Steve Irwin dies

Staffers at Steve Irwin’s park in shock after Crocodile Hunter dies

By ASSOCIATED PRESS

BEERWAH, Australia

          

 

They call Australia Zoo the house that Steve Irwin built. On Monday, it lost its star attraction.

 

Hundreds of employees, many wiping tears from their eyes as they drove past the zoo exit on their way home from work, were saddened by the news that their employer, 44-year-old Irwin, died after being stung by a stingray barb in a diving accident about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) north off Port Douglas on the Great Barrier Reef.

 

"We’re all pretty shocked by this mate, just bear with us," a security guard who did not want to be named said as he attempted to separate zoo-goers from dozens of media that descended on the site about 70 kilometers (45 miles) north of the state capital Brisbane.

 

Within hours, small satellite transmission centers were set up near the highway that runs in front of the zoo as TV networks broadcast news from the site.

 

Towering over the satellite dishes and TV trucks was a large billboard of Steve Irwin wrestling a crocodile, his head extending over the top of the board, and his famous catchword "Crikey" emblazoned across the oversized poster.

 

Residents, many of whom had grown up with Irwin and his family and watched the zoo grow from a small crocodile farm in the early 1970s started by Steve’s father Bob, to a 360-employee theme park known around the world, stopped by with increasing regularity throughout the afternoon.

 

"Steve, from all God’s creatures thank you. Rest in peace," one person wrote on a card attached to a bouquet of native Australian flowers.

 

A card, obviously written by a child, said: "To the Crocodile Hunter. We will miss you. Becky and Ryan Middleton." It signed off with "XX, OO" – kisses and hugs.

 

Dozens of cars and trucks honked their horns in tribute as they drove down the highway.

 

A woman and her two young daughters crossed the road just before nightfall, the youngest girl with tears streaming down her face and clutching three or four crayoned cartoons she had just completed of the Crocodile Hunter.

 

Paula Kelly, originally from England, is a volunteer at the zoo, originally known as the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park.

 

"We’re all very shocked. I don’t know what the zoo will do without him," said Kelly. "He’s done so much for us, the environment and it’s a big loss."

 

Alex Bauer, 25, of Cologne, Germany, visited the zoo Monday but was unaware that Irwin had died until he’d left the grounds.

 

"There was no indication from inside that anything had happened. We saw a lot of helicopters flying overhead, but we didn’t know anything until we hit the gates."

 

While the zoo, which features over 1,000 animals on nearly 25 hectares (60 acres) of natural bushland, was the Irwin family’s pride and joy, it was also the scene of one of Steve Irwin’s biggest publicity blunders.

 

Two years ago, Irwin held his 1-month-old son, Bob, in one arm while feeding large crocodiles inside a zoo pen. Irwin said at the time there was no danger to his son and in later interviews, laughed off the incident.

 

His American wife, Terri Irwin, daughter Bindi Sue, 8, and Bob, who will turn 3 in December, are expected to return to their home near Australia Zoo after Irwin’s body is returned from Cairns in northern Queensland in the next several days.

 

 

For the cats,

 

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue

an Educational Sanctuary home

to more than 100 big cats

12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625

813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

http://www.BigCatRescue.org MakeADifference@BigCatRescue.org

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