In 1996, Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin—who is the subject of today's Google Doodle—came from seemingly out of nowhere to become one of the world’s most famous television stars. The Crocodile Hunteraired its final episode on September 4, 2007, one year after Irwin was killed when a stingray pierced his chest during the filming of a documentary, Ocean’s Deadliest. Yet Irwin’s legacy has carried on, both through repeated viewings of his hit series and with the help of his family: wife Terri, daughter Bindi Sue, and son Bob. Here are 13 things you might not have known about The Crocodile Hunter.
1. Steve Irwin grew up at a zoo.
Steve Irwin discovered his love of animals, and talent for handling them, at an early age. “My dad was a wildlife expert,” Irwin told Larry King in 2004. “His field was herpetology, one who studies reptiles, and my mom was a wildlife rehabilitator.” When Irwin was still a child, his family moved to Beerwah, near Queensland, Australia, to open the Beerwah Reptile Park in 1970. Steve spent his formative years helping to run the park, including feeding the animals, and eventually became its owner. It’s still in operation, but is now called the Australia Zoo.
2. Steve Irwin met his wife, Terri, at the Australia Zoo.
Though Steve Irwin was the indisputable star of The Crocodile Hunter, his family—including his wife, Terri—played an integral role in the series. Much like her husband, Terri discovered her love of animals at an early age. She was born in Eugene, Oregon, where her family ran a trucking business and her father would regularly bring home injured animals he’d come across on the road. In 1986, Terri opened Cougar Country, a facility that helped rehabilitate foxes, raccoons, bobcats, bears, and, of course, cougars and release them back into the wild.
In 1991, Terri took a trip to Australia and visited the Australia Zoo, where she first laid eyes on Steve during one of his crocodile shows. “I was absolutely floored,” Terri told Barbara Walters in 2006. “That was it. This man was a real-life hero. I fell then and there, love at first sight, not a problem. I said to my friend, ‘I got to meet this guy.’” The couple got engaged just four months later.
3. The first episode of The Crocodile Hunter was filmed during Steve and Terri Irwin's honeymoon.
Appropriately, Steve and Terri spent their honeymoon traveling around Australia trapping crocodiles for relocation. Then they got a call “that there was a crocodile that needed help,” Terri recounted to Scientific American. “We dropped our honeymoon, we went to north Queensland, and we helped this crocodile and filmed a documentary on the premise that the cameraman just chases Steve around. Steve hadn't been to acting school, he had no preconceived notions. His background was exactly what you see on television, he's done that all his life. We thought we'd do one show. What happened was, it did really well, so we did a part two. And from then on, we found that Steve's natural behavior in the wild happens to be fascinating!” Recognizing that Steve’s enthusiasm would be a huge draw for audiences, Animal Planet picked up The Crocodile Hunter as a regular series.
4. Irwin believed his enthusiasm was the key to The Crocodile Hunter's success.
When asked by Scientific American about what he attributed the show’s immense popularity to, Irwin quipped, “Nothing to do with my looks, that's for sure! Yeah, I normally get a big croc out in the foreground of any filming.” But he did have a real theory: “You know what I reckon it is? My belief is that what comes across on the television is a capture of my enthusiasm and my passion for wildlife. Since I was a boy, from this house, I was out rescuing crocodiles and snakes. My mum and dad were very passionate about that, and I was lucky enough to go along. The first crocodile I ever caught was at 9 years of age, and it was a rescue. So now what happens is the cameras follow me around and capture exactly what I've been doing since I was a boy. Only now we have a team of, you know, like 73 of us, and it's gone beyond that.
"As the audience, I want you to come with me, right? So we get cameras, every one of us, if we've got a four- or five-man film crew, including myself and Terri. Every one of us can use a camera. I have one in my green backpack that I pull out for the hardcore shots where you've gotta get right in there, so the camera's always right there, in there, while I'm doing my thing. So when I'm talking to the camera, I'm talking to you, in your living room.”
5. The show's popularity spread far beyond America.
Though The Crocodile Hunter was a huge hit in America as well as in Irwin’s native Australia, its popularity reached far beyond those two countries. The series was seen, and beloved, by more than 500 million people in 130 countries around the world.
6. Creating awareness about conservationism was the show's main goal.
While many viewers tuned into The Crocodile Hunter to witness Irwin’s zany antics while going head-to-head with some of the world’s most feared creatures, Irwin’s main goal was to educate the public about these animals and dispel the many myths surrounding them.
“I've always seen Jacques Cousteau as a hero,” he said. “He's a legend, like my dad, just a legend. And so what he did for conservation in the '60s through the '70s was just phenomenal. And I want to be just like him, you know? I want to have a milestone, you know? I want to create history. So we've gone beyond the media that we're working with now, and we're taking the media, we're taking the ‘Croc Hunter’ message, we're taking conservation, and the greening of our planet to kids’ toys, to shirts, you know, our shirts will be an advertisement of conservation. It's like we're taking it to the nth degree. In fact, we probably won't stop there either. If there's another medium where we can just get people excited about conservation we'll take it, we'll run with it.”
