Famous wildlife photographer Peter Beard’s story wasn’t one of rags-to-riches. He was born into a wealthy New York family as the heir to a railroad fortune on his mother’s side and tobacco money on his father’s. However, rather than sit back and let wealth carry him through an easy life, Beard decided to make something more of himself.
The talented artist and kind man was known for his work documenting the beauty of African landscapes and animals. Sadly, however, he recently passed away — and the circumstances surrounding his demise are quite unsettling.
Peter Beard had always kept journals as a young child growing up in the Big Apple, but it was one specific staple of the iconic city that led him to discover what would become his true passion in life.
Photo by Rose Hartman/Getty Images
After being left in awe by the impressive displays of African wildlife at the Natural History Museum, Beard decided that it was a life in photography he wanted to pursue — specifically, one that documented the natural world.
American Museum Of Natural History
After graduating college in 1961 he moved to Kenya, where he used his faithful camera to capture a devastating sight: the demise of more than 35,000 elephants and other animals. This heartbreaking experience soon led to a big project.
British Journal of Photography
The photo series laid the foundation for Beard’s first book, The End Of The Game. However, after witnessing such needless despair and recognizing the impact that mere visibility could bring, he decided to go a bit further.
The activism-minded artist purchased a 45-acre plot of land in Kenya that he dubbed Hog Ranch. Beard would stay there practicing his craft for decades. He hoped he’d spend his entire life there, though that wouldn’t quite be the case.
Hog Ranch allowed Beard to immerse himself in photography. Back then, he could always be found out in the wilderness — from giraffes to wildebeests, documenting anything and everything he found worthy of being captured. But his work wasn’t your run of the mill wildlife photography.
Beard was known for his compelling style of incorporating journal entries, dried leaves, insects, and found objects into his iconic collages — of which he had dozens stored away. One method in particular could come off as quite shocking to many.
Peter actually used the blood of animals (as well as his own blood!) in some of his works. Of course, he didn’t harm any of the precious animals during this process…the loving photographer wouldn’t hurt a fly.
YouTube – Suraj Fine Arts
Beard’s work put him into some highly compromising situations at times. In one instance, he was charged at by rhinos; on another expedition, he swam with alligators, all in the name of art and conservation. One incident involving an elephant, however, led to seriously close call.
YouTube – Buzzfeed Multiplayer
While attempting to capture an image of the large mammal, it suddenly began to charge at him, severley goring his right leg. The photographer was sent to the hospital without a pulse, yet, against all odds, he survived the ordeal.
YouTube – Andrew Ucles
But vital as it was, Beard’s career wasn’t his whole life. The captivating artist went through several wives: socialite Minnie Cushing in the ’60s, supermodel Cheryl Tiegs in 1982, and his final sweetheart, Nejma Kahmun, in 1986, with whom he welcomed his daughter Zara.
Photo by PL Gould/IMAGES/Getty Images
Despite his multiple marriages, Peter’s thoughts on matrimony seemed surprisingly disillusioned to some. He gave some very candid thoughts on the topic in a 1996 Vanity Fair profile.
YouTube – Motion Pictures Ibiza
“The institution of marriage should be re-examined because of its overwhelming claustrophobia,” Beard said, continuing, “It’s an institution that was brought about for the sake of family and children, but biologically it’s very unnatural. It’s masochism and torture the way it’s been organized.”
Corning Museum Of Glass
And 2020 marked the beginning of his tragic end. Beard had always had a habit of “wandering around” for hours or even days without telling anyone where he was going. His friends even named him “the walkabout” for this reason.
When the artist — who now suffered from dementia — had first gone missing, family hoped and prayed that maybe this was just another one of his intermittent disappearances. He had to be okay. But this would prove to be nothing like those past instances.
Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage
After weeks of tireless search efforts that involved door-to-door police stops and even drones, a hunter in Camp Hero State Park was walking through the forest when he stumbled upon a pile of clothing that looked suspiciously like the outfit Beard had been wearing when he vanished.
Combing through that same forest, authorities would happen upon the saddening sight: human remains that were eventually confirmed as Peter Beard. However, the revered photographer’s legacy still lives on in the hearts of those who loved him.
