When you work with animals, there are bound to be moments that are unpredictable, hilarious, unusual, and downright scary! I decided to put together a few stories that came to the top of my head when I thought about creating this particular blog. Keep in mind, these are only just a few. Hope you enjoy- Corbin
Oh yes, I can never forget my experience while working with Mr. Magoo the Prehensile-tailed Porcupine. I literality lived with Mr. Magoo for a whole week. This included sharing my hotel room, living space, and vehicle with him. Not only do these porcupines smell like a mixture of a locker room and sour onions, they are nocturnal. So every night we would let Mr. Magoo out of his traveling carrier to explore. He ran around everywhere, jumping from bed to bed, to table to chair. He even would wake me up every morning by pouncing on me! I would often reach out to cuddle with him forgetting about his sharp quills. To this day, I still find quills embedded in my clothes. He also got loose behind the set of The Today Show in Studio 1 A; that’s another story.
My next story comes from my early days on our local Fox station KTRV. I used to appear monthly, each time with a different theme. This month I was gearing up for our”Asia” segment, which would feature various Asian animals. For some reason I thought bringing on two Blood Pythons would be a fantastic idea; I should have thought twice. Bloods are known for their testy temperaments and hard-hitting bites. To make matters worse, I decided to not only bring one Blood Python, but two. (Can you tell how this story is headed for disaster?) Seconds before show time I opened their containers to prepare; both snakes were puffed up, hissing, and ready to strike. With no back up, the show had to go on. Three, two, one, and action! I picked both snakes up, one in each hand, and tried to conduct the interview with a very nervous anchor. One of the Blood Pythons completely relaxed, while the other went berserk, striking and hissing at anything that moved! The anchor ran off camera, stranding me at the news desk live on-air. Luckily, the show quickly went to commercial. The story isn’t over. A new female anchor (on her first day) came into the studio, oblivious of what had just happened and requested to see the snakes. I warned but she insisted. She came up to the news desk, which was on a raised stage platform, and joined me in one of the swivel chairs with wheels. I opened one of the containers which revealed a hissing, ready to strike, Blood Python. She screamed, kicking back in her swivel chair so hard, she flew off the raised stage, chair and all! If the cameras were rolling, it would have been one of the best YouTube moments in history. Needless to say, I never saw her again.
When it comes to my most adrenaline pumping experiences, the title has to go to the charging hippos in Kenya’s Lake Naivasha. I’ve had two close encounters with hippos; both in the same day while trying to search for African Fish Eagles. The first one came when we urged our boat driver to get closer to a small pod of hippos for pictures and filming. One of the hippos was not happy. It began making loud grunts, raised out of the water towards our boat, and then disappeared beneath the murkiness, leaving only bubbles on the surface. The scary thing is, you have no idea where they are. At the same time our driver quickly flipped the boat around and sped off in the other direction. My second encounter was a lot scarier. We stopped for a bathroom break on the shore. Keep in mind, the shores on Lake Naivasha are full of tall Papyrus and thick vegetation. For privacy we all spaced out along the bank, I happened to wander the farthest. I heard something close by in the reeds. Then I heard water splashing, as if something was leisurely getting out of the water. Then I heard a very close, very recognizable hippo grunt. I booked it! I know they say don’t run, but my natural instincts took over. Thank goodness it was just a warning grunt. That hippo would have outran me.
In my early days, my career revolved around rehabilitating and rescuing reptiles. Fast forward ten years and I had the opportunity to jump back into that field…Although this time it would be with Black Bears! I convinced Sally Reaves-the owner and founder of Idaho Black Bear Rehab- to accompany them on a trip up to Washington to release eight sub-adult bears. We tranquilized and hauled the bears into specially made bear cages provided by the Washington Fish and Game Service. We made the journey to an undisclosed location in Washington and individually released the bears. On the last release, I had the bright idea of wanting to film the experience from a different angle. I climbed a short way up a mountain to get a higher vantage point. When they opened the cage, instead of running away straightforward, the bear decided to turn and run right towards me. It all happened so fast. (My adrenaline is kicking in just writing about it.) I had to quickly duck out of the way to avoid a collision. The bear had no intention going towards me, all he was doing was trying to escape up the mountain. Next time, I’ll pick a better vantage point.
