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Mourners deliver flowers and write notes outside Australia Zoo yesterday in Beerwah, home of environmentalist Steve Irwin who was killed Monday by a stingray barb.

THE STING AT THE END: The death of Steve “Crocodile Hunter” Irwin last Monday has put the Discovery Channel, his broadcast home, into overdrive, with a full schedule of tributes to Irwin drawn from its archives of programs starring the conservationist and personality.

The Canadian branches of the cable travel and adventure channel and its Animal Planet subsidiary began showing repeats of Crocodile Hunter shows on Tuesday night, and will devote much of Sunday to Irwin.

Discovery is also naming the gardens in front of its Silver Spring, Md., headquarters after Irwin, and plans to create The Crikey Fund, a fund for wildlife causes named after Irwin’s catchphrase. The news of Irwin’s death has also kick-started speculation that Discovery, and Animal Planet in particular, which Irwin did so much to help launch, will need a new breakout series and personality on the order of Irwin, who had recently ended filming of his Crocodile Hunter series.

There’s also a call from friends, colleagues and relatives of Irwin to destroy the footage shot of Irwin dying when he pulled the poisonous barb from a stingray’s tail out of his chest while filming on AusAtralia’s Great Barrier Reef.

“I would never want that tape shown,” said Irwin’s friend and manager John Stainton during an interview with CNN’s Larry King yesterday. “At the moment it is in police custody for evidence. There’s a coroner’s inquest taking place at the moment. When that is finally released it will never see the light of day.”

As of yesterday, it looked like the Internet remained free of any footage of Irwin’s death, and a search through YouTube turned up nothing more than a selection of tributes to Irwin made by fans, but there’s no reason to believe the wishes of Stainton or Irwin’s family will be respected.

“The key point is once there’s something on film, it’s impossible to keep it contained,” said Paul Levinson, a Fordham University media studies professor, in an article in the New York Daily News speculating on the Irwin footage.

It might seem ghoulish to speculate on this, but Levinson’s point remains — as anyone with a website or an e-mail account knows — you have to assume that anything you write will be read. And every major movie studio and broadcaster has learned that, no matter how tight your security, it’s inevitable that DVD copies of your summer blockbuster will be for sale on folding tables in a Shanghai market by Monday morning after the L.A. premiere. And episodes of your cliffhanger TV season finale will be traded on the web a week before it airs.

And, as anybody who can read without moving their lips can tell you, human interest in the morbid is

a dark, bottomless well.

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