Flickr – Jebb
His tragic death shocked his wife Nejma and daughter Zara, leaving them with a grief too difficult to comprehend. They released a heartwarming statement, showing just how much their father and husband meant to them
Instagram – Zara Beard
“Peter defined what it means to be open: open to new ideas, new encounters, new people, new ways of living and being,” the post reads. “Always insatiably curious, he pursued his passions without restraints and perceived reality through a unique lens.”
The bereaved pair went on to emphasize that Peter “was decades ahead of his time in his efforts to sound the alarm about environmental damage.” The eulogy ended on a bittersweet note: “He died where he lived: in nature.”
The fascinating existence and sad demise of Peter Beard may remind you of another famous animal lover: Steve Irwin. And today his daughter Bindi Irwin has the same fiery, easy-to-love, yet wildly daring personality that her father did. The kind of presence that reaches through the television and makes you pay attention.
The 21-year-old has followed in her father’s footsteps as a conservationist and public figure. From before she could talk, she was toddling after her energetic dad as he tussled around with massive crocodiles and other creatures that would make an average joe pee their pants. Steve was always the opposite of average.
Steve Irwin was The Crocodile Hunter, though he was less predator and more of a massive fanboy. He was a dedicated conservationist with a contagious infatuation for animals, the gnarlier the better. The world fell for his enthusiasm, foolhardiness, and quotable catchphrases.
Arm and arm with his wife Terri, they immersed themselves in conservation efforts. Quickly their television shows propelled Steve to household name status all over the world. They channeled their magnetic energy into the family business, Australia Zoo.
Celebrity didn’t interest Steve unless he could use it to help and protect the creatures he loved so much. His authenticity was palpable — seen in his cries of “Crikey!” and willingness to wrestle with deadly animals. He had a singular focus for that unbridled energy, and it all shifted after having kids.
On July 24th, 1998, Steve and Terri welcomed their first child, a daughter they named after Steve’s favorite saltwater croc, Bindi. Holding his daughter brought forward a new motivation for the crocodile hunter. As he described it, Bindi was “the reason he was put on the Earth.”
A few years later, Terri and Steve had their son Robert. The norm for the Irwins was crowding around a crocodile or snuggling up with snakes. For Steve, sharing the joys of nature with his kids, watching their passions for animals blossom, that was as good as it could get. But it was tragically cut short.
Bindi Irwin / Instagram
While filming for the show Ocean’s Deadliest, Steve and his crew were just off the coast of Batt Reef in Queensland. Steve snorkeled in the shallows, capturing the rear view of a short tail stingray. It raised its barbed tail and struck Steve hundreds of times in mere seconds.
At first, it looked like Steve might be okay, but the barb had pierced his heart. They rushed him to the hospital where he died from blood loss. The shock was brutal. As the news swept the globe, everyone collectively mourned the ever-vivacious, brave, and seemingly invincible man — the Crocodile Hunter.
When Terri met Steve, her first impression was that he presented as a superhero. His loss sucked the wind out of their family. In their grief, they knew the world wanted to say goodbye, so after a private funeral, a public memorial service was held at Australia Zoo.
Over 300 million people tuned in. Australian celebrities attended, like Russell Crowe, and there was even a remembrance from the Prime Minister. Still, the most tear-jerking moment was the eulogy delivered by little Bindi, who spoke about how much she would miss her greatest hero.
In her eulogy, Bindi set the tone for what they planned to do in Steve’s absence. The Irwins intended to continue inspiring others through conservation work and encouraging people to appreciate wildlife. They walked the walk.
Bindi Irwin / Instagram
Terri picked up the torch and ran with it, expanding the exhibits at Australia Zoo. When not making plans to grow the attraction, Terri helmed their foundation, WildLife Warriors. Donations poured in after Steve’s death, allowing them to launch key research initiatives proudly represented by their new public face: Bindi.
The 8-year-old continued on as the onscreen talent in the family, starring in her own nature documentary show for children called Bindi The Jungle Girl. She inherited the natural charisma from Steve, leading to a slew of TV and film opportunities.
In 2015, Bindi joined the other celebrities competing on the 21st season of Dancing with the Stars. Week after week, Bindi showed off her prowess on the dance floor, occasionally honoring her father in the process. She snatched the victor’s title and many hearts, but there was only one heart she was interested in.
