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Steve & Me

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Steve & Me


  An imprint of Simon & Schuster

  1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020

  Copyright © 2007 by Terri Irwin

  All insert photos are courtesy of the author’s personal collection.

  The photo of Steve doing construction work, of the photo insert, was taken by Graham Parkes. The photo of Steve and Terri with Harriet, of the photo insert, was taken by Greg Barrett.

  All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

  SIMON SPOTLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT and related logo are trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  Designed by Gabriel Levine

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Irwin, Terri.

  Steve & me / by Terri Irwin.—1st ed.

  p. cm.

  ISBN-13: 978-1-84739-604-4

  ISBN-10: 1-84739-604-6

  ISBN-13: 978-1-4169-5916-8

  1. Irwin, Steve. 2. Irwin, Terri. 3. Herpetologists—Australia—Biography.

  4. Naturalist—Australia—Biography. I. Title. II. Title: Steve and me.

  QL31.I78I79 2007




  Visit us on the World Wide Web:


  Foreword by Professor Craig E. Franklin

  Chapter One: First Encounter

  Chapter Two: Malina

  Chapter Three: Rescue

  Chapter Four: Burdekin

  Chapter Five: The Crocodile Hunter

  Chapter Six: Zoo

  Chapter Seven: Stacks of Fun

  Chapter Eight: Egg Stealing

  Chapter Nine: “I Know What We Have to Do”

  Chapter Ten: Animal Planet

  Chapter Eleven: Bindi Sue

  Chapter Twelve: The Crocodile Kid

  Chapter Thirteen: On the Road Again

  Chapter Fourteen: Coming Back

  Chapter Fifteen: Baby Bob

  Chapter Sixteen: Antarctica

  Chapter Seventeen: The School of the Bush

  Chapter Eighteen: Batt Reef

  Chapter Nineteen: Steve’s Whale One

  Come Join Us


  Glossary of Australian Terms


  To our children, Bindi and Robert.

  Keep these three things in your hearts: faith, because it can move mountains; hope, because it keeps you going no matter what; and love, the greatest of all. Love never dies.

  Daddy and I will love you both forever.

  Entreat me not to leave you

  Or to return from following you;

  For where you go I will go,

  And where you lodge I will lodge;

  Your people shall be my people,

  And your God my God;

  Where you die I will die,

  And there will I be buried.

  May the Lord do so to me

  And more also

  If even death parts me from you.

  —Ruth 1:16


  I am extremely honored to be asked to write a few words about Steve, and it’s only fitting that I was asked on Steve’s research boat, Croc One, while conducting research on estuarine crocodiles with a team from Australia Zoo.

  I am sitting near a campfire in a remote part of northern Australia as I write this. The campfire is an important ritual in my life that I look forward to every year when I visit here, but it is also a reminder of the man I am proud to call my friend, colleague, and mentor. In the early mornings as our campfire comes to life, I am transported back to the times Steve and I sat around the campfire and watched as the world we loved came to life. He talked of many things: his love for Terri, Bindi, and Robert; his mum and dad; his plans for Australia Zoo; and championing wildlife conservation. But mostly, we talked about our one great shared love, crocodiles. We talked for hours about crocs, not only yarns of rogues and special animals but the quest for a greater understanding of these iconic animals. As the early-morning light rose over the campsite, we would tear ourselves away from our discussions and set out to conduct the research that would tell us even more about our icon.

  A chance meeting with Steve about five years ago was the beginning of an exciting and amazing research partnership and friendship. Unbeknownst to many, Steve was a guiding force behind a research project monitoring the movements and behaviors of large crocodiles using cutting-edge satellite and acoustic telemetry. Steve brought to the research project his vast knowledge about crocodiles, his world-renowned expertise in catching them, his huge resources, and his passion to learn more about these remarkable animals. Steve was inspiring to work with, and he strongly believed that the more information he could find out about crocodiles and share with the world, the better we would understand, appreciate, and protect them.

  While not formally trained as a researcher, he had many of the qualities a great scientist requires. He was driven by curiosity and had an endless list of questions. His thirst for knowledge was insatiable, and this was matched by his enthusiasm and desire to learn more. He was a brilliant man, with a great mind—a mind that continued to fascinate me with its ability to think of many things at once and retain amazing knowledge. His mind was expansive, it had no boundaries, and all of this was tempered by sensitivity and honesty, and richly colored by his passion. It is a gift when someone can challenge you and open your mind to new ideas. Steve did that for me, time and time again.

  He was my teacher and my mentor in a field where I thought I had the jump on him. Little did I know the extent of his knowledge—his was truly gained by experience. As with the best teachers, he listened and learned from everyone around him in his quest for a greater understanding of not only crocodiles but all animals and the entire world around him. I was constantly surprised at how much he knew, at what scientific research he had read, and at his ability to communicate this knowledge in such an interesting and easy way.

