Wildlife warrior's quiet generosity
September 06, 2006STEVE Irwin wound up the charitable foundation named after him because he believed his name polarised Australians and would hinder donations.
But the new conservation foundation he established in its place, Wildlife Warriors, has been inundated by donations from as far afield as Croatia after his death.
Irwin contributed to conservation personally by buying property throughout Australia, Vanuatu and the US. The man, who reportedly earned $4 million last year, kept his considerable land holdings very quiet, primarily because many of them were established to rejuvenate flora or fauna. His most public, the 34,000ha he purchased in the central Queensland brigalow belt, hoped to restore python and koala numbers.
The Irwins and their business partners, John Stainton and Judi Bailey, worked hard to play down their lucrative entertainment cashflows. The low prices they received for their documentaries and middling returns from their foray into merchandising betrayed the obvious success of an omnipresent celebrity.
The obvious next step in his empire, the expected success of his investment in the movie The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, did not unfold as favourably as expected.
Nevertheless, Irwin's empire churned well enough to sustain the distribution of $2 million a year to charitable programs through Wildlife Warriors and to maintain its operating overheads at Australia Zoo.
Recently, Irwin even investigated buying a Queensland island on which to naturally breed threatened orang utans and Sumatran tigers, before realising it would be easier to build an island at Australia Zoo.
"He would have liked to buy Australia to make that a conservation island," joked WW's executive manager, Michael Hornby.
"Some of the things he said could seem outlandish, but if he had half a chance, he'd do it if it would make a positive difference."
Even close confidants are unsure of Irwin's property holdings, although much of it is said to be bush or scrub useful only for conservation purposes.
Nevertheless, Terri Irwin and children Bindi and Bob won't want for anything, said one confidant, despite the US Discovery Channel establishing the Steve Irwin Crocodile Hunter Fund for wildlife conservation and contributing to the education of his children.
Irwin was as good as his word in farming out his money.
He lived frugally, sustained by a basic existence in which a swag would be more inviting than a hotel room.
The environmentalist and entertainer, dubbed the "Evel Knievel of the natural world" also had a wide reach, contributing time and funds to tiger programs in India and Bhutan, elephant conservation projects in Cambodia and Vietnam and a cheetah-release program in South Africa.
WW also provided support in Banda Aceh after the Boxing Day tsunami, providing veterinary support for the elephants clearing the rubble.
"He didn't bang the drum about it," Mr Hornby said.
"The bottom line for Steve is the outcomes, not who was doing it or how, but how it was impacting upon the environment."