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How Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin Built an Empire—And a Legacy

Friday would have been Steve Irwin’s 57th birthday. In celebration of Irwin’s life and legacy, Google is featuring the late conservationist and zookeeper in a Google Doodle slideshow.

But before Steve Irwin became known around the world for his TV series The Crocodile Hunter—and before he had two species named after him—Irwin was just a kid who loved reptiles.

Steve Irwin’s Reptilian Beginnings

Irwin’s love for large reptiles started a young age—his parents gave him an 11-foot python for his sixth birthday, and opened a reptile park in Queensland, Australia, in the early 1970s.

Irwin learned how to wrestle crocodiles from the age of nine and volunteered with Queensland’s East Coast Crocodile Management Program, which captured and relocated endangered saltwater crocodiles to safety. Irwin later took over management of his family’s park, which was eventually renamed the Australia Zoo.

Irwin Becomes The Crocodile Hunter

Instead of a traditional honeymoon, Irwin and his wife Terri went back to Australia following their wedding to try to stop a poacher from killing a crocodile. The couple invited a film crew to join them, and the footage of their efforts later became the first episode of The Crocodile Hunter. The show, in which Irwin fought to save endangered, and oftentimes dangerous, animals evolved into a massive success, airing in more than 100 countries to more than 500 million people. The show also featured Irwin’s daughter, Bindi, and son, Robert.

Steve Irwin’s Death and Legacy

In 2006, while filming an episode of Ocean’s Deadliest, Irwin was stabbed by a stingray. The stingray’s barb pierced his chest and Irwin bled to death.

Irwin’s wife and children are continuing his legacy, dedicating their lives to wildlife conservation. The family’s Australia Zoo continues to grow with more than 1,200 animals to date. The family also has a wildlife hospital and oversees a non-profit organization that supports conservation projects.

Steve Irwin with wife and kids
Steve Irwin poses with his wife and kids at Australia Zoo June 19, 2006, in Beerwah, Australia. Handout Getty Images

‘Crikey!’

Irwin was perhaps best known for popularizing the term “crikey!” a word that became his catchphrase on the show. His family is carrying on the phrase as well, with their own show that premiered last fall. Called Crikey! It’s the Irwins, the Animal Planet show goes behind the scenes at the Australia Zoo.

The Irwin Name

Irwin has two species named after him. In 1997, Irwin discovered a new turtle species, which was given the name elseya irwini, or Irwin’s snapping turtle.

In 2009, a scientist at the Queensland Museum discovered a new type of tree snail. In Irwin’s honor, the snail was fittingly called crikey steveirwini.