Influencers facing $464,400 fines for copying Steve Irwin photo 'trend' with world's deadliest snake

A deadly trend involving inland taipans is putting influencers at risk of massive fines and even death.

A screenshot of Steve Irwin kissing an inland taipan.
While Steve Irwin acquired permits to carry out his dangerous encounters with wildlife, decades on many influencers are illegally emulating his behaviour. Source: The Crocodile Hunter

Australia’s deadliest land-snake is being targeted by social media influencers in the race for clicks and likes.

Videos uploaded to Instagram from multiple accounts show men in khaki shirts “luring” and picking up or posing next to inland taipans, with some risking massive fines of over $464,400 and two years' imprisonment.

This dangerous behaviour was first noticed by Far North Queensland tour guide James Boettcher around a decade ago. He believes many of his contemporaries are trying to emulate the late Steve Irwin who famously picked up an inland taipan, and then carried out a stunt that resulted in it licking his face.

“I've noticed a trend where people have gotten mixed up in the social media game, and I think they’ve lost sight of their educational responsibilities. It’s okay if it’s someone like Steve Irwin who has a permit, there’s a certain value in that, but when it comes to people going out there and doing the same thing, it’s just take, take, take” the FNQ Nature Tours founder told Yahoo News.

“They just pose with the snake and rip a sentence from Wikipedia to add onto their post for educational value, and boom, they’re a wildlife educator.”

Three images of a young James Boettcher handling snakes and lizards.
Around a decade ago James Boettcher (pictured) realised his handling of wildlife was wrong and now he wants to educate others. Source: Supplied

Yahoo has seen at least eight recent examples of high profile and emerging influencers picking up or posing close to inland taipans. In one video a man can be seen handling one for over 90 seconds. Most of these social media accounts have been flooded with adulation from followers. "That's awesome," one wrote. "Well done mate, what a ripper! Very envious," another said.

Other videos show men appearing to illegally handle a tiger snake, an echidna and a crocodile.

In Australia, all native snakes are protected species. Queensland’s Department of Environment (DESI) confirmed with Yahoo News it is an offence to unlawfully “take a snake” from the wild and this includes the act of catching one.

Generally, anyone committing this offence faces a fine of up to $15,480 and two years in prison, but if it's carried out in a national park or protected area the fine can skyrocket to $464,400. There are extra penalties for people who disturb a native animal that’s “dangerous or venomous” or “capable of injuring a person”, and can attract an extra $6,192 penalty.

“Most snake bites are received by people who try to capture or kill a snake,” a DESI spokesperson said. “Attempting to catch a venomous snake is risky and can put people in danger. People who encounter a snake are advised to back away to a safe distance. Snakes present little or no danger to people when left alone.”

A headshot of James Boettcher today.
Today, James Boettcher is urging wildlife lovers to stop handling wildlife for clicks and likes. Source: Supplied

Although the penalties are high, Boettcher is concerned few people are actually fined, and so bad behaviour continues.

“If you talk on your phone while driving, you get a $1000 fine and you very quickly change your behaviour,” he said.

And it's not just the risk to human life he's worried about, he's concerned snakes are being subjected to undue stress so influencers can get the perfect shot with one.

“It can be 20 minutes, half an hour until they’ve gotten a good photo and the holding and handling of these snakes just goes on and on and on. I feel like this is too much, and not okay any more. There are too many of us doing this, and the photography industry is growing which means the impact on wildlife is growing.”

Boettcher shared his frustration to Instagram earlier this year, confessing his own past sins and letting Aussies know it is time to “take their hands off wildlife”. While licensed snake catchers are permitted to move snakes which pose a danger to humans, they are not allowed to handle snakes just for fun.

When he used to handle wildlife and post it to his Instagram, he saw a massive increase in his social media followers. “Then I realised I was becoming my own worst enemy: I was doing exactly what I wouldn’t want anyone else to do,” he said.

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