How did you get into television?
I was working as a writer and came up with an idea for a programme, so I took off to Colombia with a video camera and filmed myself wandering through the jungle catching snakes, scorpions and spiders. I edited my footage into a programme and sent it to National Geographic Channel, who bought it and took me on as their adventurer in residence. I have been doing my job for about 12 years now.
What’s the scariest animal you’ve ever encountered on your travels?
The most frightening animals, believe it or not, are always large mammals. I’ve been working with venomous snakes for many years and I know that if a King Cobra wants to go for you, you can get away from it by running in the opposite direction.
A charging bull elephant is a whole other matter. If one of them decides it doesn’t like you, and you’re on foot, you are in big trouble! It can run much faster than you, so getting away is pretty much impossible.
What were your childhood pets?
I grew up on a small farm, so I was surrounded by animals. We had terrifying geese that would scare the hell out of anyone who came near the house. We also had an asthmatic donkey and a tiny duckling we rescued that used to follow my mother around the house and sit in the sink if she was washing the dishes. We had peacocks and guinea fowl and ducks and chickens and horses… all sorts! I used to milk the goats before heading off to school in the morning.
What do you do to relax?
I go climbing. Rock climbing in Thailand, ice climbing in the Alps, mountaineering. I broke my back and smashed up my ankle a couple of years ago and it was very scary, but it was one of those things that I just had to get over.
What’s on your iPod?
Science podcasts and bird songs. I’m hoping when I go somewhere and hear a bird song, I’ll be able to identify it.
What do you think about animals being kept in captivity?
It makes me really sad. I hate going to zoos, but at the same time I recognise that not everyone has the same privileges I have. I’m able to see these animals in the wild, and unless kids see animals and get to love them, they won’t want to protect them.
If you could be any species of animal, what would you be?
I would be something like a dolphin or a bird of prey, because of their freedom and incredible ability to travel enormous distances.