It was an American professional wakeboarder named Chandler Powell that caught Bindi’s eye. While leading a tour of Australia Zoo, Bindi met Chandler and his family in 2013. They stayed in touch, swapping letters and phone calls until they made their relationship public in 2015.
Chandler made the transition to a mostly khaki lifestyle in 2018, moving across the world to work for Australia Zoo. By that point, he was already considered part of the Irwin family, though his dedication to wildlife conservation gave him the final stamp of approval.
Bindi Irwin / Instagram
On Bindi’s 21st birthday, Chandler got down on one knee and asked if she’d be his croc wrestling partner for life. She said, yes! Chandler certainly knew the way to her heart, by popping the question in the gardens of Australia Zoo, with Robert hiding in the bushes to snap pictures.
Bindi Irwin / Instagram
Working Robert into the proposal meant the world to Bindi. The tight knit Irwins learned to appreciate the moments they got together, never forgetting that Steve wasn’t there to witness them, too. Bindi posted a slew of engagement photos in celebration, and one brought the feels back to the surface.
She penned an open letter to her father. Rather than raking through the what-ifs and the should-ofs, Bindi wrote about how proud her dad would be of her brother Robert. “He’s always stepped up and been the one to give me a hug when I need it and encourage me forward in life.”
Bindi Irwin / Instagram
So it made sense that he was the only person capable of filling her father’s shoes on her big day. Bindi wrote, “He will definitely be the one to walk me down the aisle….And I think that’s what Dad would have wanted as well.” Crikey, mate. Where’re the tissues?
There’s no doubt that Steve would be incredibly proud of Robert and Bindi. He was known to gush about how transformative becoming a father was for his life, and knowing his children continued with his work in conservation, by his own admission, was his greatest dream.
Steve Irwin remains one of the most famous wildlife conservationists of all time, yet his tragic death serves as an example of how dangerous the work can be. Many of Irwin’s less well-known colleagues have faced their own brushes with death — except their stories rarely come to light.
South Africa People News
For instance, as a zookeeper in South Africa, Kevin Richardson is no stranger to interacting with some of the most dangerous animals on the planet. A self-taught expert, he’s done everything in his power to educate himself on the proper way to handle big cats and wild animals.
Yet, everyone makes mistakes at their job now and again, and sometimes those mistakes can lead to dire consequences. Such was certainly the case for Kevin when he recently came upon a lioness and her cubs and decided to stick around to try and play.
After setting up his camera to capture the moment, Kevin quietly walked over in an attempt to pick up one of the adorable lion cubs. Just as he sat down to play with the baby, the lioness picked up on what he was doing…
Just then, the mother instinctively jumped up once she saw that Kevin was holding her cub. While the unassuming zookeeper held the baby animal, the lioness made her move—and jumped on top of him!
Kevin wrapped his arms around her in an attempt to protect his face. The lioness was incredibly heavy, and she could slash him into bits with just one swift strike with her paw…
Luckily, she didn’t want to harm Kevin at all! See, Kevin had visited her all throughout her pregnancy, and the two were well-acquainted. She simply wanted to play! Still, Kevin was well-aware of the risks he took every time he came face to face with the big cats.
“Usually when I come in here, I first greet mom to see how she is,” Kevin said while the lioness sat at his feet. “She talks back, and I have a little bit of fun with her.” This certainly explained why they were so close!
Kevin was also sure to mention how important it was for the lioness to feel comfortable with him before he was able to play with her cubs. “After I’ve made an introduction with her on a daily basis, I get a bit closer to the cubs,” he said.
As the self-proclaimed “Lion Whisperer,” this was all in a day’s work for Kevin. In one video, he could be seen gently stroking one of the cub’s faces. He explained that it was unusual for humans to be allowed to interact with baby lions like this.
Even with all his experience, Kevin had to be careful; there was simply no way to predict how the lioness would react to his presence. “Not many people get to see cubs this size, never mind, interact with them,” he said.
During sessions like these, Kevin and the other zookeepers managed to learn a lot about the cubs. From the way they interacted with him to the way they played with each other, all of this information would help people learn more about these animals.
Kevin and other researchers also learned how best to approach other lions at facilities around the world. In a field that can be extremely dangerous, they knew it was imperative to have as much experience and wisdom as they could.
