"Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin Dies - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

"Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin Dies

September 4, 2006

Albany--Today's sudden death of the "Crocodile Hunter" shocked his fans across the world. Wildlife conservationist Steve Irwin died after a stingray's barb pierced his heart.

News 10 spoke with a well-known Albany naturalist who knew Irwin.

Jim Fowler hosted the Emmy-award winning show Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. Fowler knew Steve Irwin before he became known as the "Crocodile Hunter."

 Fowler says Irwin had so much enthusiasm and knowledge about wildlife. He hates that the famous Australian is no longer here to share that with the rest of the world.

Steve Irwin's untimely death comes as a surprise to those who knew him.

"I just hate the idea that he was taken away from us so early. He had a tremendous career ahead of him.  Of all the things to get you, a stingray, that's very unusual," says Jim Fowler, famous for his own stints on TV with animals.  He first met Irwin in New York ten years ago.

"He was wearing short pants even in those days. He had a lot of enthusiasm. He said he had watched me when he was growing up in Australia," he says.

The Australian's vast knowledge of animals left a lasting impression on the Albany native.

"He grew up in a zoological background. His father had a small zoo, a zoological park, so Steve was very familiar with animals of all kinds," he says.

Fowler owns forty acres of lands in Albany that looks like a scene right out of an African safari. There, you'll find zebras, elands, and many other exotic animals. Both men shared a passion for nature.

"He was doing what he loved."

However, critics claim doing what Irwin loved and taking risks ultimately cost him his life. Fowler disagrees.

"He looked as if he was taking chances when, in fact, he really wasn't.  He was not being stupid," he says. 

Fowler says he's seen many changes in animal shows over the years.

"They love somebody that's getting out their that's appearing to take chances. Hollywood has been injected into some of the wildlife programs," he says.

He admits, he has come close to harm's way while hosting his animal shows. "I had 200 elephants led by an irate female come after me one time. And you can't climb a tree, an elephant will push the tree over," he says.

But he says shows like Irwin's and his serve an important purpose. "People have come up to me from all walks of life, and say that the reason that they're working with wildlife conservation is because they saw the adventure and the excitement and the scientific input given in Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom," he says.

That same excitement and adventure could be seen in Irwin's shows and will be deeply missed.

Irwin died off Australia's Northeast Coast while filming an underwater documentary.

Steve Irwin is survived by his American wife Terri and two young children.