In September 2004, I received a call from a friend of mine, Peter Brothers. He’s a veterinary surgeon who not only fixes dogs, cats and budgies but specializes in wildlife as well. He wanted to know if I was available to fly for him in Mussina area, near the Zimbabwe border. He was contracted to fit a radio collar to an elephant roaming on property belonging to the De Beers Diamond Group.
I said “yes”.
I flew to Mussina one afternoon in October 2004 and arrived at 1630. On my arrival, I was introduced to people who were to be on the ground team, including a camera crew. To my surprise, the person leading the movie crew was Steve Irwin, the crocodile expert from down under.
I never missed his programs on TV so was blown away to be on a team with him. The enthusiasm he shows on his wildlife adventures is how he was in real life. I went out with the team that night to watch them dart and work on a lion. It was an education for me. Since we don’t normally dart them from the helicopter I haven’t seen the process before. It was also an absolute pleasure to watch Steve doing his commentary, unrehearsed.
That night it was drinks and jokes until time to go to bed.
In the morning, a surprise, Steve was spotlessly clean with clothes that looked freshly pressed. That lasted for half an hour. As is known, he has no fear of getting into the dirt and mud. Peter darted the elephant from the helicopter and Steve was there as it went down under the influence of M99, a powerful drug used for tranquilizing most wildlife.
Peter and Steve fitted the radio collar and the elephant was given 50/50, a drug used to reverse the effect of M99. Within a minute, she was up on her feet, wondering what happened.
I only spent about 24 hours with Steve and found him to be as he was on TV. A bundle of energy with a big heart and a huge passion for animals. It was a pleasure and privilege to work with him.
It was with a heavy heart that I heard he had died in what can only be described as a freak accident. I was booked to fly with him again in six weeks.
His passing is a huge loss to humanity and a devastating loss to all wildlife.