We have all heard the warnings when it comes to animals of prey. Most of us will never get close enough to these behemoths to have to worry about heeding such warnings. There are always a few thrill seekers among us though and working with wild animals is undoubtedly suited to those with a zest for the more dangerous side of life. From the majestic lions and cheetahs of the African plains to the saltwater crocodiles of Northern Australia to North America’s Grizzlies, it is not hard to see how a crew can become utterly captivated by these wild creatures, forgetting that they are essentially dinner in the eyes of these predators.
Of course, there are exceptions. We have all seen clips of ‘The Lion Hugger’ Kevin Richardson, some of us admittedly, holding our breath as he play fights with his gigantic lion pals in the South African plains. For many others working with wildlife though, things have taken a turn for the worst while capturing their subjects out in the wilderness or in the confines of wildlife centres. Most of us will remember the tragic death of conservationist and presenter Steve Irwin who was stabbed by a stingray while filming a documentary on the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland.
It is most often the case that attacks against humans occur when animals feel threatened and are defending their territory and their young. Wildlife management expert at the Berryman Institute of Utah State University Michael Conover has stated that the main cause of animal attacks on humans is due to the encroachment of humans into animal habitat. He has stated that people will ‘get as close as they can [to wild animals]’ in the name of a good photograph. So we touch on the dark side of wildlife filmmaking and photography which leads production teams go to great lengths to get the perfect shot – the one with the greatest shock value – often deceiving their viewers and endangering animals in the process.
10. Chimp attack
Andrew Oberle was studying chimp behaviour at the Goodall Institute in South Africa when he was involved in this gruesome attack by a group of chimps. Sources claim that Oberle did not obey safety precautions, bypassing two safety fences that were in place at the centre in order to get as close to the chimps as possible. Oberle was severely bitten by the chimps and then dragged for nearly half of a mile. He survived the attack but was left with severe and disfiguring injuries.
9. Tilikum, The Killer Whale
Tilikum, a 12,000 pound, 25 foot Orca whale killed his 40 year old trainer Dawn Brancheau in February of 2010. Shockingly, the attack took place in front of a crowd of spectators as they awaited a demonstration between Brancheau and the killer whale. Numerous onlookers recounted identical stories regarding the incident, claiming that the whale jumped up out of the water grabbing Brancheau by the waist and pulling her underwater. Alarmingly, Tilikum has been involved in the deaths of three humans to date. He is now living in captivity at Seaworld Orlando, Florida.
8. Rocky, The Grizzly Bear
Rocky, a Grizzly bear trained to wrestle for TV shows and movies struck out at his 39 year old trainer Stephen Miller back in 2008. The Grizzly bit Miller on the neck, killing him instantly. According to Randy Miller, proprietor of Predators in Action – a private facility for exotic animals – Rocky seemed to obediently follow cues during the filming of the scene making the attack on Miller all the more shocking. Bizarrely, Rocky rose to fame again in 2012 when he became the subject of a hearing in Sacramento to determine whether he could work in California again where restrictions are in place.
7. Grizzly Bear Attack
American environmentalist documentary maker and bear lover, Timothy Treadwell was killed in Katmai National Park in Alaska in October of 2003. Treadwell had spent thirteen consecutive summers at Katmai observing wildlife. An air taxi pilot that was sent to collect Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard from Katmai landed to find their campsite empty. Later, local park rangers found the mauled bodies of Treadwell and Huguenard. In a shocking turn of events, dismembered parts of Treadwell’s body were found by rescuers in a number of locations. It was later confirmed that a male grizzly had partially eaten the couple.
6. Tiger Attacks Roy Horn
Roy Horn, of the popular German-American duo Siegfried & Roy, suffered critical injuries following a bite to the neck by a 600 pound white Bengal tiger called Manticore. The duo were performing at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas when the attack occurred, one onlooker stating that Horn ‘looked like a rag doll in [Manticore’s] mouth.’ Amazingly, Horn survived but has been left partially paralysed as a result of the attack. Manticore died in March of this year, aged 17.
