By Danny Baggott @Dan_Baggie
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Videographer / director: Alana Tompson
Producer: Danny Baggott, Ruby Coote
Editor: Thom Johnson
Daredevil youngster, Charlie Parker, has helped his parents care for the animals at Ballarat Wildlife Park in Victoria, Australia, since the moment he was able to walk.
Charlie, who has his very own pint-sized ranger uniform, held his first snake when he was one and tackled his very first crocodile just two years later.
And now, in and around his time at school, Charlie interacts with the animals more than ever – and has big dreams to become a professional zookeeper like one of his idols, Steve Irwin.
Charlie told Barcroft TV: “When I interact with big animals it makes me feel excited.
“I like to play with alligators, snakes, lizards and frogs.
“When people see me, they’re amazed because I’m so young.”
Despite Charlie being nibbled from time to time, he says that he is never scared of interacting with the biggest animals at the park.
He said: “I’ve been bitten by a Blue Tongue, a snake, a crocodile, an alligator, a venomous snake that’s called Copperhead and a Black-Headed python.
“I was three when I interacted with my first alligator. It launched at me, launched at me again and then it did a big jump. It was pretty cool.
“I’m not afraid of handling snakes or alligators because I’ve worked with them my whole life and I’ve built up a trust to them.”
Charlie’s parents, Julia Leonard and Greg Parker, know how comfortable their son is around the animals, but they would never put him in a situation that they thought was risky.
Julia, 45, said: “I certainly wouldn’t put him at risk if I thought he was going to get eaten.
“Charlie can interact with most animals here at the park – he enjoys working with the penguins, he enjoys working with the mammals and mainly the reptiles.
“He’s very natural around all of them. He’s like a little David Attenborough really.
“He really helps out and I think everybody appreciates how good he is with the animals.”
With around 50 species of reptiles and 20 species of mammals at the park, Charlie still has his favourite animal – a giant croc called Crunch who weighs around 110 stone.
Charlie said: “I like alligators because they launch out of the water.
“But my favourite animal is Crunch the crocodile.”
Charlie’s father, Greg, 65, added: “Crunch is a five meter salt-water crocodile that probably weighs around 700 kilos.
“Charlie respects Crunch. You know, he’s a big wild-caught crocodile and quite dangerous.
“But Charlie is fairly comfortable with him. He goes in there all the time.
“We’ve all got bitten fingers and a few scars over the years and Charlie is accruing a few himself.
“But here at Ballarat, we believe passionately in conservation and we believe you cannot promote conservation without people meeting the animals up close.”
People are often amazed when they see Charlie being so calm around potentially dangerous animals – and he has built up quite a following at the park along the way.
He said: “My friends think I’m cool because I work with animals all the time and they want to be like me one day.
“It gives me an adrenaline rush and I get excited when I work with the big ones.
“When I grow up, I hope I can become a professional zookeeper like Steve Irwin.”