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Steve Irwin’s birthday doodle turns into an ethical debate

By Cassidy Gaudes

Google honored Steve Irwin with a Google Doodle on Feb. 22, which would have been his 57th birthday. While the gesture was appreciated by many, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), was not happy about it, to say the least.

Irwin was the famed crocodile hunter before his death in 2006, when he was stung by an 8-foot stingray off the coast of Australia. Irwin’s TV show, The Crocodile Hunter, premiered in Australia in 1992. It was later picked up by Animal Planet in 1996.

He made it a point to show how dangerous creatures like crocodiles should be appreciated and preserved despite their reputation.

I grew up watching Irwin and was always amazed at how close he got to animals. He had no fear of reptiles and seemed to think of them as living things with a personality, instead of dangerous animals.

PETA replied to Google’s tweet about the doodle condemning Irwin and his role in wildlife conservation. The tweet said Irwin was killed while harassing a ray and brought up dangling his baby while feeding a crocodile and wrestling wild animals. The tweet went on to condemn Google’s choice saying it sends a dangerous message.

They then followed with a thread which were deemed by some fans to further insult Irwin’s legacy.

I was shocked when I read PETA’s original tweet. I couldn’t believe they had decided to say such things about Irwin on his birthday.

Irwin did a lot for animal communities in his life and should be honored for his contributions to wildlife and conservation. From a young age, he nursed animals back to health and worked to reduce crocodile hunting. He and his wife helped establish Wildlife Warriors Worldwide, an international organization aimed at helping and teaching about conservation.

He spent his whole life with animals and because of his kids and wife, his goal of conservation through exciting education still lives on at the Australia Zoo.

PETA’s tweet brought up an old incident Irwin had already come under fire for. In 2004, he held his baby son while feeding a 12-foot crocodile. Irwin and his wife later released more video footage to show Irwin was farther from the crocodile than people had realized.

While feeding a crocodile and holding a baby at the same time isn’t necessarily safe, for Irwin it wasn’t something to think twice about. He spent his entire life learning how to be comfortable around them.

By the age of nine, he was catching crocodiles and spent a lot of time at his parents’ wildlife park,  which is now the Australia Zoo. Picking-up animals was second nature to Irwin. He knew how to do it in a way that would not harm the animal or himself.

To learn about animals you have to get close to them. Without doing that, there would be no way to tag them, learn the animal’s movements or characteristics.

To call him out on what would have been his birthday is highly insensitive. Even if someone does not agree with someone else’s method, it is unnecessary to call the deceased out on a day meant to celebrate their legacy.

PETA has no right to call him out when they have had their own share of controversy.

Under their FAQ tab on their website, one of the questions is “Why does PETA use controversial tactics?” Part of their response said,  “We try to make our actions colorful and controversial, thereby grabbing headlines around the world.”

PETA’s president, Ingrid Newkirk, made an official statement also condemning Irwin.

They showed no remorse for their words and continued to berate a man who is dead and can’t speak for himself.

The world needs more people who appreciate animals as they are. Steve Irwin has left an impact on the way we view other species and will live on through his legacy of environmental protection.

Cassidy Gaudes can be reached at cassidy.gaudes@spartans.ut.edu

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