For instance, when it was feeding time, Kevin knew not to overstay his welcome. He would help gather the cubs and bring them to the lioness to let her know that he was not going to hurt them.
Whenever the cubs were feeding, Kevin and the other zookeepers made sure to separate the lioness from the rest of the pride. This allowed her to feel safe and have her own space with her cubs, just like in the wild.
If they weren’t separated, Kevin said the rest of the pride would think it was okay to rough around and play with each other, instead of allowing the cubs to get their nutrition. That, of course, would all change as the cubs continued to grow.
Once the cubs were eight weeks old, they could be integrated with the rest of the pride. Research suggested that, by that point, they’d be strong enough to handle playing with the larger lions.
This made Kevin’s ability to interact with the cubs all the more special. The pride’s father wasn’t even able to spend time with them—besides through a fence—for another few weeks. It was as if Kevin had a VIP backstage pass to the rest of the family!
Of course, with all the time Kevin spent with the family, he was sure to form a tight bond with the lioness. In fact, if he became tuckered out after playing for a few hours, he’d even lie down to nap under her watchful eye!
Being a mother was difficult and tiring, so the lioness would sometimes lie down for a nap with her cubs and Kevin, too! The man and the great cats had a special bond like no other, though zookeepers often have more complicated relationships with their animals.
On May 27, 1999, a male silverback gorilla was born at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. A naming contest was held, and, inspired by a song by Rita Marley, the winner dubbed the newborn ape “Harambe.”
Harambe would go on to spend the next 15 years in Brownsville until zookeepers felt it was time to introduce him to a new social group. And so, on September 18, 2014, Harambe was transferred to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.
The gorilla quickly took to his new environment, and for two years, he lived unbothered in the zoo’s Gorilla World habitat. Then, on May 28, 2016, the unthinkable happened.
While visiting the gorilla enclosure, a three-year-old boy decided he wanted a closer look at the great apes. But after scaling the outer fence, the child lost his footing and fell fifteen feet into a shallow moat below.
Chaos broke out as the crowd scrambled to save the child, while zookeepers quickly worked to corral the three gorillas in the habitat. Two of the apes were herded into their cages, but the third, the ever-curious Harambe, decided to investigate.
For the next ten minutes, onlookers watched in horror as the 400-pound silverback dragged the boy through the water. Harambe became increasingly agitated as the cries of the frenzied crowd grew louder, and with each passing moment, the boy’s fate only seemed to grow more uncertain.
Fearing for the child’s safety, the zoo had no choice but to kill the gorilla, firing a single shot to put the great ape down. But although the boy came away from the incident without major injury, the killing of Harambe would soon make national headlines.
Following the release of a video of the incident, animal-rights activists came out in full force to condemn the zoos decision to kill Harambe. Criticism was also directed at the boy’s parents, whose negligence they claimed was the direct cause of the ape’s death.
The Denver Post
But the zoo was quick to defend the actions of its keepers, and many conservationists came out in support of the decision. Even renown primatologists Jane Goodall agreed that, given the circumstances, putting Harambe down was the only option.
The Morning Journal
“It was awful for the child, the parents, Harambe, the zoo, the keepers and the public,” wrote Goodall. “But when people come into contact with wild animals, life and death decisions sometimes have to be made.” But this was not the end of the great ape’s story.
Since his death, Harambe has become somewhat of a folk hero in the realm of popular culture. Dozens of candlelight vigils have been held in honor of the fallen ape, and online, Harambe has become a staple of internet meme culture. As his legacy took the spotlight, people began questioning the facts.
See, Harambe’s death remains controversial, particularly due to a widely circulated claim that the boy was actually in no real danger at all. Instead of seeking to harm the child, some argue that Harambe was actually trying to protect him.
This belief gained traction over the years, though just recently, former zookeeper Amanda O’Donoughue offered a different perspective on Harambe’s killing. And for those that stand in staunch opposition of the zoo’s actions, her words just might change your mind.
Amanda O’Donoughue / Facebook
“I have watched this video over again, and with Harambe’s posturing, and tight lips, it’s pretty much the stuff of any keeper’s nightmares,” O’Donoughue explained in a post on Facebook. “Gorillas are kind, curious, and sometimes silly, but they are also very large, very strong animals.”
