Award-winning English naturalist, explorer, writer and television presenter Steve Backshall explores the habitat of the fierce forest elephants of Gabon, visits Bali for the elusive sunfish and soaks in the ferocity of the South African serval, in his latest episode of Sony BBC Earth ‘Deadly 60 series’ that airs December 2, 9 pm. The series also looks at the perilous future facing some of these deadly animals, and delves into the work done by wildlife conservationists to protect them. Steve takes time off to chat with Metrolife about his experiences and journey so far.
How did you develop an interest in exploring the wild?
So, I am very lucky in that my parents are both into nature, and the outdoors. And we grew up on a small holding on a small farm in the British countryside. And it was just an expected average part of my everyday life to work with animals, both domestic and wild. And they tell tales of me as a small child going through the compost heap to find snakes and snake eggs, beetles and worms. And it was something that I always knew my life is going to evolve from a young age.
What kind of research do you do before you venture out on each episode?
Most of the research will be on the specific species that we are going looking for. But one of the things about deadly specifically is that everything was up for grabs. So, anything that we see can be included. So I try and expand my net as broadly as I can. For example, if we’re diving to include all of the potentially 20,000 fish species that could be found in one particular reef that we’re going to be diving on. If we are going to be working in the tropical rainforest in Central America, I make sure that I have researched the frogs, snakes, birds and everything there. But that does get easier through time, because, I have been doing this for over 20 years now. And so, a lot of that information is kind of there in my head already.
Why are shows like this important? Apart from being entertaining.
I think that right now we stand at a point when conservation and awareness about the environment is everything. And everything that lives in them is going to be critical for our survival, happiness, health, and safety into the future. So, we have been helping young people become aware of the spectacular wildlife, and also find ways that they might want to protect it. This is more important now than ever before.
Have you ever come face-to-face with an endangered animal?
Yes, in this series, we did a whole programme on Rhino conservation and on the situation with Rhino poaching throughout the world. And the factors that are driving the possible extinction of Rhino and all the heroes who are doing their best to try and make sure that Rhinos do not disappear. We also work with great hammerhead sharks, a few of which are critically endangered. We also had the extraordinary opportunity to swim alongside some of the biggest sharks that exist today.
Could you briefly talk about a risky situation you were in and how you bailed out?
We were working in the forests of West Africa with forest elephants. These elephants are a tricky lot because they are smaller than bush elephants and can be stood in there undergrowth right next to you. And despite their huge size, you would never know that they were there. We were on foot the entire time. And on one occasion, we came out into clearing this forest elephant and it suddenly started exhibiting a threat display and eventually it charged. And normally in those circumstances, you’re supposed to hold your ground, but I could see that the truck was within range. So, I turned, and I ran and the whole team ran too. And we just hit the accelerator and were out of there as fast as we could.
Are youngsters interested in taking up such assignments?
Yes. I think that right now, we are in the midst of a really exciting time for youth and conservation. I don’t think young people have ever been as aware of the environment and its implications as they are right now.
(Tune into ‘Deadly 60 Series 4’ on and from December 2, 9 pm on Sony BBC Earth)