7. The Crocodile Hunter's popularity allowed Irwin to expand the Australia Zoo.
The success of The Crocodile Hunter allowed Irwin to fulfill one of his lifelong dreams by expanding the Australia Zoo to include a “Crocoseum.” The space gives visitors the chance to see how crocodiles behave in nature by housing them in clear water ponds. “Crocodiles use the murkiness of the water in their territory to camouflage from their prey,” explains the zoo’s website. “By using clear water, we can highlight for you the dangers that can be lurking just below the surface of a seemingly serene billabong.”
8. Irwin was no stranger to being bitten by the animals he handled, and knew it made for great television.
It's only natural that some of Irwin’s animal co-stars would make their reluctance to be put in front of the cameras known. "Steve Irwin's all pretty interesting on the telly or in the movie and that, but by crikey, it's great when he gets bitten," Irwin told ABC Australia. "Now and again I do get bitten ... And it's that, you know, that sense of morbidity that people do have. There's no use sticking your head in the sand and going, 'Oh, no, they're only here because, you know, I talk well.' Nah, man, they wanna see me come unglued.”
9. Irwin caused a major controversy when he fed a crocodile while holding his infant son.
In 2004, during a live show, Irwin caused a media stir when footage and photos of him emerged feeding a chicken carcass to a croc with one hand while holding his one-month-old son, Bob, in the other. Comparisons were quickly made to the time, two years earlier, that Michael Jackson had dangled his newborn son, Prince Michael II, over a hotel balcony. But Irwin was quick to dismiss the allegations that he had put his child in harm’s way. He claimed that the photo that surfaced was actually just taken at an amazingly great angle, which made it appear as if his son was much closer to the croc than he ever actually was.
“They were very lucky,” Irwin told Larry King of the photographers who snapped the photo. “They, out of those three news crews, they showed it at the head and saw this stacked vision and they're like, wow, this is great stuff! Bam! That was it. It just went.” When King asked whether Bob was ever in danger, Irwin said, “Not once, ever never. The funny thing is I've been doing it with Bindi for like five odd years and I would never endanger my children.”
When King asked why Irwin had gone on the TODAY Show to apologize for the incident if Bob was never in danger, Irwin insisted that, “I was apologizing for scaring people. That was never my intention. My intention was strictly and only to show people, here's my little baby boy. I would never endanger my son as you wouldn't yours nor any good father.”
10. Parrots were the one animal that terrified Irwin.
Though Irwin wasn’t afraid to face off against some of the world’s most terrifying reptiles, he wasn’t totally fearless when it came to animals. When asked if there was any type of animal that did frighten him, Irwin admitted that, “The only animals I'm not comfortable with are parrots, but I'm learning as I go. I'm getting better and better at 'em. I really am … For some reason parrots have to bite me. That's their job. I don't know why that is. They've nearly torn my nose off. I've had some really bad parrot bites.”
11. He discovered a new species of turtle.
While on a fishing trip with his dad, Steve caught a turtle on his line that didn’t look like any creature either Irwin had ever seen before. So they took some pictures and sent them off to herpetologist John Cann, who confirmed that the animal was a never-before-discovered species. In honor of its discoverers, Cann named the species Elseya irwini, or Irwin’s snapping turtle. (Baltimore’s National Aquarium is the only place you can see one outside of Australia.)
12. There's a snail named after Irwin and his famous catchphrase.
You didn’t have to watch much of The Crocodile Hunter to learn that Irwin was famous for shouting the phrase “Crikey!” In 2009, Dr. John Stanisic, a scientist at the Queensland Museum, discovered a new type of tree snail and named it crikey steveirwini. Stanisic told ABC Australia that the creature was "a colorful snail, with swirling bands of creamy yellow, orange-brown and chocolate giving the shell an overall khaki appearance” and that “It was the khaki color that immediately drew the connection to the late Crocodile Hunter." Crikey!
13. Robert Irwin is following in his father's footsteps.
Whatever your opinion on the controversy that swirled around Steve feeding a crocodile while holding his infant son, one person who clearly wasn’t frightened was Robert Irwin himself. Now 15 years old, Bob—who appeared alongside his mom Terri and sister Bindi on Steve Irwin's Wildlife Warriors and co-hosted Wild But True for Discovery Kids Channel in 2015 and 2016—is clearly looking to follow in his famous father’s footsteps. In 2017, he appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where he introduced the host to a handful of animals (including a cuddly sloth).
Bindi Sue has also become a television staple. Beginning in 2007, Bindi had her own Discovery Kids series, Bindi the Jungle Girl. She also starred with her brother on Growing Up Wild for The Pet Collective YouTube channel. In 2015, she showed off her dancing skills when she was crowned the winner of the 21st season of Dancing With the Stars.