5. Tiger Attack at ‘Dinner Circus’
Christian Walliser, an experienced tiger trainer, was attacked by three Bengal tigers following a fall during a circus show in Hamburg in 2009. Pinned to the ground by the three tigers, the 200 guests attending the ‘Dinner Circus’ watched on in a state of horror. Shockingly, the gruesome attack saw the tigers sink their teeth into Walliser’s head and his upper body. They also managed to tear off one of his hands. Walliser sustained serious injuries but he survived the attack. This is just one of many near fatal attacks in the circus world, proving that no matter how safe one feels working with circus animals, it is an extremely risky business.
4. Crocodile Attack on Ethiopia’s Omo River
Ofir Drori, an award-winning wildlife conservationist, was floating along Ethiopia’s Omo River in a canoe in December of last year when he had a gruesome encounter with one of its inhabitants. As Drori was taking in his surroundings, enjoying the peace and tranquillity of the river, a three metre crocodile went straight for his canoe and latched onto his calf. Amazingly, Drori had the wherewithal to realise he was in shallow waters and removed his free leg from the canoe, digging his foot into the rivers bed. This crocodile wasn’t giving up without a fight though, sinking his teeth further into Drori’s leg and dragging him out into deeper water in the process. Somehow, Drori managed to remove his leg from the crocodile’s mouth only to discover that a chunk of his calf was missing. The story does not stop there…something of a Crusoe-like tale of survival saw Drori manage to retrieve his tourniquet from the canoe so he could slow the profuse bleeding from his leg. He stated that he foraged ‘through the forests, lighting fires and floating on makeshift life rafts’ until he came upon some local tribesmen who assisted him.
3. Performing Elephants
We have all looked on enviously as our friends post pictures on their social networking pages getting up close and personal with charming and seemingly amiable elephants as they travel around Thailand. The practices employed to tame these wild animals are barbaric. Elephants are crucial to Thailand’s tourist trade, elephant trekking and elephant shows drawing in huge numbers annually. Elephant trainers engage in a method known as ‘torture training’ in order to make the animals tourist friendly. They are tied up in tiny pens, limiting their ability to move around and are then routinely beaten with ‘sharp instruments, and left without food or water for days, or even weeks’ according to Gabrielle Nagle of Wildlife Extra. Shockingly, 95% of Thailand’s elephants are domesticated working elephants. Sadly, this neglect and mistreatment of the animals is all in the name of tourists getting a thrill and locals earning an income.
2. ‘Call of the Wildman’ Exposed
The latest scandal to rock the world of wildlife TV has exposed the exploits of Animal Planet’s ‘Call of the Wildman’. An exclusive investigation carried out by Mother Jones over the course of seven months has found ‘numerous instances of alleged animal mistreatment’ at the hands of production company Sharp, who are out to entertain viewers with shock value. The show draws a huge number of viewers, its 2013 ratings reaching 1.1 million. It has been revealed that the dangerous rescues carried out by Ernie Brown Jr., or ‘Turtleman’ as he’s more commonly known, are staged. Some of the shows animals have been procured by trappers, while others have been neglected resulting in the death of a baby raccoon and at least one bat of an endangered species. A truly shocking episode featured a Zebra that had been drugged with sedatives in order for the supposed rescue to take place.
1. Death of the ‘Crocodile Hunter’
One of the most shocking events in the world of wildlife filmmaking occurred when environmentalist and TV personality Steve Irwin, also known as the ‘Crocodile Hunter’, was killed following numerous stabbings to the heart by a Stingray. Like most creatures, the stingray only attacks when it feels threatened making the circumstances surrounding Irwin’s death exceptionally rare. Mark Meehan, a research scientist with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, has stated that while the stingray’s barbs do carry toxins, death usually occurs as a result of ‘perforation of arteries or blood vessels.’
Sadly, this was the case for Steve Irwin who’s death was caught on camera as filming for a new show was underway. Irwin’s death has garnered renewed media attention as his cameraman Justin Lyons – the last man to see Irwin alive – has spoken out about Irwin’s final moments. Appearing on Network Ten’s Studio 10 program this month, he stated that the barb ‘went through Steve’s chest like a hot knife through butter.’ Lyons further added that once pulled onto the boat and attempts to save Irwin were underway, he looked up at his cameraman and friend calmly and said ‘I’m dying’, which were his last words.