  In recognition of his standing and commitment to conservation and research, the University of Queensland was about to appoint him as an adjunct professor, an honor bestowed on only a few who have made a significant contribution to their field. Steve didn’t know this had happened. The letter from the university arrived at Australia Zoo while we were in the field studying crocs during August 2006. He never got back to the pile of mail that included that letter. I know he would have proudly accepted the recognition of his achievement, but I also suspect that he would have remained humble and given credit to those around him, especially Terri, his mum and dad, Wes, John Stainton, and the incredible team at Australia Zoo.

  A year later, in 2007, we are back here in northern Australia, continuing the research in his name. There is a big gap in all our lives, but I feel he is here, all around us. One sure sign is that the sixteen-foot crocodile we named “Steve” keeps turning up in our traps.

  My life has been enriched by my friendship with Steve. I now sit around the fire with Terri, his family, and mates from Australia Zoo chatting about crocodiles and continuing the legacy Steve has left behind. Terri and Bob Irwin are now leading the croc-catching team from Australia Zoo, and Bindi is helping to affix the tracking devices to crocs, and so the tradition continues.

  I miss him. We all do. But I can sit at the campfire and look into the coals and hear his voice, always intense, always passionate, telling us stories and goading us on to achieve more. The enthusiasm and determination Steve shared with us is alive and well.

  He has touched so many lives. His memory will never fade, and this book will be one of the ways we can remind ourselves of our brush with the indomitable spirit of a loving husband, father, and son; a committed wildlife ambass
ador and conservationist; and a great mate.

  Professor Craig E. Franklin, School of Integrative Biology

  University of Queensland

  Lakefield National Park

  August 2007

  Chapter One

  First Encounter

  The name of the zoo was the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park. As I crossed the parking area, I prepared myself for disappointment. I am going to see a collection of snakes, lizards, and miserable creatures in jars, feel terribly sorry for them, and leave.

  It was October 1991. I was Terri Raines, a twenty-seven-year-old Oregon girl in Australia on an unlikely quest to find homes for rescued American cougars. A reptile park wasn’t going to be interested in a big cat. I headed through the pleasant spring heat toward the park thinking pessimistic thoughts. This is going to be a big waste of time. But the prospect of seeing new species of wildlife drew me in.

  I walked through the modest entrance with some friends, only to be shocked at what I found on the other side: the most beautiful, immaculately kept gardens I had ever encountered. Peacocks strutted around, kangaroos and wallabies roamed freely, and palm trees lined all the walkways. It was like a little piece of Eden.

  After I paid my admission fee, I saw that the reptile enclosures were kept perfectly clean—the snakes glistened. I kept rescued animals myself at home. I knew zoos, and I knew the variety of nightmares they can fall into. But I saw not a sign of external parasites on these animals, no old food rotting in the cages, no feces or shed skin left unattended.

  So I enjoyed myself. I toured around, learned about the snakes, and fed the kangaroos. It was a brilliant, sunlit day.

  “There will be a show at the crocodile enclosures in five minutes,” a voice announced on the PA system. “Five minutes.”

  That sounded good to me.

  I noticed the crocodiles before I noticed the man. There was a whole line of crocodilians: alligators, freshwater crocodiles, and one big saltie. Amazing, modern-day dinosaurs. I didn’t know much about them, but I knew that they had existed unchanged for millions of years. They were a message from our past, from the dawn of time, among the most ancient creatures on the planet.

  Then I saw the man. A tall, solid twentysomething (he appeared younger than he was, and had actually turned twenty-nine that February), dressed in a khaki shirt and shorts, barefoot, with blond flyaway hair underneath a big Akubra hat and a black-banded wristwatch on his left wrist. Even though he was big and muscular, there was something kind and approachable about him too.

  I stood among the fifteen or twenty other park visitors and listened to him talk.

  “They can live as long as or even longer than us,” he said, walking casually past the big saltwater croc’s pond. “They can hold their breath underwater for hours.”

  He approached the water’s edge with a piece of meat. The crocodile lunged out of the water and snapped the meat from his hand. “This male croc is territorial,” he explained, “and females become really aggressive when they lay eggs in a nest.” He knelt beside the croc that had just tried to nail him. “Crocodiles are such good mothers.”

  Every inch of this man, every movement and word exuded his passion for the crocodilians he passed among. I couldn’t help but notice that he never tried to big-note himself. He was there to make sure his audience admired the crocs, not himself.

  I recognized his passion, because I felt some of it myself. I spoke the same way about cougars as this Australian zookeeper spoke about crocs. When I heard there would be a special guided tour of the Crocodile Environmental Park, I was first in line for a ticket. I had to hear more. This man was on fire with enthusiasm, and I felt I really connected with him, like I was meeting a kindred spirit.

  What was the young zookeeper’s name? Irwin. Steve Irwin.

  Some of the topics Steve talked about that day were wonderful and new. I learned about the romantic life of crocodiles. There are courting rituals between males and females, and the male crocodiles are very gentle as they nudge up and down alongside the female, waiting until she is receptive. I’d never imagined that these dinosaur-like creatures could be loving, but he explained that they were quite passionate lovers and seemed to develop real affection for each other.

