Coyote Peterson: Brave The Wild exclusive interview – A snapping turtle that can pop a human skull

Coyote comes face to face with a smaller alligator snapping turtle that could do real damage to a human. Pic credit: Animal Planet.
Coyote comes face to face with a smaller alligator snapping turtle that could do real damage to a human. Pic credit: Animal Planet.

Animal Planet has a whole new star and series, Coyote Peterson: Brave The Wild. The premise is to be fearless but carry a sense of respect and caution when putting yourself out there with the creatures of the world.

Coyote Peterson is unafraid but not unaware of what he needs to do to protect himself, and his premiere of Coyote Peterson: Brave The Wild is a fascinating look at a creature few of us know anything about: The alligator snapping turtle.

Peterson’s love and respect for the animal kingdom are on display in the very detailed, but hard-to-get-up-close footage. We watch him jump in gator infested waters to capture an alligator snapping turtle named Raphael (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fame).

Its head is the size of a human and can open its massive jaws and pop a skull like a person eating a grape.

You in? We are. This exciting new series is not exploitative nor on a mission to make invasive species go away. It serves to educate and inspire, and for that, the late great Steve Irwin, who Peterson cited as a childhood influence, would be thrilled to watch if he could.

What is Brave The Wild about?

It is a television series to record and have the kids watch or for family-friendly viewing.

Coyote has teamed up with wildlife biologist Mario Aldecoa and his crew, as Coyote shares their heart-stopping and gorgeously filmed adventures all for the benefit of Animal Planet’s audiences, and his “Coyote Pack” across all platforms.

This season, Coyote heads down under to Australia’s Devil Ark conservatory to reveal the history behind the endangered Tasmanian devil and discovers the manpower needed to conserve this species.

Then he is off to Brazil where he and his team encounter the Yacare Caiman, a cousin of the crocodile, and he even swims alongside the animal to study its perfect-predator behavior as large jaguars are pacing from the shoreline.

The premiere has him take us to the swampland of Texas to search for a legendary giant alligator snapping turtle.

Who is Coyote Peterson?

Coyote is a passionate and informed explorer who calls the world his oyster and has a YouTube channel with 15+ million followers as he has built his own audience of animal lovers and those curious about nature.

Animal Planet took note and built a show with him around his unusual conservancy efforts and complete lack of jumping in waters most would give pause to put just a toe into.

Peterson is affable, and well-versed in his subject matter or animal and reptile life around the globe, as he hopes to inspire a whole new generation of animal enthusiasts.

Despite his ease on camera, he is not just a YouTube star but has hosted various adventure series including, the 2015 Emmy Award-winning Breaking Trail, Beyond the Tide, On Location, Dragon Tails, and Universal Pictures Jurassic World Explorers, a digital franchise produced exclusively for YouTube.

An author too, he penned Coyote Peterson’s Brave Adventures: Wild Animals in a Wild World! (Mango Media – 2017), which was #1 Bookscan in Juvenile Non-fiction, Coyote Peterson: The King of Sting! (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), and Coyote Peterson’s Brave Adventures 2: Epic Encounters in the Animal Kingdom (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers).

Exclusive interview with Coyote Peterson:

Monsters & Critics:  How did a kid from Ohio get so into reptiles? What was it for you that drew you to exploring bodies of water and nature and things like that?

Coyote Peterson: Yes, well certainly in Ohio, I was limited to my quote-unquote “dangerous species.” We don’t really have any venomous animals, there’s no large predators, there’s, don’t have grizzly bears, wolves, mountain lions, any of that, to go after and try to see in the wild. So really, it became all about snapping turtles for me.

I would say that snapping turtles are probably the most dangerous, what could be a hands-on predator, that you’ll experience in Ohio. And I guess there was a lack of options that pushed me to being fascinated by these prehistoric-looking reptiles. I just sort of honed my ability to interact with animals based of that species.

They’re so fast, they can be so aggressive when interacting. And when interacting with that, I guess it just really honed my ability to then work with any animal, because I was always on my toes because if these turtles.