And because of this immense strength, the child was in an incredible amount of danger regardless of Harambe’s desire to protect him. Though according to O’Donoughue, the boy’s safety was likely the last thing on the ape’s mind.
“I keep hearing that the Gorilla was trying to protect the boy. I do not find this to be true,” wrote O’Donoughue. “Harambe the Gorilla reaches for the boy’s hands and arms, but only to position the child better for his own displaying purposes.”
O’Donoughue continued: “Males do very elaborate displays when highly agitated, slamming and dragging things about… to make as much noise as possible. Not in an effort to hurt anyone or anything (usually) but just to intimidate. It was clear to me that he was reacting to the screams coming from the gathering crowd.”
But even so, many questioned the need for lethal force, especially when the zoo had the ability to sedate Harambe from a distance. However, O’Donoughue explained that doing so could’ve actually made the situation even more deadly.
According to O’Donoughue, the tranquilizer would’ve taken too long to immobilize Harambe and stood the chance of aggravating him even more. And even if he had been sedated, Harambe likely would’ve drowned in the moat and very easily could’ve crushed the boy after falling unconscious.
For now, the debate over Harambe’s death rages on, but even still, O’Donoughue believes that this kind of open discourse will allow us to prevent future killings of innocent animals.
“As educators and conservators of endangered species,” O’Donoughue said, “all we can do is shine a light on the beauty and majesty of these animals in hopes to spark a love and a need to keep them from vanishing from our planet.”
Unfortunately, freak accidents still happen, and it’s usually an animal that winds up paying the price. Even in a place like England’s Dudley Zoo, decades worth of training and experience couldn’t prevent a heartbreaking tragedy from befalling one of its residents.
On any given day at the Dudley Zoo, visitors can walk along scenic wooded paths while lemurs hop freely all around them; or, they can check out the walrus enclosure and get up close and personal with the tusked mammals. But in 2018, there was one particular animal who drew much of the guests’ attention.
It was an eight-year-old snow leopard named Margaash. The zoo was fortunate to have such a majestic and rare animal living there, and spectators seemed to always spend the most time admiring him.
Usually, it was kids that spent a long time staring into the snow leopard enclosure. And while the Dudley Zoo had a few leopards roaming the habitat, it was always Margaash that enjoyed the most attention.
While Margaash’s snow leopard buddies frequently laid low during most of the day, you better believe Margaash was ready to put on a show at a moment’s notice. His playful demeanor made him one of the zoo workers’ favorite animals.
Although Margaash had a friendly personality, he was a wild animal; workers always had to be on their guards when he was near. Employees had specific guidelines on handling every animal, but one evening, during a closing walkthrough, everything fell apart.
One employee frantically motioned for the others to gather around the snow leopard enclosure. Someone left the door wide open, and Margaash was missing. Workers looked around in a panic, unsure of where or when the snow leopard would appear.
They needed to find the animal quickly. Dudley Castle was a popular place, and not an ideal spot for a leopard to be on the prowl. It would quickly turn into a nightmare scenario if Margaash put his hunting skills to the test there.
Employees quickly contacted zoo security, who arrived stocked with tranquilizer guns and floodlights. No one was going anywhere until Margaash was located — and that was if he didn’t find them first!
After hours of careful searching, one of the workers miraculously spotted Margaash on the edge of the woodline, about to bound off the premises and into the wooded land separating the zoo from unprotected people. Workers had to make a move.
The zoo was well-stocked with tranquilizer darts for situations exactly like this one. It was too dangerous to trap the animal while it was worked up and nervous. They needed to sedate Margaash for everyone’s safety.
But strangely, it was the zoo’s vet who advised against the tranquilizer and suggested using an actual bullet instead. Night was quickly falling, and they couldn’t risk Margaash escaping into the woodlands. Zoo security heeded that advice. A single shot rang out.
Margaash’s death infuriated animal rights groups. Was there really no other option? Plenty of people were already on the fence about the ethical issues of keeping animals locked in cages, but Margaash’s death gave them a reason to call for change.
See, not only was Margaash an innocent animal who simply wandered out of his enclosure due to a zoo worker’s error, but researchers estimate only about 5,000 snow leopards even exist in the wild. With Margaash’s death, there was one less.
