingray, which he sustained while filming another TV documentary. He died the way he lived, fearlessly getting up close and personal with wild animals for the entertainment of his viewing audience. While Irwin’s legacy may include cartoonish crocodile wrestling, peppered with his frequent exclamations — “Crikey!” — he was also a serious educator who devoted his life to environmental education and conservation.
In 2002, he and his wife Terri Irwin, his Crocodile Hunter co-host, founded Wildlife Warriors Worldwide, a charity devoted to preserving wildlife habitats in Australia and around the world. In addition to purchasing hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Australia, WWW also preserves land and funds animal hospitals in India, Indonesia, and South Africa. After Irwin’s untimely death, his family asked for well-wishers to donate to the organization after his death. Thirteen years later, the non-profit still has almost a dozen ongoing projects around the world.
For instance, WWW’s elephant project in Cambodia supports local communities to help them live peacefully alongside elephants. The organization’s tiger project in Sumatra funds forest rangers to help protect the big cats from poaching. And the South African cheetah project provides farmers with dogs to guard their livestock, which helps keep cheetahs away from farms and avoid being shot or trapped.
On Friday, Steve’s daughter Bindi Irwin, who sits on the board of WWW — along with her mother Terri — posting a tribute to her late father. She was eight years old when he died, but his mission and legacy has clearly continued to guide her life:
The photo encapsulates not only how Irwin raised his kids around animals, but also how he was brought up. As a child, his father founded the zoo in Queensland, Australia that eventually became the Australia Zoo. Growing up in and around the zoo, Irwin eventually became the owner of the zoo. During the height of his fame, he drew harsh criticism for bringing his kids around animals, famously feeding a crocodile while cradling his baby son Robert. But like their father, Irwin’s children inherited a lifelong love of animals.
Bindi, shown in the Instagram post being held by her father alongside a koala, is now the director of the Australia Zoo.
“Thank you for always being my guiding light,” she wrote.