It's been widely reported the last day or so that at least ten stingrays have been found dead and mutilated on Australian shores, their tails hacked off in apparent acts of retribution.
These deaths are being attributed to Crocodile Hunter's fans seeking revenge for the stingray that killed the conservationist.
A spokesman for the Queensland, Australia government said the deaths would be investigated as potential cases of animal cruelty, but "were not thought to be related to Irwin's death."
Headlines, however, blame fans.
This absolutely doesn't track with Irwin's fanbase. Fans of The Crocodile Hunter are likely animal lovers and conservation-minded people. Supporters of conservation don't run amok killing animals because their hero died. Most likely, the dead rays are the work of fishermen using Irwin's death as an excuse to get away with, quite literally, murder.
In this age of ever yellowing journalism, it's all too easy to allow those with an agenda to write headlines and stories. PETA, on the heels of Germaine Greer, has jumped on the bash-Steve-Irwin bandwagon, echoing Greer's opinion that Irwin tortured animals. Sadly, they're all reading from the same flawed and highly biased script.
Steve Irwin has purchased large tracts of land in order to preserve wildlife habitat for some of the most endangered animal species in Australia. He fought to rid Australia of the practice of "sustainable-use" farming, a misnomer if there ever was one. (Sustainable-use farming generally involves vulnerable animals raised for show, and then killed for meat, skin, and other parts. Instead of aiding the wildlife populations, the "farmers" often return to the wild to procure more animals when captive breeding fails to produce enough offspring. Nothing sustainable there. You don't kill an animal to save it.)
Irwin also served as spokesman for the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. The point of the ads filmed by Irwin stayed on point with the AQIS mission: "Nature made Australia unique, quarantine keeps it that way." Protecting Australia from exotic pests and diseases is paramount in preserving the environment. It's a notion not exclusive to Australia either. In the U.S., many states have strict import regulations to protect crops and livestock from disease or pests that could wreak havoc on a region's health and economy.
When was the last time you heard of PETA or Germaine Greer truly fighting to protect nature? Let's be real, PETA talks trash more than they clear it from the land. In fact, they were responsible for dumping a load of it, in the form of manure, in front of the San Diego Zoo a few years ago after the Zoological Society of San Diego received a herd of elephants from Swaziland. The elephants had been scheduled to be killed until ZSSD and the Lowry Park Zoo in Florida saved them. PETA's spin was that the elephants had been roaming freely at a wildlife preserve, but the overcrowded park was about to ease their burden by killing the elephants. PETA then stated the elephants should have been relocated to another part of Africa, where they could roam free. Wildlife preserves exist in Africa because of dwindling habitat, habitat often decimated by wars, agriculture, and poachers.
Steve Irwin, among other wildlife conservationists and documentarians, often reported on the declining condition of habitat in Africa, Asia — worldwide, actually. His message was simply one of encouraging people to care about wildlife and protecting the land and the resources these animals require to remain in the wild.
These are just a few examples of what Irwin did to promote conservation. His fans, well aware of his message, are highly unlikely to be the culprits behind the stingray deaths. And Steve Irwin, most definitely, does not deserve the criticism he's receiving from groups like PETA or people like Germaine Greer.
Call it a culture of blame, yellow journalism, or just plain incompetence, but the headlines are misleading and are meant solely to sell more papers. PETA just wants attention.