Julie Woodyer, the campaign director for a zoo inspection group called Zoocheck, was sickened by what happened. Snow leopards were shy animals, and since it was nighttime when Margaash escaped, streets wouldn’t have been flooded with people. She saw no reason why they used bullets.
However, Dudley Zoo director Derek Grove defended the zoo’s decision to kill the animal. Although incredibly saddened by the loss, he had the safety of innocent people in mind, and if Margaash injured anyone, he would’ve felt personally responsible.
Margaash will always remain a Dudley Zoo favorite, but nothing can bring the beautiful cat back. Even though zoo officials claim killing Margaash was their only recourse, you hope the zoo enacts stricter policies so a tragedy like this one never happens again.
Of course, it’s not often that a wild or escaped animal wanders into our personal space; they typically want to avoid us at all costs. But, on the rare occasion that they do, it can lead to some serious trouble.
Bears, for example, aren’t exactly the kind of animal you’d consider helpless. Still, they’re curious, and that can sometimes leave them between a rock and a hard place. This was no more evident than the case of one bear in Alligator Point on St. James Island in Florida…
The 375-pound black bear had been sniffing around the neighborhood when he wandered into a home. Wildlife conservation officers were called to sedate him and safely relocate him to the wild, but moments after he was shot with a tranquilizer, things started to go wrong.
It may sound harsh to shoot an animal, even by strictly non-lethal means, but the wildlife officers had no choice. As much as the bear wanted nothing more than to mind his own business, he would have encountered a human soon enough.
Even though using a tranquilizer was the humane option to ensure the bear and area residents stayed safe, there were no guarantees the process would go the way they planned it…
Of course, that plan quickly backfired. Instead of the dart sedating him, it immediately sent the bear into a panic. The wildlife officers readied themselves for the worst, but they didn’t realize just how bad things were about to get.
The large bear, who must have been terrified by the officers chasing him, made a beeline toward the nearby water—and he began swimming out as far as he could. Unfortunately, that was when the sedative started to kick in.
The drowsy bear clearly couldn’t keep himself afloat—and he began to drown! Adam Warwick, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, knew that he had to act quickly.
Without hesitating, the fearless and determined Adam dove into the water and swam toward the huge bear. Most people couldn’t imagine doing something quite so brave, but to him, it made perfect sense… at least in the moment.
“It was a spur of the moment decision. I had a lot of adrenaline pumping when I saw the bear in the water,” Adam later said of the experience. Thank goodness for that adrenaline, otherwise he would have known how dangerous it truly was. What if the bear attacked him?
Adam didn’t have time to think twice: he grabbed the enormous bear with both hands and wrapped his arms around his neck. Then he started to kick toward shallow water where the other wildlife officers were waiting…
The bear wasn’t entirely asleep, and he was understandably distressed. He frantically tried to climb on top of Adam in an effort to stay afloat, but he was losing the ability to move his legs.
Despite his stressful—and incredibly risky—mission, Adam stayed as calm as he could as he approached more shallow water. He grabbed the bear by the scruff of his neck and carefully led him toward the rescue boat.
Thankfully, Adam was able to pull the powerful predator roughly 25 yards toward dry land. Moving the bear might’ve seemed (relatively) easy in the water, but it was a different story on the shore!
The unusual pair finally made it to the rest of the rescue team, in one piece. Though the bear was sedated, he could have lunged at Adam or swiped at him with his claws at any moment…
Incredibly, Adam suffered only one scratch during the entire ordeal. Other than that, he was perfectly fine! Who would have known that he’d come out of this risky mission relatively unscathed?
Adam’s colleagues stepped in to help the exhausted man and beast collect their bearings. It was going to take a lot of people—and a lot of bravery along the way, much like anyone in this type of situation…
The team drove a large tractor toward the water’s edge to transport the groggy bear back to his home in Osceola National Forest. There was no way they would’ve been able to carry a 375-pound animal without a little help!
Thankfully, the bear didn’t suffer any injuries after his wild jaunt in the water. It was safe to say that he probably wouldn’t go anywhere near water for a while following this experience.
Most importantly, this massive bear was safe and back in a habitat that suited him best. Hopefully by now he’s learned to avoid wandering into residential neighborhoods!