Snakes do eat people. At least, that’s what Amazon expert Paul Rosolie tells me. “The last thing I saw was the snake with its mouth opening hitting me right on the forehead. Then she wrapped me up. The power is just incredible.”
“I tried to break free of the crush, but there was nothing I could do because the snake had my arms. Your legs can peddle as much as they want, you won’t be able to get up.”
It’s not every day you get to discuss with a person what it feels like to be eaten by a giant anaconda.
“i tried to break free of the crush, but there was nothing i could do. the snake had my arms…”
The 28 year old has spent the last decade studying the western Amazon and has just released a book about his experiences with different rainforest species called Mother of God.
Now he’s teamed up with the Discovery Channel to broadcast Eaten Alive, the first ever televised attempt by a human being to feed oneself to a giant 20ft anaconda.
“Some people will tell you that snakes only eat after the prey is dead. That’s not true, it’s a myth,” Rosolie tells me on the phone. He has already performed the experiment which is due to go live on Discovery Channel on Sunday 7 December.
While being eaten by an anaconda is incredibly rare – “you’re more likely to get struck by lightning” – it has happened.
“When you work in the Amazon backwoods, you hear stories. My cook’s father was eaten by an anaconda,” says Rosolie. “They say the shoulders are difficult for the snake to get around, but once it crushes your collarbone and mashes up your bones, it’s really not that difficult.”
The trailer for the programme shows Rosolie and a team of experts hauling a 25ft, 400 pound anaconda out of the floating forest, before Rosolie dons a “snake proof suit” and tempts the snake to eat him whole. But the big question on everyone’s lips is why would anyone do this?
“I wanted to do something that would really shock people and get a lot of attention,” says Rosolie. He explains that the western Amazon – home to the giant anaconda featured in Eaten Alive – is one of the most important eco systems in the world. It produce a fifth of our planet’s oxygen and is home to millions of living creatures.
Rosolie put together the TV show not only to grab people’s attention, but to raise awareness of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
“It’s incredible how much life is there. When you work in the Amazon and you watch it burn to the ground again and again, it starts spooking you. We’re watching [the rainforest] disappear every day and I just don’t see enough response to the scientists and activists who spend their whole lives fighting to protect it.”
In order to gain a wider audience to the plight of the Amazon rainforest, Rosolie decided to embark on this fascinating project. The trailer for Eaten Alive now has over 17 million views on YouTube.
So how does it actually work? We know that Rosolie wears a ‘snake proof suit’, but what does this entail? “We brought in a team of experts to make a carbon fibre suit that could withstand the crush force of an anaconda,” says Rosolie. “It was light but incredibly strong.”
“We actually tested it with trucks and winches to 90 PSI (pounds per square inch) because that was the highest measured crush force for an anaconda previously. They say that’s like having a school bus on your chest,” he says.
“After we knew the suit could withstand that, we tried to bring it to failure. The trucks just couldn’t break it. So we were very confident that the snake wasn’t going to be able to crush the suit”
Inside, it includes a breathing and communication system. “I even swallowed a transmitter that was passing my vital signs – temperature, how rapidly I was breathing – to a command centre.”
“The crush force of an anaconda feels like having a school bus on your chest”
Once kitted up, Paul presented himself to the snake. “We did everything we could to make me as appealing to a snake as possible. This included actually putting pig’s blood on the suit to make it smell as much like an animal as possible.”
At first, the snake didn’t want to do anything. “It was actually being very peaceful, they’re not aggressive animals. Once I started touching the snake and acting threatening, the snake gave a defensive response.”
Just hours after the trailer for Eaten Alive was uploaded to YouTube, a petition was put together by animal activists asking Discovery Channel stop the airing of the TV show because it displayed signs of animal cruelty. Over 37,000 people have now signed it. Rosolie, however, insists that the snake wasn’t harmed in the process. What was his reaction to this outcry?
“I was actually really happy to see that,” he says. “These people don’t know who I am. They don’t know anything about the show. What they do know is an animal might have been harmed and they were upset about it.
“Seeing 37,000 people come out to defend a snake was actually really cool…”
I’ve worked with snakes my whole life. I’ve defended snakes and tried to protect them. But people are terrified of snakes. People kill snakes. Seeing 37,000 people come out to defend a snake was actually really cool.”
While Rosolie has never done an experiment like this before, it has ignited an interest in a wider audience beyond nature enthusiasts.
“Now you know the snake wasn’t harmed, let’s talk about the fact that every single day the habitats that these animals – and millions of other species – live in is being destroyed. Every minute. That’s the conversation I want to start,” says Rosolie.
“If you even educate one per cent of the people watching the show to what’s going on, then I think it’s worth it.”
Win a copy of Paul Rosolie’s new book, Mother of God, below. Don’t forget to catch Eaten Alive on the Discovery Channel this Sunday 7 December at 9/8c in USA.