Thursday, September 07, 2006

Steve Irwin, visiting his zoo, and Wikipedia.

I'm using a borrowed computer. Every time I try to upload images for this post, it refuses. I've added some images as separate posts before this one, straight from Flickr. When I'm back on home turf I'll weld it all together.

We visited the Australian Zoo the day after Steve Irwin's death. If we hadn't been holidaying from interstate, I would have left it a couple of weeks. There were a few wreaths and many media outside, but only zoo-goers were admitted, so there were no cameras or roving and raving reporters inside. The general mood at the zoo was a bit subdued, but respectful and celebratory. Numbers were a little lower than usual.

At 11:30, during the main show in the "Crocoseum" arena, many of the staff were watching in the stalls and we all stood for a minute's silence to remember Steve. The commentator said that going on with the show was the hardest thing he'd ever done. There was a huge screen above the auditorium and when Steve Irwin's face came on talking about his love for the animals, Mr3 yelled out in joy "There's Steve Irwin!". I had to explain very quickly that the footage was taken earlier and Steve Irwin had actually died.

The guy operating the bouncy castle said that the day before, staff had initially worked out something was wrong from the behaviour of the senior staff. Staff were informed, and then they watched as zoo-goers received text messages with the news from friends outside.

The most remarkable thing about the zoo was the permeation of Steve's attitudes to animals and people. Staff were friendly and forthcoming. They wandered around carrying baby alligators, snakes, cockatoos and approaching us so we could touch the animals. The philosophy is that once we’ve touched them, we’ll care enough to save them. From the videos, it looks like Steve got a lot closer to the crocs than the other trainers did.

In the enclosures, trainers played (even frollicked!) with the animals - even the tigers where a bloke in khaki had a giant cat toy on a rope, running in front of the tigers, playing tug of war and throwing the toy into the swimming pool so the tiger leaped from the shore to retrieve it. There were two other trainers in the enclosure monitoring the cats. There seemed to be a lot of affection between animals and trainers, including a giant tortoise who was a big sook when it had its shell and head rubbed.

When we left at the end of the day, the front of the zoo had many, many more bunches of flowers. There was much artwork obviously done by schoolkids during the day. A row of khaki shirts was hanging at the front, with people writing condolences on them. Police had set up an electronic sign either side of the entries warning of “changed traffic conditions ahead”.

Steve Irwin did great things to help people understand animals, but he probably didn't expect to help me understand more about how Wikipedia works. I've been watching as the Wikipedia entry has grown, and watching the debates about the content. I found out about the different types of locks that can be on a page and that the style manual says that if an article is about an Australian, then Australian English should be used. Here is the Wikipedia article on Steve Irwin, and here is the the discussion page. Very interesting to see the discussion that took place just as the news was breaking on this archived discussion page.

Like Reg Bolton, Steve Irwin was an example of how extreme enthusiasm, and engagement with other people and what you do well, can ripple out and transform hundreds of lives. Their methodolgy may not have been perfect, but they both died doing what they loved and leaving people determined to carry on their legacies.

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