'A Tremendous Loss': Jim Fowler and Jack Hanna Remember Steve Irwin

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," September 4, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Welcome to a special edition of "Hannity & Colmes." I'm Alan Colmes. And Rich Lowry's sitting in for Sean tonight. Nice to see you again, Rich.


COLMES: The world woke up this morning to the tragic news of the death of Steve Irwin, better known to millions of fans around the world as the "Crocodile Hunter." The 44-year old Irwin was swimming off the coast of Queensland, Australia, while taping a new television show when his heart was pierced by the poisonous spine of a stingray.

He is survived by his wife, an eight-year-old daughter, and a son who will turn three in December.

We're joined by Jack Hanna, and the host of Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom," Jim Fowler. Good to see you both.

And Jim, let me start with you. Both of you knew Steve Irwin pretty well. Jim, tell us about your friend.

JIM FOWLER, HOST, "WILD KINGDOM": Yes, I knew Steve. You know, tonight, I usually try to have a pleasant look on my face on television, but it's tough to do tonight. That's a tremendous loss, a tremendous tragedy, and I might say very unexpected.

From where I sat, Steve Irwin was a real professional. He knew what he was doing. And you know, to an audience, it may look like he was taking some risks. -- No, no. He was calculated. He really knew what he was doing.

I didn't necessarily believe in wearing short pants like he did, but I found him a true professional.

COLMES: Let me go to you, Jack, and then ask you your remembrances. You also knew Steve Irwin?

JACK HANNA, DIRECTOR EMERITUS, COLUMBUS ZOO: Yes, we did a one-hour special on him, Alan, about seven years ago in Australia. And I was always impressed with Steve from the standpoint that some people that Jim knows think that he was a showman, or whatever he was.

But I can tell you one thing, he was a conservationist. And Steve, when he woke up, he was just exactly the same way when he woke up as when he went to bed. I mean, he was so excited about what he did.

And he gave a great deal of money to conservation projects, which some people didn't even know.

But the one thing about him was -- did he take risks? I'm sure he did, but he had calculated risks. It's just like Jim when Jim did "Wild Kingdom." You know, these guys were pioneers.

And the thing about today, Alan, that kind of concerns me is that when I started, or even when Jim started, there was only one animal show. That was "Wild Kingdom." And then, when I came in to do our show 14 years ago, there was two animal shows. And now, there's about 29 animal shows.

And I just hope that there are several people out there that want to be Steve Irwin wannabes. And you can't be that.

You know, if they have conservation in mind first, then that's fine. But I'm afraid to say that some of them think - might want the ratings, the dollar and that type of thing before they think about conservation.

COLMES: Hey, Jim, how can something like this have happened?

FOWLER: Well, you know, there -- from what I've heard about it, I've worked with a lot with stingrays. I'm sure Jack Hanna has been with them, too.

But you've got to be careful in shallow water. And that may be one of the factors that caused the problem.

You got to give a stingray a lot of room. Actually, the stinger is not that -- supposedly the stinger's not that deadly, but it also has a very sharp point on it.

I'm really surprised by what happened. Steve has been with a lot of other animals. You know, he certainly is knowledgeable. So it's very hard to figure this one out.

COLMES: Jack, we hear that this kind of accident hardly ever happens that a stingray only reacts when it feels threatened, but that it's basically a peaceful animal, correct?

HANNA: Right, it's correct. And as Jim said, the thing is we don't know really what happened. I'm sure we'll know in a few days. I mean, I've heard that the cameraman was ahead of the stingray. And Steve was over the top of it. And then the tail swung up.

And these stingrays go from either a foot long, up to 10 feet wide. I mean, we're talking about a big animal. I understand it was maybe a bull nose stingray. I'm not sure what kind it was, but that's big.

And if that 10-inch barb went through his chest into his heart, then there -- you know, from what I know from pretty reliable sources that death was instantaneous. And it would be with a barb like that.

I mean, people now are calling all over saying oh, my gosh we got to be careful of stingrays in the ocean now. We can't go in the ocean. That's not it at all. Getting hit by a stingray's like getting hit by lightning. It's very rare that that happens.

