Lions and tigers and bears...and that's just the beginning in the Travel Channel's new show, Monster Encounters. The show follows host Casey Anderson, American wildlife naturalist and animal trainer, as he travels all over the globe to track down some of the world's most bizarre creatures. From Bolivia to Bogota, Anderson encounters creatures that most people only have nightmares about and finds himself in one life-threatening situation after another.
Though despite being about predators that most people would prefer to stay far away from, this show is about more than scares. These creatures are mysterious, misunderstood, and in some cases endangered. Anderson shines a light on some of the issues and misconceptions surrounding these species, and why we should all care about them. Understanding the animal is key to protecting it, which is necessary given the current state of our wildlife. It's equal parts thrilling and educational, and if you're a wildlife enthusiast, this is the perfect show for you. Below we've compiled each creature that Anderson encounters on his journey, as well as some fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbits.
The show premiered on the Travel Channel the day before Halloween, which was highly appropriate given the pilot episode's subject -- hunting Vampire Bats in Mexico. Not only did Anderson get up close and personal with these bats, he even let one feed on him. This footage turned out to be the first ever instance of a vampire bat feeding on a person to be caught on film. Naturally, we were curious if he A) contracted rabies or B) developed some cool supernatural abilities. However, spoiler alert, neither occurred. Still, it's pretty wild to witness a person willingly sacrifice themselves to sate the appetites of these creepy bloodsuckers.
After reports on sightings of a large creature emerging from the Amazon basin, Anderson heads to Bolivia to investigate. Locals named the creature 'Jucucu', and it appears to be a mega sloth. Confused? Same here. Apparently, sloths haven't always been the furry, lazy, lovable animals you see at the zoo and in animated films. Once upon a time, there was a species called Megatherium, also known as a giant ground sloth, that was roughly the size of an elephant. The kicker here is, these animals have been extinct for about 12,000 years. So what exactly was prowling around the Amazon?
Having a fear of snakes is normal; in fact, it's pretty common. But not everyone has those fears, some even have snakes as pets. What's not so normal is pursuing a giant and aggressive snake in the Amazon, yet that's exactly what Anderson does. After meeting with a paleontologist who shows him fossils of a Titanoboa, an extinct snake that was once 50 feet in length and 2,500 pounds, and which shares characteristics with today's Anaconda, Anderson sets out to find the beast that's been attacking people in Colombia. Not only does he find 'Yacumama', but he goes head to head in an all-out wrestling match with it.
We all know how things went for the last Crocodile Hunter. Sure, it wasn't exactly a croc that got him, but you'd still think one would be wise enough to know better than to take on one of these giant creatures, especially when they have the home field advantage. Fortunately for viewers, Anderson isn't easily intimidated. After years of fascination with Africa's Nile crocodiles, he finally gets the chance to be acquainted with one when he hears that villages along the Zambezi river are victim to a crocodile named 'Bizmark'. And by acquainted, I mean he's repeatedly attacked by it.
Elephants are typically regarded as gentle giants, but that's not the case in Mozambique, where one aggressive elephant runs amok. Elephants are highly intelligent and emotional creatures. According to the Travel Channel, they use tools, soothe their young, and mourn their dead. However, you don't want to be in an elephant's path if it's hurt or injured. In this instance, the elephant causing deadly harm to villagers has a severe case of a condition similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). What's even worse, this condition could potentially be passed down to future generations. A new study even shows that some of today's elephants are still feeling the effects of mass killings that occurred in the 1960s-1990s.
Beautiful but deadly, tigers are one of Nepal's most fearsome and endangered species. Due to massive population growths, the tiger's habitat is being destroyed in countries like India, Nepal, and China. With their food resources like native deer disappearing, the tiger has to find something to eat, and sometimes that just happens to be a person. To better understand why tigers are plaguing villages near Nepal's National Parks, Anderson treks to Kathmandu Central Zoo to encounter one such man-eater that's being held in captivity for just this reason. There, he engages in the ultimate stare down with a tiger named Bhangay.
If you're wondering what a marsupial is, think kangaroos, koalas, and possums. Not exactly the kinds of creatures you'd find strange, right? Well, over 10,000 years ago there was an animal called the marsupial lion, and it was the largest carnivorous mammal known to have ever existed in Australia. Despite its being extinct for thousands of years, this is the creature Anderson goes looking for after hearing about supposed sightings in Victoria from a local gold miner. Is the marsupial lion somehow back from the dead, or is there some other mysterious predator lurking in the shadows?
As we mentioned before, the series' pilot episode featured Anderson allowing himself to be feasted on by vampire bats. But why was this necessary? Well, in southern Mexico there's an epidemic of bats feeding on humans. These bats have historically only fed on cattle, but for some reason, have recently switched up their dietary preferences. Bats typically band together in colonies of hundreds, but there's evidence that the bats in question are banding together in mega-colonies of thousands. The purpose of Anderson's experiment is to prove that bats will, in fact, drink a human's blood and that without another food source, humans will be their drink of choice.
According to the Travel Channel, Texas is home to nearly two million wild hogs. The invasive species carry disease and cause $400 million in damage every year. Near the state's eastern border, the problem intensifies with reports of giant mutant hogs running rampant. These creatures are five feet tall, weigh between eight hundred and a thousand pounds, and have seven-inch tusks. Anderson sets out to find these hybrid animals in the Texas and Louisiana backwoods with the help of ranchers.
