Wednesday June 27, 2012
All in a day’s job
By SHEELA CHANDRAN
Dealing with dangerous animals is part and parcel of the job for herpetologist and host of National Geographic’s Dangerous Encounters Dr Brady Barr.
RUBBING the scar on his right femur, then gently stroking the injury marks on his right wrist and index finger, herpetologist and host of National Geographic’s Dangerous Encounters Dr Brady Barr talks nonchalantly about his traumatic attacks by ferocious crocodiles.
Jaws drop when Barr casually mentions that besides his broken index finger, femur and wrist, he has been diagnosed with a broken back – not once, but thrice! And the multiple bite wounds to his finger and wrist have sadly resulted in loss of sensation.
“I am a right-hander, so having to suffer from a sense of numbness is a big obstacle. I am 49 years old, but sometimes, my body feels like it’s 149 years old. There are days when I’d be creaking when I wake up in the morning,” says Barr, during an interview in Kuala Lumpur recently.
Injuries aside, Barr also has a long list of stories to tell about his dangerous encounters with snakes. One of his most frightening experiences was when he climbed inside a cave in Indonesia to get footage for a documentary about snakes.
“It was dark when a cobra lunged at me. I grabbed its body and hurled it away but it came right back at me. Our ‘dance of death’ lasted for three to four seconds,” recalls Barr who, after being bitten by the venomous snake, had to be flown out from Indonesia to Singapore to seek medical assistance.
Eyebrows are then collectively raised when Barr mentions being afflicted by dangerous diseases such as lung fungus and brain worms – occupational hazards.
“On two different occasions, I have had parasites in my brain. I had severe headaches and terrible throbbing in my brain. It became so bad that I eventually had to undergo chemotherapy.
Strangely, I have a close friend, a parasitologist, and he loves it when I come in to his clinic. At his lab, he pins location markers on his map and writes scientific papers. He takes my blood samples to determine if I have brought in any new bacteria samples. I am like his guinea pig and prize patient,” quips the friendly TV host who was in town to promote Dangerous Encounters 7.
While these adventures may not be for the faint-hearted, Barr views it as part and parcel of his job. So far, the reptile expert has journeyed to five continents and over 70 countries and interacted with a menagerie of creatures from the Humboldt squid to Japanese giant salamander. As such, it is not wrong to say that his hands-on style, love for God’s creatures and appetite for information is what that has fuelled his passion in herpetology.
“I am passionate about animals and have a thirst for knowledge. Everyday, I have questions concerning wildlife. It could range from the duration it takes a crocodile to construct her nest to different aspects of snakes, turtles or bears,” admits Barr.
Barr’s queries (and more) are addressed in Dangerous Encounters 7, a TV programme about his travels across the globe to learn more about ferocious animals.
The six-episode series will feature him testing, measuring and experiencing, first hand – a key attribute or ability of two target animals – to find out which is the strongest, spikiest, most painful and most poisonous.
Animals featured include the alligator snapping turtle, rodeo bull and giant alligator.
“Season Seven focuses on how I use unorthodox ways to find the abilities of certain animals. One of my most exciting episodes was the hunt for the alligator snapping turtle. These turtles are one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world and are armed with jaws that are capable of dismembering their prey,” says Barr, whose greatest claim to fame is being the first herpetologist to have captured all 23 extant species of crocodile.
Besides his adventure-seeking thrills, Barr hopes to educate viewers on the importance of conservation through the programme.
“Education is the first step. Children need to learn the importance of conservation, habitat loss, poaching and population fragmentation.
“Tiger body parts such as bones, claws, eyes and whiskers are being used for potions while hundreds of sharks are being killed for the highly prized shark fin soup. We need to change our ways before animals facing extinction no longer exist,” he advises.
> Dangerous Encounters 7 premieres today at 8pm on National Geographic Channel (Astro Ch 553) and Nat Geo Wild (Astro Ch 550).