And of course, Steve, you know, did this type of work. And I just don't know what type of situation he put himself in.

LOWRY: Hey, guys, it's Rich Lowry. Jim, let me ask you.


LOWRY: Steve always talked about how his love for animals, he got it when he was a kid. And you know, he got...


LOWRY: ...a scrub python, which is 11 feet long I think, when he was about six-years old. He went out when he was nine and caught crocodiles with his dad. Can you talk a little bit about his upbringing, and his childhood, and how important that was to him?

FOWLER: Well, he was surrounded by a zoological display. And his father was pretty well known. In fact, Steve came to New York about 10 years ago and looked me up at the Explorers Club.

And you know, I'll never forget what he said. I didn't believe him at first. He said that he had grown up watching me on Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom", and I was his hero. So anyway, you never know.

And guess what? If he had only been able to have a career that lasted longer, he's already done a lot of good with young people. But it's very gratifying when people come up to you years later and say, you know, I went into wildlife conservation because it looked like a great profession. And that's rewarding. That's some of the rewards I've had from "Wild Kingdom." And I really feel bad that he's not going to be able to carry on a career. He had a tremendous career going.

LOWRY: Jim, talk a little bit about what kind of adrenaline rush Steve must have gotten from being in these sort of situations.

FOWLER: Right. Well, he's been in a lot of situations where he should, obviously, be able to be careful. I've had some fairly close calls, you know. And so, I'm not going to judge him on that.

But in shallow water with stingrays, you've got to be very careful. And apparently in the pressure of trying to get the right film at the right time, I can't really say.

But let me say one other thing. A lot of the audience out there have a lot of misconceptions about what's dangerous and what isn't. Probably one of the safest professions that you ever want to get involved in is working with animals. Unfortunately, it has a bad reputation. But there's so many other things that are much more deadly than doing what Steve was doing.

LOWRY: Yes, Jack.

FOWLER: And I'm not -- yes...

LOWRY: Let me get Jack in on that.

FOWLER: All right.

LOWRY: Both of you, Jack and Jim, you've talked about the difference between a real risk and calculated risk. Where do you draw the line when you're out there and you want to get good footage, and you really want to get close to these big and dangerous animals?

HANNA: Well, the thing is, you know, Jim and Steve film differently than I film. And it's a matter of respect for the animals, which they both have. It's a matter of animals are unpredictable.

You know, some people say that -- not some people -- it is a true fact that animals are like a loaded gun. They can go off at any time. Wild animals, that is.

But people like Jim and Steve that know the animals, study the animals, hopefully have done their calculations.

Myself, we film a little bit further away. But these guys, you know, bring the animal world to us in a different way. And that's what Steve was good at.

But again, I go back to his conservation message. That's what he was first and foremost like Jim was. It's some people that don't have that message that I'm concerned about, that go out there and do it for the hurrahs and the ratings and all that type of stuff. And that to me is useless. It doesn't tell the young kids anything. And it doesn't help anybody.

LOWRY: Yes, Jim, you know, one of the amazing things about Steve Irwin is apparently he was never bitten by a poisonous snake. And you know, someone like myself, looking at what proximity he was in with these snakes, that seems incredible. What accounts for that fact, do you think?

FOWLER: Well, I'll tell you what. I'm not the kind of guy to talk about animals being dangerous. I don't even call animals "wild" animals. I've worked with too many of them that are in captivity, out of the wild, are very gentle.

So I like to call them animals and respect them for where they grew up, what their instincts are.

There's no question that Steve was very, very familiar with a lot of the things he was working with. I think what we have to do -- we humans, by the way, are horrified by the idea of being bitten or clawed. That's in our genetic material. So if anybody does get bitten, it always is on the front page for a long time. --Machines are the things you have to look out for.

But in Steve's case, you know, with snakes, let me go into that real quickly. I saw him handle a lot of snakes. But also, if you know how to do it yourself, it's not as horrifying as it was the way Steve was doing it.

He wasn't really taking that many chances. He was not a dumb guy, you know. There's a big difference between being calculated and in a safe situation and being foolish. And he wasn't being foolish any time that I saw him.

