'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin rejects outrage over publicity stunt


Sunday, January 4th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ ``Crocodile hunter'' Steve Irwin, who provoked international outrage by feeding a crocodile while holding his infant son, angrily rejected any comparisons between himself and pop star Michael Jackson, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Irwin, who has survived tussles with giant pythons, poisonous snakes and crocodiles, faced an onslaught of bad publicity after feeding the 13-foot crocodile as he cradled his month-old son, Robert, on Friday.

The incident at Irwin's popular reptile park in Beerwah, north of Brisbane, was captured on Australian television, then replayed on channels worldwide.

Viewers jammed telephone lines to vent their ire. Child welfare groups said Irwin had endangered his son. Police delivered a warning, and Queensland state authorities said they would investigate for possible violation of workplace safety laws.

However, police and the acting premier of Queensland state, Terry Mackenroth, said no charges would be filed for the stunt.

Irwin insisted the tot was never in danger.

``I would never, ever put him in any danger, not in a million years,'' Irwin told Australia's Sunday Telegraph.

``To hear people say that it was a publicity stunt, that I'm just like Michael Jackson well, it just tears me up. It makes me sick to my stomach to be compared in that way,'' Irwin was quoted as saying.

He was referring to media comparisons to Jackson's 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.''

``I'm horrified,'' Gloria Allred, an attorney who called for authorities to investigate the Jackson incident, was quoted as saying in New York's Daily News Saturday. ``With Michael Jackson, it seemed like an aberration. Now it appears to be a trend.''

The Sunday Telegraph also reported that after the crocodile feeding, Irwin and his American wife, Terri, told their 5-year-old daughter, Bindi, to splash around in a pool near a crocodile pen to encourage the reptiles to swim out.

``Now flail around and look helpless, that's the girl, good girl,'' Terri Irwin was quoted as saying. ``That's my girl, Bindi Irwin, the other white meat.''

A zoo official, who was not named, was quoted by the paper as saying a gate connecting the pool to the crocodile pen had been shut.

The Irwins weren't available for comment on Sunday. Irwin's Australia Zoo reptile park referred all inquires to his production company, which was closed Sunday.

``You have to understand the sort of upbringing I had, the sort of upbringing my kids are going to have,'' Irwin was quoted as saying in the Sunday Telegraph.

``My kids are just like me, growing up at the zoo. We have Alice the alligator living 20 meters (65 feet) from our house, we have a croc enclosure 30 meters (98 feet) from our house,'' he said.

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.