PETA faces backlash after criticizing late 'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin on birthday

The combative animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) came under fire Friday after accusing Google of sending a “dangerous, fawning message” for honoring wildlife conservationist Steve Irwin on what would have been his 57th birthday.

Google paid tribute to Irwin on Friday with a "Google Doodle" that featured illustrations of Irwin with crocodiles and other animals while working at the Australia Zoo.

Irwin gained worldwide notoriety through the TV series “The Crocodile Hunter” but was killed in 2006 by a stingray.

But in a tweet, PETA accused Irwin of harassing animals "who were minding their own business."

The group said Irwin's message of protecting wildlife was not reflected through his actions.

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"A real wildlife expert & someone who respects animals for the individuals they are leaves them to their own business in their natural homes," one tweet read.

PETA later doubled down on its tweets and issued a statement from its president, Ingrid Newkirk, that read:

"PETA must ask who commissioned these dangerous, hagiographic cartoons of a man who died while harassing a stingray, dangled his baby while feeding a crocodile, and “wrestled” wild animals who were minding their own business. This fawning, ignorant tribute is a slap in the face to the vast majority of people who acknowledge that wild animals are entitled to be left alone in their natural habitats."

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The internet quickly jumped to Irwin's defense, with some noting that his popularity spearheaded efforts to protect endangered animals.

PETA is known for its confrontational marketing campaigns. The group recently came under fire for its comments about fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld following his death earlier this week.