June 18, 2024

Studying wildlife is an important task, but it can be very dangerous so it must be done carefully. It is important to get the word out about animals and the environment, but naturalists walk a fine line whenever they interact with Mother Nature, as she is highly unpredictable. Being an avid supporter of animal protection and rights, I have learned a few things from watching famous naturalists and environmentalists take risks, in order to protect wildlife and educate the public. This is wonderful, and should be done, but what is scary is when accidents happen, abruptly. Some are more prepared for emergencies than others, but even with safeguards in place, things can go terribly wrong. The lesson here is look but don’t get too close to dangerous creatures, and don’t get overly comfortable with wildlife. Becoming trusting and comfortable may lead to tragedy. For example, take the cases of Australian animal champion, Steve Irwin; and American grizzly bear Activist, Timothy Treadwell.

Steve Irwin, otherwise known as “The Crocodile Hunter”

All his life, Steve Irwin loved and lived with animals of many kinds, growing up with animal-loving parents. As years went by, his animal handling skills grew and he became famous for rescuing crocodiles and other wild animals. I watched all his shows, and thought what a great guy he was, and what a noble cause he championed. Along with his wife, Terri, he went on to become a superstar in the world of naturalists. Steve knew what he was doing, and was a true expert in educating the world about animals, and in animal handling. He built his family’s zoo bigger and more comfortable for the animals there, using respect and care for each and every animal. He bought a large yacht, and used it for marine research.

Steve Irwin grew up in the bush and in water. He was at home among nature. This man seemed to be a modern day Tarzan, with charisma and a happy, knowledgeable way of being. Who would ever guess that he died in a freak accident in 2006, after being stabbed in the heart by a huge stingray he was filming for his daughter’s new TV show. Like that, he was gone in a flash. He had taken safety precautions, and had his big yacht with waiting emergency staff, there when the incident happened. Terri Irwin likened the accident to “running with a pencil,” a routine incident that went horribly wrong. He was rushed to the boat, but even they couldn’t save him. Even if with all his knowledge, getting too close to a stingray ( which is usually a docile animal) was enough to put it into defense mode, so it lashed out at him. Steve’s legacy goes on, and his family is keeping his environmental causes and memories alive with their organizations, their zoo and more. The web address for their Australia Zoo can be found at australiazoo.com.au/

Timothy Treadwell, self-taught crusader for grizzly bears

The sad demise of a devoted bear lover and his girlfriend came in KatmaiNational Park, up in Alaska, in 2003. Timothy Treadwell was not trained as a scientist but he devoted his life to large, wild bears he wanted to protect from poaching in the Alaskan wilderness. For many years, he chose to be flown to remote locations and camp out; documenting his experiences with bears he came in contact with, far from civilization. Currently, Leonardo DiCaprio is working on a movie, “The Man Who Loved Grizzlies,” with no release date as of yet, documenting Treadwell’s life. A sadly fascinating film by Werner Herzog, called “Grizzly Man” explains the mystery behind the deaths of Treadwell, and his girlfriend, Amy Huguenard. Being too comfortable, reckless and trusting of these large carnivores took both their lives. Both were eaten by a grizzly bear, as the camera rolled (lens cap on), in an area so remote that there are no roads or humanity for many miles. He had no way of connecting with others, nowhere to run, and no big trees to escape to. Previously, Treadwell thought he knew the bears well enough to stop carrying the bear spray that many use for protection. He’d stopped carrying it years before.

Timothy Treadwell took many truly amazing videos and photographs up close and personal with the bears he loved so dearly, and proclaimed that he would die for them. He was right. Unfortunately his noble cause backfired, because he got too familiar and close with them, calling them cute names and trying to befriend them. In the end, authorities had to shoot bears as they came to recover the remains of Treadwell and Huguenard. These animals had shown aggression and were put down for it. Despite such a tragic end, Timothy Treadwell brought knowledge of these bears to the world and wrote a book called “Among Grizzlies”. His website lives on through friends and other bear lovers at grizzlypeople.com/

It’s important to educate the world, especially children about animals, and nature but it must be done carefully. Watching naturalist, Jeff Corwin’s shows on Animal Planet, as well as reruns of the “Crocodile Hunter,” I have total respect for naturalists, and their camera people. Their work is important and kids everywhere learn that wild animals are best handled by experts, and with respect to avoid accidents or mishaps.

For all those would-be animal advocates, remember that wild animals are fascinating and unpredictable. Take proper safety precautions when handling or just being around them. My horse trainer told me once, that dangerous riding accidents usually don’t happen to beginners, they happen when the rider is experienced and becomes too familiar or comfortable with their sport. That goes for being a nature filmographer or wild animal expert. There are other tragic naturalists not focused on here, such as Diane Fosse, who went to Africa to live among gorillas but lost her life to poachers. For those who want to live remotely and study animals, learn how to anticipate and respond to unforeseen emergencies. It may just save your life.