Tim Harrison speaks out

Animal expert Tim Harrison’s comments about Steve Irwin caused a lot of controversy following Sunday’s show. Here’s his response to the Aussie backlash:

I want to say how sorry I am some Aussies think remarks about Steve Irwin I made on the show Sunday Night were directed toward them. I have been helping both dangerous exotic animals and people for over 40 years, well before Steve even started his "animal harassment" TV show.

The owning of dangerous exotic animals did not explode in the US until after the ‘reality type’ TV shows began in 1995. Steve’s show, as we all know, had him playing with cobras, big cats, alligators, bears and crocs as if anyone could do it. The director of the award-winning documentary The Elephant in the Living Room felt like many of you did: don't blame Steve or any other hosts/educators for other people’s ignorance.

I have been a paramedic for over 34 years, both on the street and in hospitals. There was a show in the US called Jackass. We as paramedics and ER nurses would prepare for every show knowing someone in every town in the US would jump on a shopping cart and fly down the street into a car or a pole: monkey see, monkey do. The director of The Elephant in the Living Room found out after following me for two years that every time we went on a gator call or a venomous snake call I would ask the owner "Why did you get this animal?" They would reply "Because I saw it on TV".

When asked specifically what shows, they would reply, "Crocodile Hunter." They wanted to be just like their hero.

As for the "animal harassment" TV, always remember that if you go to any zoo in the world there is a sign in their reptile house that says "don't tap on the glass." This is because snakes have no arms and legs and only have the heat sensors and organs in their face and mouth. The reptile experts do not want the snakes to strike the flat, hard glass. This severely damages them and most will die a horrible death. I defy anyone who watched Steve's show to say snakes did not strike TV cameras after being teased and harassed. Why? For education? No, for entertainment.

I have been cleaning up this mess for over 20 years. I never wanted to be Steve Irwin, I am too busy teaching people NOT to be him. He is not the only TV host that has caused this problem. He was just the most watched and imitated.

I traveled to Australia just a few years before Steve died. I was invited to his zoo. I wanted to talk to him about washing his hands after handling reptiles. We had many children and adults getting salmonella from handling reptiles and not cleaning their hands or kissing their pet python or gator (just like Steve.) He would not meet with me, and he never did wash his hands on the show. I had already sent him my books "Wild Times, Tales from Suburban Safaris" and "Wildlife Warrior, More Tales from Suburban Safaris." Those books were written well before Steve started his “wildlife warrior" program.

I love the remarks that the Amish don't watch TV. They don't, but the people who buy dangerous exotics do. There are organizations and even members of my own family that still believe people should be able to own what they want. It doesn't make any difference if they are trained or know anything about the animal. These detractors say I fake rescues and make up stories. None of these groups have been with me (even though they were invited) on any of the rescues they say are not real. How can anyone make a statement without facts?

I appreciate Sunday Night for allowing the truth to come out. They showed up and saw what my group does. If you still do not believe what I have written, you are cordially invited to ride with me, just like the film maker, by watching the documentary The Elephant in the Living Room or visit us at Outreach for Animals or on our Facebook page.

We Americans lost a similar character to your Steve Irwin, Timothy Treadwell (The Grizzly Man), because of his failure to respect wildlife. Let’s all learn from their mistakes.

- Tim Harrison, Director, Outreach for Animals