Unfounded fears, superstition and misconceptions about animals… British wildlife presenter and author Nigel Marven dispels these, and discovers fascinating facts about them in his series on Animal Planet
After studying animals in their natural habitat for decades, British wildlife presenter and author Nigel Marven knows one thing for a certainty: our knowledge about these creatures is far less than what we credit ourselves with. While discussing a month-long series on Animal Planet that celebrates Marven’s explorations in the wild — with one episode going on air at 9 p.m. every night — the adventurer, in a telephonic interview, dwells on some well-entrenched and widespread notions that have left him stumped.
For one, he can’t understand the unrealistic fear about cobras. “In most parts of the world, people think a good snake is a dead snake,” says Marven, adding that the deep-rooted prejudice against snakes acquires a greater sting when it comes to cobras. People think cobras go on the offensive straightaway. “Just like any other snake, a cobra will slither away, if given half a chance,” says Marven. “When a cobra shows its hood, it is just telling people to leave it alone.”
False water cobra
Marven can see all creatures — even the potentially dangerous ones — in a different light because he has a genuine interest in them, one that borders on love. To get a sample of this, visit a YouTube video where Marven is drawn to a false water cobra. He cradles the snake, and lets it sinks its teeth into his arm.
Called a falsie due to a natural inclination and ability to flatten its neck, just as a cobra can, this snake has capacity for damage that is yet to be fully understood. Its bites are believed to trigger proteolytic activity and to cause local envenomation and mechanical trauma. Aware of these possibilities, Marven, however, watches the snake inflict deep bruises on him and cause rivulets of blood to flow down his arm.
Another misconception Marven encountered: it is difficult to breed pandas in captivity. A programme included in the series busts this myth. Around 50 panda reserves in China have an impressive number of pandas that were born in captivity. To prove the point, Marven spends some time with eight panda cubs in an enclosure at the Chengdu Panda Reserve.
Marven thinks misplaced notions are not restricted to animals, but extend to wildlife resources of countries. When he set out for China, he was discouraged. There are no animals in China, Marven was told. Turning a deaf ear, the adventurer went ahead with his plans. He’s glad he did — diversity is the key feature of China’s wildlife. “In the North, there are reindeer. In the South, there are elephants. The country is home to around 300 Asian elephants.”
Marven has come upon such a surprise every day he has spent in the wild. He considers it the biggest perk of his job. While studying grey whales and their pattern of life, including their post-breeding journey from Mexico to Alaska, he was flummoxed by the devotion of the mothers towards the little grey whales. He watched them protect the young ones from killer whales with heart and spirit.
Marven admits to being astonished at what snakes can do, such as killing and eating rats and mice, despite being legless. The sight of an anaconda swallowing a deer in Columbia — which has been filmed and will appear in the series — just blew his mind. Another astounding fact is the giant panda’s ability to subsist almost entirely on bamboo and patiently chew on it for around 16 hours a day.
While discussing his early encounters with the wild that opened up such an enviable career, Marven recalls how, as a boy, he found a crested newt by dropping a net in a pond. For wannabe wildlife adventurers who want to get started, he says, one of the interesting things to do is take a net and find a pond. It can yield many surprises.