acts, by Stephanie Peatling - 19th June 2004
The Sydney Morning Herald)
Adventure man Steve Irwin may have
ridden roughshod over Antarctica, but this time
some conservationists are on his side, writes
Irwin, the self-proclaimed "greatest wildlife
warrior that's walking on Earth", is a man
who likes his nature up close and personal. Irwin's
unashamedly ocker style, aimed squarely at the
American market, has made the man in the khaki
short shorts an international superstar. Irwin
has said he makes people aware of the importance
of conservation by "getting out into the
world, taking you, the audience, with me, having
an adventure and making it exciting".
the search for the excitement factor has landed
Irwin in trouble again, less than six months after
he was condemned for taking his baby son into
a crocodile enclosure at his Australia Zoo in
Queensland. In the footage of his latest documentary,
Ice Breaker, Irwin is shown sliding down icy slopes
in Antarctica with penguins and wriggling in among
a group of leopard seals. He is also alleged to
have swum with humpback whales.
a tip-off to the Antarctica Division of the Federal
Department of Environment and Heritage, Irwin
and his team are being investigated for possible
breaches of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity
Conservation Act and the Antarctic Treaty Environment
television channel that screened Ice Breaker in
the United States this week defended Irwin's actions.
"We at Animal Planet are confident that once
the Australian Antarctic Division [AAD] reviews
the footage of Steve with whales, they will find
there was no intentional wrongdoing," a statement
from producers said.
described it as a "storm in a teacup"
and a "huge vendetta" by anti-environmentalists.
He also pointed out what he saw as the hypocrisy
of people claiming to be outraged by his actions:
"It's a massive agenda not by one or two
people but by countless millions of people who
support the wearing [of leather] and the sustainable
use of wildlife [for leather and meat] and killing
is an opinion not without support in conservation
circles. A Humane Society International campaigner,
Nicola Benyon, was more concerned with the ongoing
straying of Japanese whaling vessels into Australia's
Antarctic waters than Irwin's latest caper. She
says terrible crimes against wildlife are committed
in Australia's Antarctic waters but there have
been no prosecutions for them.
same Australian law that is being looked at to
investigate Steve Irwin could be used to prosecute
Japanese whalers, who routinely kill whales in
Australia's whale sanctuary as part of their phoney
scientific research program. Once a law has been
passed to protect wildlife in Australia's jurisdiction,
it ought to be applied with equal force to everyone."
scientist with extensive field experience in Antarctica,
who asked not to be named, said Irwin's claim
that the penguins and whales came to him was plausible.
"He doesn't do himself any favours, does
he? If you sit still for long enough they will
come to you," the scientist says. "Penguins
in particular are very naive. Because there are
no land-based predators in Antarctica, such as
polar bears, the animals are very curious."
the case of the leopard seals, the scientist was
more concerned for Irwin's safety: "Only
last year a leopard seal killed a woman with the
British Antarctic Survey who got too close."
The scientist points out that the hugely respected
naturalist Sir David Attenborough has got just
as close, if not closer, to a wide range of Antarctic
wildlife including albatross and emperor penguins.
"Attenborough gets very close, but his attitude
is respectful and submissive. For a piece on emperor
penguins, his team was in Antarctica for the whole
winter with a research team so when they do get
close they are not seen as infringing. But Steve
Irwin seems to be in there being incredibly exuberant,
gung-ho and perhaps not understanding the subleties."
researcher who has worked with Attenborough says
the difference between the two filmmakers is their
approach: "Everyone wants Attenborough-standard
footage but most people have limited time to get
the shots they need."
famous footage of a killer whale approaching a
beach and grabbing a seal pup was obtained because
a crew was in place for months, waiting for just
such a spectacle.
cannot get that kind of stuff in a day or a week
and there are only a very few organisations -
the BBC, National Geographic and the Discovery
Channel - that have the resources to put in the
time to get what they do," the researcher
gain permission to film in Antarctica, Irwin had
to submit an environmental impact assessment outlining
what he and his crew were going to do. They were
also made aware of the code of conduct which asks
visitors to consider that: "The Antarctic
environment is highly susceptible to the impacts
of human activities, and as a general rule has
much less natural ability to recover from disturbance
than the Australian environment."
code is very specific in setting the minimum distances
people must keep between themselves and any wildlife.
People travelling on foot must stay at least 15
metres away from penguins in colonies and seals
with pups. That distance is reduced to five metres
for penguins on sea ice and for adult seals.
has been ordered to submit all footage shot in
Antarctica to see whether man or beast made the
first move. If found guilty, Irwin faces a fine
of up to $1 million and two years' jail. A decision
is expected later this month.
Sydney Morning Herald
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