We've officially covered every species on Dorothy's list and pointed out some that she never even thought to be afraid of in Oz. When it comes to bears, Anderson is no stranger. More on that later, but we're guessing that his journey to find Mega Bear was a little intense, even for a man whose Instagram name is @grizzlyguy. He travels to Kodiak and Afognak islands in Alaska, where eyewitnesses describe the massive bear that all other bears fear. One local questions, "If they can't detect him coming, what chance do you have?" Our guess? Very little. But because Anderson is fearless in the face of intimidating animals (and maybe a little insane), that doesn't stop him from getting mere feet from the monster.
Remember when we said that Anderson is no stranger to bears? Well, he's actually pretty tight with them. So tight, in fact, that he's most well known for having a grizzly bear as the best man at his wedding. At the age of 26, he adopted an orphaned bear cub named Brutus. Brutus is even known to have a place at the Anderson dinner table on some occasions. Brutus has been featured in several television commercials, documentaries, and films, including Pretty Ugly People (2008) and Iron Ridge (2008). Anderson serves as Brutus' handler and trainer.
Anderson is the founder of the Montana Grizzly Encounter Rescue and Educational Sanctuary. This is where Brutus now lives, as well as several other grizzlies rescued from bad captivity situations. Founded in 2004, the sanctuary rehabilitates the bears and aids in the study of grizzlies. Proceeds from Brutus' television and film appearances go to supporting the sanctuary. Located in Bozeman, Montana, anyone can pay a visit to Brutus and the other bears. The sanctuary offers a learning experience, as well as a chance to get up close and personal with the animals in a beautiful mountain setting.
Getting to work every day is an experience in its own when you're searching for rare and elusive animals. Anderson described the inaccessible regions he traveled to, stating, "My daily commute to work put me on the back of elephants, in acrobatic helicopters, or on a ride in a speed boat along rivers in the middle of nowhere." So not only was he facing deadly animals at every turn but just getting from point A to point B was a treacherous process. At any moment the potential for getting lost or stranded was a viable possibility. On the flip side, who wouldn't want to ride an elephant?
In search of the mega sloth, Anderson travels down the infamous Yungas Road, nicknamed 'Death Road' for its alarmingly high casualty rate. It's widely regarded as the most dangerous road in the world, which, of course, has turned it into a major tourist destination. Leading from La Paz to Coroico, Yungas Road is narrow with steep inclines and declines, and winds around hillsides and cliffs with very little guard rail protection in some spots. It's particularly popular among mountain bikers, with many tour operators providing guides and equipment. Though according to Wikipedia, at least 18 cyclists have died since 1998.
According to legends, an elephant graveyard is a place where older elephants instinctively wander to pass on. If you've seen Disney's The Lion King, you'll notice this motif. While elephant graveyards are regarded as a myth, Anderson journeys to one such place in Africa, walking among a slew of elephant skeletons. There are many theories behind the origin of the elephant graveyard myth, one being that, when food resources are scarce, starving elephants will gather where it's easier to find food, and subsequently die there. Regardless of where the idea comes from, it's certainly a haunting and melancholy image.
In an interview with Build, Anderson claims that we've lost 60% of our wildlife since 1970, and it's just a matter of time until all the species we know to go away. He posits that a lot of this has to do with what we understand about and how we perceive animals. The main purpose of his show is to 'cure the myths' and show the truth about some of these scary animals. When you get to the bottom of why attacks on humans occur, it's usually because the animal's resources have been taken away and they're in survival mode.
Considering the fact that man-eating tigers terrorize their villagers, you might find it odd that Nepal has a no-killing policy when it comes to the animals. Being that the country is largely Buddhist, the Nepalese don't believe in killing and aim to capture tigers instead. The people of Nepal have lived among tigers for centuries, and the country has had immense success in conservation efforts. In an interview with Monsters and Critics, Anderson claimed there were only 120 tigers in 2009, and the population has doubled since then. Nepal demonstrates how through education and social tolerance, tigers can be protected from extinction.
When Anderson faced the tiger in Nepal, Banghay, he described their interaction as 'a game of cat and mouse.' He stated, "If you face large cats and stare them in the eye and stand your ground, you can actually intimidate them and cause them to back away, ultimately saving your life." Anderson demonstrates this as he locks eyes with Banghay, and the tiger lets out a roar. This behavior is the reason for the old tradition of wearing a mask on the back of your head in tiger country to avoid being attacked from behind. Predators usually won't attack if you're making eye contact. (Keyword: probably.)
Did you know: crocodiles have evolved very little since prehistoric times. According to a study by ThoughtCo, of all the reptiles alive today, crocodiles may be the least changed from their prehistoric ancestors. The Nile Crocodile, like Bizmark, the one Anderson faced, has barely evolved in the last 85 million years. Prehistoric crocodiles were so impressive, they somehow managed to survive the extinction event that killed off dinosaurs. This is a sure sign that the animals are extremely well adapted to their environments and just another example of why these creatures are so menacing.
If you want to see even more of Anderson, Brutus, and wild animal expeditions, there are several other shows featuring the wildlife naturalist. Anderson was the executive producer and host of a documentary series on Nat Geo WILD called America the Wild. He and Brutus also starred in an episode of the documentary series Wild on National Geographic Channel. He's currently the executive producer and co-owner of Montana-based production company, VisionHawk films, so here's hoping there are many more wild television shows and films in the making.
References: cbsnews.com, monstersandcritics.com, thoughtco.com, thetravelchannel.com