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Irwin’s father, Bob, said his son had an innate affinity with animals from an early age, a sense Irwin later described as “a gift.” He said he learned about wildlife working with his parents rather than in school.
In 1991, Irwin took over the park, Australia Zoo, when his parents retired and began building a reputation as a showman during daily crocodile feeding shows.
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He met and married Terri Raines, of Eugene, Ore., who came to the park as a tourist, that year.
“The world has lost a great wildlife icon, a passionate conservationist and one of the proudest dads on the planet,” Stainton said.
“It’s a huge loss to Australia.” Conservationists said all the world would feel the loss of Irwin, who turned a childhood love of snakes and lizards and knowledge learned at his parents’ side into a message of wildlife preservation that reached a television audience that reportedly exceeded 200 million.
“He was probably one of the most knowledgeable reptile people in the entire world,” Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” In high-energy programs from Africa, the Americas and Asia, but especially his beloved Australia, Irwin — dressed always in khaki shorts, shirt and heavy boots — crept up on lions, chased and was chased by komodo dragons, and went eye-to-eye with poisonous snakes.
Steve Irwin died doing what he loved best, getting too close to one of the dangerous animals he dedicated his life to protecting with an irrepressible, effervescent personality that propelled him to global fame as television’s “Crocodile Hunter.” The 44-year-old Irwin’s heart was pierced by the serrated, poisonous spine of a stingray as he swam with the creature Monday while shooting a new TV show on the Great Barrier Reef, his manager and producer John Stainton said.
Irwin was videotaped pulling the barb from his chest moments before losing consciousness forever, a witness said Tuesday.They moved to the Sunshine Coast in tropical Queensland state and opened a reptile and wildlife preserve at Beerwah in 1970.