While some people might think it silly, one of the people I admire most is the late, great Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter. Yes, he was goofy and flamboyant. Sure, he hammed it up for the cameras. But when it came down to caring, generosity, and real work to make a difference, Irwin was a hero. While he wasn’t a volunteer himself—Irwin ran his family’s Australia Zoo—he welcomed volunteers from all over the world, encouraging them to learn about the Australian wildlife, and to spread his message of conservation.
Part of what makes volunteering so important is the exposure to the passion and dedication of the people behind the programs. That kind of passion is contagious, and it ripples outward. Here I am, six years after the stingray incident, feeling like I need to respect Steve’s legacy by protecting the wildlife in my own back yard. In my case, it’s little brown bats, Myotis lucifigus, a species that has been hit hard by a fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome that is threatening to wipe out the entire New York State population.
Here is a little brown bat with White Nose Syndrome caused by the fungus Geomyces destructans.
I can’t say Steve Irwin is the reason I’m working with bats, but he was and continues to be a source of inspiration. If Steve could do it with crocodiles, snakes, the creepiest crawlies, and the most dangerous venomous beasts, then surely I can do it with a cute little fuzzy bat.
I’m not the only person Steve Irwin’s life touched in a deep, meaningful way. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society named a ship after him, a ship that is used in direct action to fight whaling and other illegal poaching or ecological crime on the high seas. The crew is comprised almost entirely of volunteers. It makes sense that Irwin’s work would inspire direct environmental action. This isn’t lobbying or petitioning, this is face-to-face, hand-to-hand combat.
While I don’t advocate violence of any kind (and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society doesn’t either) sometimes it is necessary to put oneself in the way of potential harm—to take a stand for what’s right and to protect people or animals that can’t protect themselves. Irwin did that every day—putting his life in danger each time he moved a snake with necrotic venom from the road, or leaped on the back of a reeling croc. The volunteers aboard the Steve Irwin do it too—each time they stare down the decks of a whaling ship in open waters.
I suppose there is a word for the kind of lasting inspiration Steve Irwin made on the world: legacy. It’s the thing we all hope to leave behind us when we die. It’s the thing that makes us feel immortal, and that gives our lives true meaning. We can’t create a legacy without inspiring others. Volunteering is a great way to start.