Jeremy Wade strides into a New York City restaurant, murmurs a hello, and extends his right hand. We're not convinced we want to shake it. After all, the host of Animal Planet's popular adventure show 'River Monsters' has, with this very appendage, grasped all sorts of unpleasant aquatic creatures, from the mildly icky to the downright terrifying. Then there's the radiation. During the show's current season, Wade devotes an episode to hunting down a mysterious mutated fish that's supposedly living in an old cooling pool next to Chernobyl's notorious reactor 4. Who knows what sort of nuclear residue clings to this proffered palm?
We force ourselves to accept his hand (without any apparent adverse consequences). With that bit of unpleasantness behind us, we sit down to discuss 'River Monsters'' fifth season, which finds Wade traveling even further afield in search of man-eating fish. "Our subject matter is finite," Wade explains. "We're talking about apex predators, and we're getting close to the end of the list. Being in that situation forces you to dig a bit deeper, think a bit laterally. That has led to some quite interesting stories."
Season 5's gory first episode finds Wade on the trail of a horror-movie-style underwater menace that tore a man's face off in a remote part of Bolivia. The two-hour season finale, meanwhile, is an in-depth look at that greatest of all marine-life mysteries: the Loch Ness monster. Did he finally find Nessie? "Um...we found something," says Wade, a biologist and skilled angler. "Without giving too much away, we have a very dramatic revelation at the end of the program. It was quite an intense experience."
Then there's the Chernobyl episode, during which Wade carries a monitor to make sure he doesn't take in too much radiation. "It was a very interesting place to go," he says. "As well as the [cooling pool] and the reactor, there's Pripyat, which is this abandoned modern city. The feeling you get wandering around there in total silence is unlike anything I've experienced. It's a very short step to imagining yourself as the lone survivor in some post-apocalyptic world."
Few people know as much about nasty fresh-water predators as Wade, and because you never know when you'll find yourself splashing around some carnivore-infested tropical waterway, it seemed wise to ask him not only for a list of the most terrifying creatures he's encountered, but also for his advice on how to avoid becoming lunch.
Why they're dangerous: These huge South American snakes aren't venomous, but don't let that fool you. If a hungry anaconda takes an interest in you, you're probably not making it home for dinner. "They're ambush predators," says Wade. "You can't see them. They can strike very quickly. They've got a mouth full of backward-slanting teeth, and they'll throw coils around you and basically suffocate you. As you exhale, they'll just tighten, like a ratchet."
Credit: Gary Braasch / Getty Images
How to stay safe: If an anaconda gets its teeth into your arm, you'll have to push it into its mouth to free it from the backward teeth, then pull it out. "If you just pull," says Wade, "the teeth will go in deeper." And whatever you do, always carry a knife. "I talked to a fisherman who was attacked by one. He was grabbed on the upper arm, and the anaconda then climbed on the boat and started winding around him." The man managed to loosen the snake by sticking a knife between his body and the snake. "As it was tightening, it tightened itself onto the point of the knife, and that made it let go. Then he grabbed his machete and started hacking at it."