(Gray News) – The contentious animal activist group PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, won few new fans on Friday when it took aim at beloved “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin.
Irwin, who died in 2006 in a freak stingray attack while he was filming a nature documentary, was celebrated with a Google Doodle on what would have been his 57th birthday.
PETA, however, took exception. Rather than the admired naturalist and educator Irwin is widely seen as, the group cast him as a meddlesome self-promoter who harassed animals in their natural habitats.
“#SteveIrwin was killed while harassing a ray; he dangled his baby while feeding a crocodile & wrestled wild animals who were minding their own business,” the group wrote on Twitter. “Today’s #GoogleDoodle sends a dangerous, fawning message. Wild animals are entitled to be left alone in their natural habitats.”
The message was not well-received. Its roughly 900 retweets and 3,700 likes were dwarfed by 25,000 replies – a phenomenon on Twitter generally understood to mean lots of angry comments, rather than agreement.
“There have been few people who have done more for wildlife conservation and education than the Irwin family,” wrote user Dave Hogg, in one of the nicer replies. “You owe them an apology.”
PETA, despite the backlash, later doubled down.
“Steve Irwin’s actions were not on target with his supposed message of protecting wildlife,” the group tweeted a few hours later. “A real wildlife expert & someone who respects animals for the individuals they are leaves them to their own business in their natural homes.”
In a third tweet, the group wrote that it’s “harassment to drag exotic animals, including babies taken from their mothers, around from TV talk shows to conferences & force them to perform as Steve Irwin did.”
These follow-up tweets were not any better-received than the first, garnering almost 5,000 replies to fewer than 200 retweets and about 1,200 likes.
“Can’t we take this time on his birthday to remember the countless amount of work he and his family did to conserve wildlife instead of dragging his name through the mud,” responded one user.
Another summed up the response a bit more succinctly.
“You just don’t learn,” she wrote.