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Australia stunned by death of "modern-day Noah"
Mon 4 Sep 2006 4:35 AM ET

By Paul Tait

SYDNEY, Sept 4 (Reuters) - From Canberra's corridors of power to tropical Queensland, Australia was stunned on Monday by the untimely death of naturalist Steve Irwin, whose TV capers with dangerous beasts had made him "a modern-day Noah".

"I really do feel Australia has lost a wonderful and colourful son," Prime Minister John Howard told reporters after breaking the news to lawmakers in parliament.

"He took risks, he enjoyed life. He brought immense joy to millions of people, particularly to children, and it's just such a terrible loss."

The "Crocodile Hunter", a chirpy figure known across the world for his death-defying encounters with wild animals, was killed by a stingray barb through the chest on Monday while diving off the country's northeast coast.

Mourners laid flowers outside Irwin's Australia Zoo on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, where crocodiles he trapped in populated areas now roam.

"It was like hearing of the death of a really great friend," said Lesley Manks, an Irwin fan at the zoo.

Down the east coast, Brisbane resident Rod Cameron said: "It's very sad and we are very upset. Australia just lost a bloody good bloke".

ANIMAL PLANET ICON

Fellow naturalists paid tribute to the 44-year-old, whose documentaries on cable TV channel Animal Planet garnered worldwide audiences of up to 200 million and spawned a virtual industry of books and interactive games.

Mark Townend, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Queensland Inc., said Irwin was "a modern-day Noah, and should be acknowledged as such".

International environmentalist David Suzuki told Ten Network television Irwin had brought a much greater respect for animals such as snakes and crocodiles that are normally "demonised".

British naturalist and broadcaster David Bellamy described Irwin as a great performer and an excellent natural historian.

"I could break down crying at this moment, but I will try not to," Bellamy told the BBC. "He did take enormous risks but he knew what he was doing. It was one of the terrible, terrible, terrible accidents and I wish to God it didn't happen," he said.

"He not only captivated Australia and all the visitors there, but he captivated America because he was audacious."

Many mourned the loss of an Australian face known and loved around the globe.

"Steve Irwin was a true Aussie icon and a fantastic ambassador for Australia," the opposition Labor Party's tourism spokesman, Martin Ferguson, said in a statement.

Tourism Minister Fran Bailey hailed Irwin as a larger-than-life character loved by millions. "Americans adored him. Thousands visited Australia Zoo," she said.

(Additional reporting by James Grubel in Canberra)




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