M&C:  The waters that you were exploring in Texas were absolutely loaded with alligators. You were afraid that an alligator was going to come up behind you while you were wrestling with Raphael the giant snapping turtle because you were making so much commotion in the water. Talk about that moment in the premiere…

Coyote Peterson: Right. Yes, I mean that was one of the main dangers. It’s certainly alligators that had been habituated to humans. And that’s the most dangerous alligator you can encounter, an alligator that is used to seeing humans, used to being fed by humans, which of course was the case of the alligators in this location.

So once they recognize the commotion in the water, their first thoughts probably, oh, it’s something struggling, I can move in and get a free meal. So that’s why it was so important for us to be able to get the turtle up and out of the water as quickly as possible because last thing you want to happen is to be holding onto a 125-pound alligator snapping turtle and then have an American alligator come up and latch onto your leg.

I probably would’ve lost the turtle at that point, we wouldn’t have gotten the episode and it would have been a complete catastrophe. But fortunately, we reacted quickly, got the turtle safely on the land and the episode was in the can.

M&C: Is there a large reptile, or a reptile that you absolutely don’t get jazzed about going after… or you proceed with the utmost caution, like a crocodile or something aggressive?

Coyote Peterson: Yes, I would think, honestly the big non-venomous creatures, like alligators and crocodiles. I’m not afraid of it in any way whatsoever. I would say the most dangerous scenarios are often when you’re interacting with a venomous species.

If you’re to be bitten by a rattlesnake or a puff adder or a black mamba or a number of the different venom species around the world, that’s a far more dangerous situation than accidentally getting bitten by an alligator or crocodile.

Now I’ve not had the chance yet to work with something like a Nile crocodile, but we did some saltwater crocodiles within the first season of Brave the Wild. I’m telling you, you don’t get into the wild with that species. If you’re in the water with the saltwater crocodile, it will get you and it will eat you if it has the chance.

But when it comes to a reptile, top predatory reptile that I am very excited to work with, we’re aiming to film on Komodo Island for season two of Brave the Wild. I’ve always dreamed of being able to see and interact with Komodo dragons in the wild. So that’s kind of a lifelong childhood dream that I’m hoping to realize in 2020.

M&C: When you created the show and the premise and your approach, how is it different from the greats? Like Steve Irwin, or Jeff Corwin, or even Dusty Crum for Discovery, Guardians of the Glades. What are the differences in your particular show?

Coyote Peterson: Well, I certainly gathered an incredible amount of influence from people like Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin. I mean, I grew up watching these guys and obviously technology has changed since they were making their content.

The camera technology, in the way it exists today, allows us to get these cameras in different places, more unique places, getting closer to the animal, higher quality cinematography. But from the storytelling standpoint, I’m not so sure that Jeff and Steve ever did any of their own writing for their voice or scripts and really composing these narratives.

And that’s the real big thing about me is, I’m so involved behind the camera. A lot of people don’t realize that, or may not realize that upon just watching the show, but every single one of the stories is conceptualized by me.

The network gives me free rein to go out and have that creative control to tell the story about this animal that we want to get across to our audience. We’re not trying to evoke any sort of fear or misunderstanding with these animals. We’re actually trying to do exactly the opposite.

The Guardians of the Glades show, that you just mentioned, a lot of that show is probably creating false drama and false hype about what it is that they’re doing. And that’s not to say that it’s not a good show, but we’re trying to be as truthful and honest an animal series as you possibly can be.

There’s no scripts, there’s no staging, everything happens as you see it. And where there’s proof to that, you can see in the style of cinematography, where there’s not a lot of crazy cutting. We try to play out the scenes to show you exactly how this is going down.

So when you see me dive into the water over my head and come up with that snapping turtle, there’s no editing magic there or special effects or stage turtles tied to a rope. That is 100% what you get, the genuine thing every single time we film an episode.

M&C: And to your point, that scene I felt your fear.

Coyote Peterson: Yes! I mean look, for 125-pound turtle, the size of its head, if you make one wrong move if my arm ends up in its mouth if my head ends up in its mouth. If it gets your face, you’re dead, that turtle is going to pop your skull like you would pop a grape.

Meet Raphael, this "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle" can pop your skull with the right chomp. Pic credit: Animal Planet.
Meet Raphael, this “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” can pop your skull with the right chomp. Pic credit: Animal Planet.

But if it grabs onto an arm or a leg and it decides to sink, the human body goes under with about 25 pounds of weight. So that turtle be dragging me down to the bottom. That’s why we had a rope tied to me so that my wildlife biologist, Mario, could pull me up to the surface if he needed to, or at least there would be some sort of tether for me to be possibly rescued.

