This June, Nat Geo WILD will get up close and personal with the world’s fiercest predators and most legendary animals. Nat Geo Wild cameras will follow renowned explorer and biologist Niall McCann on his mission to find the Biggest & Baddest animals around the globe for conservation research. The series makes its debut on Friday, June 5, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Nat Geo WILD.
Niall has made it his mission to track down animals that have come in conflict with humans around the world, sometimes placing both in danger. His conservation work sheds light on the dilemmas the animals face. Climbing mountains, crossing jungle rivers, trekking across the outback and bushwhacking through dense wildernesses around the world, Niall courts adventure. And armed with his scientific knowledge and instincts, he does what others might be afraid to do — stare danger in the face without backing down.
“My passion is to track down formidable wildlife to learn more about their behavior and habitat,” said Niall. “To be able to do this every day and share it with audiences is a dream come true.”
As humans encroach on wildlife habitats, animals — including bats, tigers and pythons — are forced to live closer and closer to people, sometimes even terrorizing communities. Our cameras will wade through murky waters in the swamps of Venezuela to catch giant anacondas, follow fearsome predators like the royal Bengal tiger into the jungles of Nepal and wrestle with deadly saltwater crocodiles in Australia’s Northern Territory. These animals have reputations for killing humans, but Niall will disregard danger and get close enough to learn more about these animals.
We posed a list of questions to him regarding his preparation for these grueling explorations:
MSM – You have had the experience of being out during your work in many different elements – hot, cold, freezing, ocean, Amazon jungle, etc. Which one was the most difficult and why?
NM – Real danger and the perception of danger are two very different things. The jungle always feels like home to me, even though in reality it is an incredibly hostile place; whereas I felt tiny and fragile in the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean when being tossed around by 30 ft swells, but in reality we were probably pretty safe out there. There is something both highly intimidating and immediately life threatening about seriously cold conditions, and any kind of expedition undertaken in Arctic conditions has to be done so with the utmost of care. If you throw in high winds to the equation cold places can become lethal very quickly.
MSM – How do you prepare your body to be exposed to these elements? Is there any specific preparation or training involved?
NM – It’s nigh on impossible to perfectly replicate being in such a range of elements, short of lifting weights in a sauna one week and a deep freeze the next! I train hard in the gym and at the climbing wall and trust that my body will cope with whatever I throw at it when the time comes to put that training into action.
MSM – What about the diet in preparation?
NM – Diet is hugely important no matter what you’re doing, so I make sure I eat well all year round. For both the Atlantic row and my Greenland crossing I altered my diet a few weeks before leaving, taking on even more carbs than normal (and I eat a lot of carbs!) as well as increasing the fat content of my diet to build up some reserves before heading off.
Before we attempted to break the world record for rowing a million metres on an indoor rowing machine my rowing partner and I carb-loaded for 72 hours, taking on 12 grams of carbs per kg of our own body weight per day in addition to the fats and protein-based foods we were also eating. For me that worked out as being just under 1 kg of carbs per day. We felt pretty sick for that 72 hour period, but were buzzing with energy and we smashed the world record by 4 hours and 53 minutes!
MSM – And the diet while you are on location?
NM – On location diet can be a total lottery! Just as with my physical training, I think it’s important to prepare well before going away and trust that you can cope with whatever is thrown at you once you’re in the field.
On a serious expedition like rowing the Atlantic or manhauling across Greenland planning the daily diet is as important as any other form of preparation. On the Atlantic we were consuming about 7200 kcal per day and we still lost about 1/8th of our body weight. Across Greenland we started out on 4500 kcal and finished on more like 6000 kcal per day as we were able to double up on rations towards the end once we knew we had enough food spare.
On biological expeditions to the jungle things are very different! You carry as much as you can and then forage for extra, be that from fruits and nuts or from fish. Every little addition to the meagre rations is welcomed like a birthday meal, though the effect on your digestive system can be spectacular at times!
MSM – While you are on location, do you need to do any ‘preventive maintenance,’ if you will, to stay in shape to complete the task?
NM – When rowing across the Atlantic we were each rowing for between 12 and 16 hours a day for 63 days. When skiing across Greenland we skied for 10 – 12 hours a day, hauling sleds that weighed 83 kg at the start. These kinds of regimes take their toll on your body and maintenance is hugely important. I do a lot of stretches when on expedition, particularly my glutes and hamstrings, and I do a lot of work on my ITB using the butt of my hand. On the Atlantic I also took along a tennis ball to work out knots and trapped nerves that formed in my neck and back, and it worked wonders!
Staying on top of things is very important: wear the right shoes so blisters don’t cripple you, and treat any hot-spots before they turn into blisters. Treat every minor cut with iodine to prevent infection, which can cut you down in any environment. Eat as well as possible, stay hydrated, sleep as best you can, and trust that your training will pay off and that you can survive any situation that you find yourself in, it’s worked for me so far!