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No charges in crocodile-infant stunt
( 2004-01-05 14:03) (Agencies)

"Crocodile hunter" Steve Irwin has survived tussles with giant pythons, poisonous snakes and, of course, crocodiles. Now he faces accusations that he went too far and endangered his infant son.

Irwin drew fire from child welfare groups, but the acting premier of Queensland state, Terry Mackenroth, said no charges would be filed for a stunt in which Irwin fed a crocodile with one hand while cradling his month-old son, Robert, in the other on Friday in front of an audience.

"There won't be any charges brought against him; the department of children's services have done what they needed to do, to contact the family and to talk to them about it," Mackenroth said.

"They've (the Irwin family) assured them that it won't happen again and I am sure that if it does they will be back in touch with them," he said.

The incident at Irwin's popular reptile park in Beerwah, north of Brisbane, was captured on Australian television, and viewers later jammed phone lines to express their outrage.

"I think he's a bloody idiot, he's addicted to the attention," crocodile farm owner Keith Cook told The Courier-Mail newspaper.

At a news conference Saturday, Irwin said he probably would have done things differently with his son.

"If I could have my time again I would probably do things a little differently," he said. "But I would be considered a bad parent if I did not teach my children crocodile savvy because they live here. They live in crocodile territory ... so they have to be croc savvy."

He also claimed the danger posed by the crocodile was exaggerated.

"It's all about perceived danger; I was in complete control," said Irwin, flanked by his father, his wife and his 5-year-old daughter, Bindi. "People say, 'Well, what if you had fallen?' But for that to take place a meteorite would have had to come out of the sky and hit Australia at 6.6 on the Richter scale like in Iran."

Irwin has gained worldwide fame for his "Crocodile Hunter" show on the Animal Planet network, in which he chats excitedly about exotic and dangerous creatures sometimes from extremely close proximity to the beasts. Animal Planet's Web site features several "Close Call Clips" that show Irwin getting bitten or merrily escaping the jaws of hungry reptiles.

Friday's footage on Australian TV showed Irwin feeding a dead chicken to a 13-foot crocodile named Murray while he held Bob in the other hand. Murray snapped up the meat.

"Good boy, Bob," Irwin said, according to the tabloid Herald Sun. He then balanced the boy on the ground after the crocodile had retreated to the water.

Irwin's American wife, Terri, had handed the baby over to Irwin in the enclosure and giggled at the spectacle.

"It was a wonderful sensory experience for him (the baby). He dug it," she said.

In response to media criticism, Terri likened her children's experience with crocodiles to teaching youngsters to swim.

"I watched children learning to swim at a very young age; they cry, they scream and they have nightmares about the water. Would you rather have a child learning to swim under duress or drowning peacefully in the pond in the backyard? I think teaching children about croc safety is extremely important."

The stunt drew comparisons to singer Michael Jackson (news) handling of his infant son in Berlin in November 2002. A national newspaper, The Australian, called it "a bizarre act at his Sunshine Coast zoo that mirrored Michael Jackson's dangling of his newborn over a balcony."

Queensland state's workplace safety authority was investigating if Irwin violated safety laws, which bar unauthorized people from entering a crocodile enclosure that is part of a public display. Police officers went to the zoo to tell Irwin that people objected to the incident, but no charges were brought.

Animal Planet released a statement on its Web site criticizing the stunt.

"Based on the footage we have seen, we believe a mistake was made," the statement said. "That said, we know from the many years we have worked with Steve, that his family is the most important thing in his life and he takes his role as a father very seriously."

Irwin has never been shy about putting himself and occasionally his family in what appear to be precarious situations. In its report, Channel 7 showed footage of Bindi swimming with a giant python, while Terri frequently joins him on his television jaunts.

"Bindi is very croc-savvy and we live in crocodile territory so they (the children) have to be croc-savvy," Irwin told reporters.

Child support and family groups said Irwin should never have exposed his son to such peril.

"Most parents would cringe at the sight of such things," Bill Muehlenberg of the Australian Family Association told the Herald Sun. "One slip, one fall and he is the crocodile's lunch."

Queensland's Families Minister Judy Spence was seeking unedited 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 judgment to place a baby in a potentially dangerous situation," Spence said.

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