Fortunately, I’m pretty experienced in working with snapping turtles and I knew what would happen the second I went underwater, my body creates an air pocket and that bubble actually helps me bring that turtle to the surface.

Once it’s to the surface and it’s discombobulated and it doesn’t quite realize what’s happening, that gives me just that split second to be able to thrust myself forward and get that turtle to a depth of water where I can least plant my feet.

Once my feet are in the mud and my head’s above water, all it takes is basically holding on and then hopefully you can get up on the shore, which we managed to do.

M&C: You also go to Australia, you go to Brazil in one of your season of Brave the Wild. Is there a particular place that is absolutely in the USA, and I think worldwide, that you would say is just full of all kinds of interesting apex predators, dangerous reptiles, a really rich and a panoply of wildlife that just blows you away. What are your favorite “hunting grounds” to investigate?

Coyote Peterson: Yes, yes. Well certainly, Australia is always one of my favorite places to visit. And obviously we’re all aware of the catastrophic wildfires that are happening and wiping out quite a bit of environment. But when Australia is not during a run of drought or a run of wild fires, the biodiversity there, specifically for the reptiles and the creepy-crawly type creatures, is more diverse than most places I’ve ever been.

But actually visiting South America this year for the first time, I was blown away at the biodiversity in Brazil. Specifically in an area that we were filming called the Pantanal.

I mean you’re talking anacondas, caiman, jaguars, more bird species than I even realized existed in this area. Even the water is full of fish, I mean it’s just an incredibly diverse amount of life. Really, I find that in a lot of foreign countries, you have an incredible biodiversity.

In Texas, the bullfrogs are bigger too! Coyote finds a bullfrog at night. Pic credit: Animal Planet.
In Texas, the bullfrogs are bigger too! Coyote finds a bullfrog at night. Pic credit: Animal Planet.

The United States is not anything to shake a stick at. I guess it depends exactly what you are and what species it is that you’re after. But even filming in Texas, there are so many animals, you saw in that first episode, just going out to explore at night, the size of the bullfrogs that exist out there.

We showed you guys that amphiuma, which is a really bizarre, really rare salamander. But some of the stuff that didn’t make the cut of the episode, we caught six different species of animals throughout the course of that night searching for things.

So anytime you can find an area that is protected from human encroachment, you will find an incredible number of species moving about. It’s just a matter of being there the right time of the year, the right time of day, and sort of knowing the routines that these animals go through, to have yourself a unique experience.

M&C: Your work, has it informed how you live your life? Have you changed your outlook on life? Are you a carnivore? An omnivore? A vegan? Has your work shaped how you live your life?

Coyote Peterson: Yes, I would say it has. I travel so much now. I get to have that magical life experience of meeting new people all the time, trying new foods in different locations. I love traveling to foreign countries and trying their cuisine, versus the stuff that we’re eating here in the United States that’s chocked full of all sorts of chemicals and preservatives and stuff like that. I actually feel quite a bit healthier when I’m traveling internationally.

It shaped my life, in that I’ve learned how to live the traveling man’s lifestyle. I’m on the road a lot, but I try to just absorb on a day-to-day basis. Being thankful for my experience, I get to travel with all of my friends. I’ve got an incredibly supportive team behind me. My family’s fully supportive of what I do. And I’m just trying to go out there every single day and do my best to bring people animals and adventure.

Whenever we can promote conservation and educate people about something that they didn’t know much about before, it means we’re doing our job the right way. And I’m just trying to mold my life moving forward to be as much of a microphone for the voice of animals as I possibly can be.

You have to realize, each and every one of these creatures, every time we get one of them in a camera, for that animal specifically, there might be this moment of being afraid or moment of stress.

We try to quickly alleviate that as fast as possible. And then what that animal doesn’t realize is that they’re going to be seen by millions of people. And that may spark the next great conservation effort, or some kid to become a biologist who’s going to then study that rare species of lizard or insect or arachnid.

That I constantly try to remind myself, that all of this work is going towards influencing the future of the people that will be the stewards of our planet and all these amazing species.

Coyote Peterson: Brave The Wild airs Sundays beginning February 9 at p PM ET/PT on Animal Planet.

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