Australian conservationist Bob Irwin has warned of the “blatant stupidity” of filming encounters with crocodiles for social media likes, as he and other wildlife advocates call for harsh penalties for anyone deliberately interacting with the deadly reptiles.
The 83-year-old father of the late ‘Crocodile Hunter’ Steve Irwin is worried recent videos posted online risk more copycat acts if authorities don’t clamp down on it.
It comes two weeks after a man was attacked by a 13-foot croc in Far North Queensland, the northernmost part of the Australian state of Queensland – and it comes in the wake of a successful prosecution against another social media influencer who filmed himself interacting with crocodiles.
On February 23, Alister MacPhee, 37, survived a crocodile attack at Bloomfield River, Australia 37 miles south of Cooktown, Australia.
His dog, Molly was eaten by the reptile, and the croc was ultimately killed.
MacPhee was reportedly filming himself when the attack occurred.
MacPhee was airlifted to Cairns Hospital for treatment after the attack.
A warning had been issued in January that a large croc had been spotted in the area.
Irwin said it was unacceptable that despite being cautioned by locals and despite prominent government warning signs, MacPhee still took the risk to go into the area.
“The crocodile, and his pet dog, Molly, have since paid the ultimate price for this individual’s blatant stupidity,” Irwin said.
“I might add, the crocodile spat Alister MacPhee out. But now he’s got a scar and a story to tell, and that story is attracting worldwide attention.”
Queensland’s Department of Science and Environment flexed its judicial muscle this week, fining influencer Jayden Wilson approximately $8,000 after he pleaded guilty to 12 counts of taking protected animals under the Nature Conservation Act.
Videos of the influencer handling protected freshwater crocodiles in North Queensland, Australia’s Ross River were viewed hundreds of thousands of times online.
But these aren’t the only croc encounters attracting clicks.
Far North Queensland fishing Instagrammer Daniel Colombini recently filmed himself jumping into the Tully River, south of Cairns – which is known to be croc-infested.
In a video, Colombini boasted about the act, captioning the clip: “Cliff jumping into croc-infested waters.”
He said: “It’s bloody hot, I tell ya that. Better do a cliff jump off Tully River … the boat’s going to pick us up when we jump off.
“We’ll see what happens, ay?”
And another North Queensland angler posted a video on TikTok of a terrifying crocodile encounter on the very waterway where MacPhee was attacked.
The video filmed at Bloomfield Falls in January, which has since been taken down by the man who filmed it, shows a large saltwater crocodile lunging at the angler after the man attracts its attention with a fishing rod.
Despite being taken down, the video found a new life of its own, garnering massive views through countless reposts.
Conservationists worry the trend could catch on as a way to gain social media notoriety or even financial gain.
“Now someone please explain to me, how this is not promoting and encouraging similar behavior?” Irwin said.
“How can the authorities make the call that Alistair MacPhee had no intention of having an interaction with that crocodile considering he filmed it? That question remains to be outstanding.
“It is simply hypocrisy that the same department who are responsible for the management of our wildlife have conflicting messages on these very similar cases.
“The only way this is going to stop is when the departments enforce penalties for this intolerable behavior.”
A DES prosecutor slammed Jayden Wilson’s “stupidity” as the 27-year-old influencer was slapped with a nearly $8,000 USD fine by the Townsville Magistrates Court on Tuesday.
The Townsville Bulletin reported Wilson had been taking mainly young crocodiles from the river between November 2020 and November 2021, which eventually resulted in a complaint from the public related to cruelty to protected animals.
Authorities seized the 27-year-old’s mobile phone and discovered numerous images and videos uploaded to TikTok of him taking crocodiles from the water and on land using a lasso, net, or his hands.
Katy Kutra, prosecuting for the DES, asked for a fine of $13,255 USD, but Chief Magistrate Ross Mack described that figure as “astronomical” and instead imposed a fine of just under $8,000 USD and ordered Wilson to pay about $1000 USD in costs, while also recording a conviction.
Mack called Wilson “a clown” to engage in such actions over 12 months toward a species that had once been endangered.
He added that he had to set a penalty that would act as a deterrent to others and protect the Queensland community and environment.
Wilson pleaded guilty to 12 counts of taking protected animals under the Nature Conservation Act.
Defense barrister Mathai Joshi said his client had not acted out of cruelty towards the crocodiles and that it had been a case of catch and release.
Joshi added that Wilson was fascinated with crocodiles and did not intend them any harm when he caught them.
A chorus of conservationists and Indigenous leaders were in unison in their call for harsher penalties to be dished out to those who put themselves in harm’s way around crocodiles, saying under the current DES Queensland Crocodile Management Plan it is the animals that always pay.
The attack of MacPhee led to the subsequent death of the large crocodile which was estimated to be at least 40 years old.
It left the Kuku Yalanji traditional owners upset at the animal’s death and worried the incident would scare away cherished tourists
“For this person to go on and do what he did. It’s sad and utter stupidity,” Aunty Kathleen Walker from the local Wujal Wujal community said.
“We want people to come and visit our beautiful area, but also not to do silly things like that fella did.
“We are very connected to our environment. That will make everything change. That warning on the sign is written in plain English. Same signage that’s throughout the area. There’s no excuse.”
Matt Cornish, a Queensland police officer turned wildlife educator, previously told news.com.au that incidents like MacPhee’s need not happen again.
“Given that it was recorded, it would be the perfect opportunity for the Department of Environment and Science to step up and make an example of this man’s behavior,” he said.
Meanwhile, Irwin said he is often contacted by young aspiring Australians keen to work in wildlife management, but sometimes explaining the reality to them is heartbreaking.
“It’s a very sad reality however, that over the years, I have been contacted by many distressed wildlife officers working within the Department of Environment and Science over being given a kill permit for crocodiles or other wildlife.
“Nobody signs up to have to do that when their intention is to protect our native wildlife through an authority such as the Department of Environment and Science,” he said.
“I can accept that nobody is ever going to see eye-to-eye on the management of crocodiles in Queensland.
“It is always going to be a contentious issue, and the croc culling debate is never far from resurfacing.
“But in this instance, the people have spoken, and want to see the Government enforce a ‘no tolerance’ approach in croc country because of the Bloomfield incident.”
DES maintains no offense was committed under any legislation administered by the department regarding MacPhee’s attack.