COLMES: Hey, Jack, it's Alan once again. You know, Jim was just saying a few moments ago that working with animals is among the safest things you can do. And again, some of the footage we're watching looks a little frightening to the civilian. And I got to wonder, is flirting with danger part of what you do, part of what someone like Steve Irwin did? Is that part of the experience?

HANNA: Well, it's part of the experience from Steve's standpoint. I don't really get that far into it, because I don't take -- I don't try and take calculated risk.

The one thing Jim said, though, Alan about dangerous -- you know, animals are given the name "dangerous" because of their instincts that the Creator gave them, whether it's venom from a rattlesnake, a bee sting. Man, of course, has a gun. They're the most deadliest animal on earth.

But again, you know, the calculation is there. I choose not to do the calculation. Most of the accidents that I've had, which almost three were fatal, were with human things, like helicopters, two man submarines...


HANNA: ...a hand glider over Victoria Falls, where two out of -- when I film for four weeks in Zimbabwe, two out of the four people I filmed with were killed in 2 and a half weeks because of the machines they were working with.

The animals, I kind of stay back. You know, Jim and these guys might take a few more calculated risks than I take. Animals are a beautiful creatures. And I've been working with them for almost 40 years now.


FOWLER: And Jim a lot longer. So you just have to be very, very careful and respect. The whole word is respecting the animal.

COLMES: Jim, I hear you kind of agreeing there in the background as Jack is talking. ou've had a few close calls yourself, haven't you?

FOWLER: Oh, yes. Of course, I had -- I didn't have to worry because I had Mutual of Omaha Insurance. You know. I'm sorry about that!

But anyway, no, I -- if I go up Mount Everest, you know, I'm the honorary president of the Explorers Club. That's a very well known, prestigious club in New York. The astronauts are members, et cetera.

But if I go up Mount Everest, my mission is to come back alive so I can talk about it. It's not to get up there and, you know, have a problem.

So I have that attitude. I think we all are adventurous. You know, there are a lot of people that are out there that enjoy adventure.

But when I say calculated, I mean, if you have the knowledge. For example, if I'm charged by a herd of 200 elephants, I know what to do in addition to praying a lot.

But you've got to be very careful. Yes. You don't want to stand up to the female. The female is the real dangerous one.

The bulls can be bluffed. So there are things like that that I was really impressed with Steve Irwin, that he had in his lifetime, he had developed a lot of knowledge about what he was doing.

I don't necessarily agree that all animals are unpredictable. The more you know about an animal, the more you can work with it safely.

A gorilla, for example, when a gorilla charges you, you better not look him in the eye, because he considers that a threat to his dominance. So there are tricks of the trade like that.

COLMES: That's something the average person wouldn't know.

Jim, you know, it's -- Jack.

HANNA: That's right.

COLMES: Let me go to Jack for a second. You know, he would talk -- Steve Irwin talked about having a gift. And Rich Lowry mentioned, you know, that he'd never actually been attacked by a snake. Is there a "sixth sense" that you have in this business that someone like Steve Irwin is gifted with?

HANNA: There's no doubt in my mind that Steve might have had a sixth sense after what I've seen -- the few shows that I've seen Steve do.

There's -- the guy was phenomenal as far as the sixth sense. You know, I'm surprised that something might not have happened even earlier. Some people have told me today after all these interviews that, you know, it was a matter of time before something would happen.

But you know, obviously, something did happen yesterday morning that we're all terribly sad about.

But I do think some people like the "horse whisperer" do have a sixth sense. But again, I go back to what I do is I'm probably not good at six senses. So if I tried any of those things that Jim and Steve tried, I probably wouldn't be around doing your show here, last couple of years or even talking to you tonight.

So you have to have that feel. And I have a feel, but my feel again I go back to respecting the animals. You know, I'm just saying that wild animals, you know, and Jim may agree or disagree, I was always told by a very, very famous animal trainer, Gunther Gibble Williams, that wild animals are like a loaded gun. They can go off at any time. You don't know when that is unless you really have a tremendous sixth sense and you might know that.