  Affection for each other, sure, but not for Steve. I watched the still, dark, murky water erupt with an enormous ton of saltwater crocodile. The croc nearly snapped the buttons off of Steve’s shirt as he neatly deposited a piece of meat into its mouth. The reverberation of the jaws coming back together sounded like a rifle report.

  From where I stood on the other side of the fence, I could barely breathe. I didn’t know how he did it.

  Other topics were more familiar. “Sometimes just seeing a croc in the wild can scare the daylights out of people,” he said, passing among the rows of subadult crocodiles. “But if you know to follow some simple rules, these little tackers pose no threat at all to human life.”

  It was a situation that I’d encountered many times in the United States with predatory animals. People would frequent a boat ramp, for example. They’d come in with their catch and fillet it right at the dock, tossing the fish bones and scraps into the water. In the States, this might attract black bears, posing a potential problem for tourists. In Australia, the same practice brought the crocs into contact with humans.

  “If we get a report about a particularly naughty little crocodile bothering people,” Steve explained, “I go out with my dog, Sui, in a dinghy. We’ll capture the croc so it won’t get shot.”

  Then he described what he meant by “capture.” As he told the story I was totally captivated, and so were the other zoo visitors. Maybe it was because Steve was detailing the most astonishing set of actions any of us had ever heard about, accomplished by a man who’d lived to tell the tale.

  “If the croc is young, six feet long or smaller,” he said, “I’ll catch it by hand.”

  By hand. I’d had to capture all kinds of wildlife in Oregon, but never anything as dangerous as a six-foot-long saltwater crocodile…in the water…in the dark…by hand.

  “We go out at night with a million-candlepower spotlight, shining bright across the water,” he said. “That way, I can pick up the eye-shine of the crocodile. Their eyes glow bright red, right at the surface of the water. The croc thinks he’s camouflaged by the darkness. He doesn’t understand that my spotlight is revealing his location.”

  Idling the dinghy, bringing it quietly in closer and closer to the croc, Steve would finally make his move. He’d creep to the front of the boat and hold the spotlight until the last moment.

  Then he would leap into the water.

  Grabbing the crocodile around the scruff of the neck, he would secure its tail between his legs and wrap his body around the thrashing creature. Crocodiles are amazingly strong in the water. Even a six-foot-long subadult would easily take Steve to the bottom of the river, rolling and fi ghting, trying to dislodge him by scraping against the rocks and snags at the bottom of the river.

  But Steve would hang on. He knew he could push off the bottom, reach the surface for air, flip the crocodile into his dinghy, and pin the snapping animal down.

  “Piece of cake,” he said.

  That was the most incredible story I had ever heard. And Steve was the most incredible man I had ever seen—catching crocodiles by hand to save their lives? This was just unreal. I had an overwhelming sensation. I wanted to build a big campfire, sit down with Steve next to it, and hear his stories all night long. I didn’t want them to ever end. But eventually the tour was over, and I felt I just had to talk to this man.

  Steve had a broad, easy smile and the biggest hands I had ever seen. I could tell by his stature and stride that he was accustomed to hard work. I saw a series of small scars on the sides of his face and down his arms.

  He came up and, with a broad Australian accent, said, “G’day, mate.”

  Uh-oh, I thought. I’m in trouble.

  I’d never, ever believed in love at
first sight. But I had the strangest, most overwhelming feeling that it was destiny that took me into that little wildlife park that day.

  Steve started talking to me as if we’d known each other all our lives. I interrupted only to have my friend Lori take a picture of us, and the moment I first met Steve was forever captured. I told him about my wildlife rescue work with cougars in Oregon. He told me about his work with crocodiles. The tour was long over, and the zoo was about to close, but we kept talking.

  Finally I could hear Lori honking her horn in the car park. “I have to go,” I said to Steve, managing a grim smile. I felt a connection as I never had before, and I was about to leave, never to see him again.

  “Why do you love cougars so much?” he asked, walking me toward the park’s front gate.

  I had to think for a beat. There were many reasons. “I think it’s how they can actually kill with their mouths,” I finally said. “They can conquer an animal several times their size, grab it in their jaws, and kill it instantly by snapping its neck.”

  Steve grinned. I hadn’t realized how similar we really were.

  “That’s what I love about crocodiles,” he said. “They are the most powerful apex predators.”

  Apex predators. Meaning both cougars and crocs were at the top of the food chain. On opposite sides of the world, this man and I had somehow formed the same interest, the same passion.

  At the zoo entrance I could see Lori and her friends in the car, anxious to get going back to Brisbane.

  “Call the zoo if you’re ever here again,” Steve said. “I’d really like to see you again.” Could it be that he felt the same way I did? As we drove back to Brisbane, I was quiet, contemplative. I had no idea how I would accomplish it, but I was determined to figure out a way to see him. The next weekend, Lori was going diving with a friend, and I took a chance and called Steve.

  “What do you reckon, could I come back for the weekend?” I asked.

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