Outrage as Australian 'crocodile hunter' dangles his baby son near reptile's jaws

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The Independent Online

The Australian "crocodile hunter" Steve Irwin has sparked outrage because he dangled his baby son in front of a 13ft crocodile's jaws.

The television celebrity, famous for picking up poisonous snakes and wrestling with huge reptiles for the cameras, brought his month-old baby into an enclosure during a public show at the Australian Zoo reptile park in Queensland.

He held the child, called Robert, in one arm while using his other to hold a dead chicken in front of the crocodile, named Murray.

"Good boy Bob," Irwin said when the crocodile's jaws snapped on the chicken. He followed the reptile as it slipped back into its pool, and he held the baby by the waist in front of him and appeared to try to attract the animal's attention.

Irwin's wife Terri, who gave birth to the child at the start of December, was in the audience for what had been billed as "Bob's croc feeding debut." She was seen laughing at the spectacle and claimed afterwards that her baby had enjoyed the experience.

"It was a wonderful sensory experience for him. He dug it," she said. The stunt drew comparisons with pop star Michael Jackson's antics when he dangled his newly-born baby over a balcony at a hotel in Germany in 2002.

Television stations that broadcast the footage in Australia were deluged with outraged callers. Local police said they had received complaints and Queensland families minister Judy Spence said she would look at unedited video tapes of the incident.

"I have seen the television footage and, while I have no doubt the Irwins love their children very much, I believe it was an error of judgement to place a baby in a potentially dangerous situation."

Irwin was unrepentant: "I was in complete control of the crocodile. Robert was tucked right in my arm. This kid has to grow up to be croc savvy. I am teaching him to be completely familiar with crocodiles."