LOWRY: Hey, Jim, it's Rich again. You said a couple times about how a lot of this stuff wasn't as dangerous as it looked that Steve did.

FOWLER: That's right.

LOWRY: But isn't jumping on the back of a crocodile dangerous? At least, it looks dangerous to all the viewers, I think.

FOWLER: Well, it's all relative, you know. I happen to know that I can run up on the back of a crocodile if you do it right. You get your legs right behind its front legs, right behind the front legs, and he can't do anything to you.

The trick is getting off of that. But getting there is no big problem. He knows a lot of those tricks.

Now I don't jump on things just to be jumping on them. I think what was said about respect is very, very important. A lot of our action was to be so that we could tag an animal and study its movements.

But you know, there are lots of things out there to consider. I hope that there are some people now that are becoming "Hollywood" on some of the shows. And I don't think that's necessarily called for. I think we have to show respect like Jack said.

LOWRY: Hey, Jack, can you talk a little bit about what was it about crocodiles? I know he -- Steve grew up around crocodiles. But can you tell us a little bit more? What did he find loveable and interesting about those formidable and kind of scaring looking creators?

HANNA: Well, you know, some people like bugs. Some people like all sorts of things. It's amazing what certain people are like, you know.

But the crocodile is an animal. I can tell you -- I have tremendous respect. I just was in Australia last year up there filming in the northern part. And these things are big. Not like an alligator.

You know, people think alligator, crocodile. They're two different animals. The crocodiles is a very aggressive animal. More than an alligator. You know, these things -- I was in a little boat there. And these things were as big as the little boat I was in. And they'd come up out of the water, six to eight feet, just to catch something in mid-air.

So the power, the speed of a crocodile is beyond comprehension if you watch it.

Now I think that's where Steve had his success. Someone said, you know, I thought he would be killed or be injured or whatever it might be by a crocodile. I never worried about that, because he -- I think he really knew that animal.

So I never -- then again, I never even dreamed of a stingray.

LOWRY: Yes. Now are those crocs, Jack, so fast because they prey on birds?

HANNA: Well, you know, a crocodile alligator can go up to one year without ever eating. All they got to do is sit there and wait and make it go up to one year without ever eating.

So they're sitting there like a log. You take a young wildebeest or some animal getting ready to cross the Masai Mara, the Mara River down there. You get ready to cross that river. It looks like a -- you know, he's like lightning at that point. You know, it's just beyond -- you can't snap your fingers that fast.

LOWRY: Jim, let's talk a little bit about fear.


LOWRY: Because I think a lot of people look at that video of Steve, or watch the shows. And they figured he must have had no fear. He must have been fearless.

But he said repeatedly in interviews that he always had a little fear there in the back of his mind, which is -- he thought was a very healthy thing.

Can talk about that a little bit?

FOWLER: Well, it's -- you should have a little fear, especially if you're working on camera. Because on camera, they pressure you to do things maybe that you wouldn't do ordinarily.

By the way, fear is normally a lack of knowledge. And I'd like to rely on knowledge as a way of saving my life. There are really only three animals left in the world that I consider really dangerous.

I classify these animals as ones that will have you for lunch without being provoked. Now one of them is the salt water crocodile in Australia. Don't even stuck your foot in the water. They have no compunction at all about swallowing you.

The other one -- there are a couple of sharks, but it might surprise you what I consider the third animal that will attack and eat you without being provoked. A couple of the sharks are -- whether they confuse you for a sea lion is immaterial once you're in, you know, in their mouth.

But the one up in the arctic, the polar bear, the one that drinks the one that drinks -- what is it -- the Pepsi or the...

LOWRY: Coke, I believe.

FOWLER: The thing I don't like about the polar bear -- I've been in a cage once as a test dessert for a polar bear. And the thing I never will forget that when that bear came up to me and actually knocked the cage I was in over, it never changed the expression on its face.

I mean, I like an animal who's going to eat me to say something or even growl.

COLMES: You know, it's...

LOWRY: You are making us very glad that me and Alan are political pundits.

COLMES: Not only that, but you know, the phrase "test dessert" does not sound very good.

But look, we're going to take a quick break.

FOWLER: Exactly.

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