If you have ever seen my live shows or my television appearances, then you know I like to talk with my hands. Sometimes this can be a bad quality when you work with animals. I was on a live morning show in Omaha, Nebraska showing off Irwin, our Solomon Island Tree Skink. I wasn’t paying any attention where my hands were, and during the interview Irwin decided to bite my finger. Even though he’s a complete vegetarian and looks awfully innocent, Irwin gave me one of the worst bites I’ve ever experienced. Their strong jaws, and sharp cone-shaped teeth can deliver a nasty bite. (It’s comparable to a nutcracker with teeth.) The bite was so hard you could hear the crunch of my fingernail all the way up through my mic on live television. What was worse, was that I had yet another animal to show. With blood pouring all over the set, I ended the show with a 16ft python.
This one probably doesn’t qualify for the most adrenaline pumping or hilarious; although it happens to be one of my favorite memories in Africa. It was my first full day in Kenya, and we were set on visiting Hells Gate National Park to record the progress of a fledgling vulture chick. We would have to hike for an hour or so to reach the tall white-washed cliffs where the nest was located. As we began our climb, our guide (world-renowned raptor biologist Simon Thomsett) explained to us to keep an eye out for possible trees to climb in case we ran into a buffalo. I thought he was kidding. Not only was Simon being 100% serious, the Acacia Trees we were surrounded by sported 3-4 inch long thorns. To add icing to the cake there was buffalo dung everywhere. Apparently, if we ran into a herd we would more than likely be fine. The lone buffalo is the one you have to watch out for! Luckily, Simon successfully found the chick and we ran into no buffalo!
Anytime I have the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes with large carnivores my heart begins racing. Yes, these days zoo visitors can get extremely close to large cats and bears with only a panel of glass in between…Although there is something so thrilling about going to their off exhibit areas where their dens and feeding areas are located. One time when I was 13, someone forgot to latch one of the dens. When I opened the door, the tiger was right in the walkway. Another time I had to clean their exhibit while they were locked away in the dens. I remember being so nervous that their den door would open and I would be trapped in the corner! One of my fondness memories was visiting zoo camp as a kid and going behind-the-scenes with the Grizzly Bears. We walked in their dens and I could literally smell the Grizzly’s breath; he was that close! I could have reached out my hand and touched him through the fence. He then stood on his hind legs. I could not believe how big he was or that we were even able to go behind-the-scenes to experience it. Nowadays, this would never happen. Only experienced and senior staff would ever be able to get that close proximity. Still, those early days make for great stories!
One of my favorite shows to do is “Mike and Kate in the Morning.” There is just something about the radio. For one it’s live. You also don’t have to worry so much about time constraints like you do on TV. Another reason why I absolutely LOVE it is because host Kate McGwire is terrified of absolutely anything I bring in. Over the years we’ve been able to share quite a few hilarious moments. One time I brought a lemur in and it peed over everything, including the expensive radio equipment. Another time I brought an otter in and it gave Kate hives for two days. (Did I mention she had a date the next night?) One Halloween her screams were so loud it disrupted all the other radio shows. My favorite time though was when I brought a rat in. You have to watch the short clip below to fully grasp why this is one of my favorite moments.
For me personally, there was a lot of pressure and thought into trying to find my #1 most unusual, adrenaline pumping, and funniest story while working with animals. Matter of fact, as write this now I’ve already gone through 25 revisions. It then dawned on me: All of the years hosting “LIVE with The Reptile Guy.” During my early college years I decided to create, host and produce a live television show from our local public access station. It was like nothing the studio and I had ever done before. There were no edits, special graphics, commercial breaks, or fancy equipment. Not only was it live, it was with animals. You never knew what could happen during each 30-minute episode. During the second season I decided to do something else; add a live studio audience! I can’t tell you how many people we tried cramming in that little studio! From a camel who went down an audience member’s cleavage, a 17ft python pooping all over the set, to a 1000lb cow almost trampling the studio audience, so many memories come back. Luckily, a lot of them are included in the documentary below. I hope you enjoy.