Deadly 60’s Steve Backshall explains why “scary animals” have a lot more reason to fear humans than the other way round!More about Wild Things
Of all the dangerous and deadly animals you’ve met, which has most surprised you?
Deadly and dangerous aren’t the same thing. If we just made programmes about animals that were dangerous to us as humans, they’d pretty much all be about mosquitoes [see pp.120–21]! Sharks, crocs, big cats and other obvious predators are very rarely dangerous to us, but the ways they’ve adapted to be deadly in their world – to their own prey – is what I find exciting.
Which of your animal encounters have been the most terrifying?
Very few animal encounters are terrifying – people are far more frightening than animals ever are. I’ve felt safer and more serene swimming in the sea alongside a great white shark than I ever do walking through a big city at night!
How do you prepare to go into potentially deadly wildlife territory?
It depends on the environment. The skills you need to survive in Arctic or high-altitude conditions are different from those you need in deserts or jungles. It’s all about experience and training, and knowing what’s likely to be required in each different habitat.
You often work in extreme and inhospitable environments. Have you ever reached your limit?
I trained to be an expedition leader with the Indian Army in the high Himalayas. After five weeks of breaking a trail through thick snow, at high altitude and on low rations, I was wasting away. I lost 15% of my body weight and got quite weak. That’s probably the closest I’ve come.
Are there any non-predatory animals that fascinate you?
To a naturalist, all animals are fascinating. When I’m home, I quite happily watch the local songbirds, moths and butterflies. All wild things are inherently exciting to me.
Steve’s top tips: what to do should you meet a…
Great white shark: Hang vertically in the water like a human, not flat on the surface like a seal. No thrashing or stressed movements; try to keep your heart rate and breathing down. Let the animal know you can see it and it can’t take you by surprise.
Hippo: Get as far away as possible. Never get inbetween a mother and her calf, or a male and… well, anything really! Don’t walk near African waterways at dusk if the grass nearby is close cropped as if by a lawnmower.
Komodo dragon:Have a long stick to hand. Never take Komodos for granted and keep your wits about you at all times. They can look like a sleepwalking stuffed lizard, but once you’ve seen one really move, you’ll never see them in the same light again!