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Who’s big and bad?

PREETI ZACHARIAH
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TV Niall McCann talks about his experiences stalking the largest and most dangerous creatures in the world

Wild encounterNiall McCann with a small anaconda
Wild encounterNiall McCann with a small anaconda

Indiana Jones is passé. Meet Niall McCann. This intrepid biologist and explorer who has crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a row boat, traversed Greenland’s polar ice cap, conquered 2,500 ft chasms at Yosemite, cycled from Manali to Leh, made friends with an elephant in Nepal and ventured on numerous research expeditions in jungles will now star in Biggest and Baddest — an adventure series that premiered on Animal Planet on February 1.

“It was an age-old idea,” says Niall over the phone. “To find out which are the biggest and most ferocious creatures in the world.”

This series follows him on this mission as he tracks down a number of colossal, often deadly beasts through treacherous terrain, managing to emerge unscathed from these encounters.

Niall admits that he has always been fascinated by big animals. He was around 15 when he held his first snake. “It was a bitterly cold morning in Queensland, Australia. I was walking with my father in a rainforest when we came across a boa constrictor.” His father insisted that he picked it up, which he did. “Holding that animal, feeling its strength, how it moved in my hands was amazing. I never looked back after that.”

Niall went on to pursue a degree in zoology from Bristol and will be graduating with his doctorate in zoology from Cardiff University next spring. “I am lucky that both my parents are biologists too,” he says.

Talking about the TV series he says that he had chosen to pursue certain animals because “I wanted to find out why they got into conflict with people so much.” Some of the episodes in the series include — Tigers of Nepal, the Cassowary Birds of Australia, Asian Elephants of Nepal, Feral Hogs of Florida and the Estuary Crocodile of Australia. “I realised that human-animal conflict is the reason why these animals are so fierce. They are threatening because they are threatened by us.”

Often, because we are so afraid of these animals we hunt them down and kill them, leading to the eventual obliteration of the species, according to Niall. “There are only 125 Bengal Tigers left in the wild in Nepal,” he adds. “We have hunted them so much; they are now close to extinction.”

Wildlife conservation is something very close to Niall’s heart and he is currently associated with two large conservation projects — one at Guyana and the other at Honduran. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. While his trips into the wild and encounters with exotic animals are extremely exciting, it is also very physically challenging. Which is why Niall constantly works at staying as fit as possible.

“I do huge amounts of exercise. I run, workout at the gym, go rock climbing and cycle to work. I also go for long treks in the hills over the weekends. The fitter you are, the harder you are to kill,” he laughs.

Biggest and Baddest airs on Animal Planet every night at 9 p.m. till February 14.

PREETI ZACHARIAH

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