Meet the real Indiana Jones: This one loves snakes

He’s dived with sharks, climbed one of the world’s highest mountains and discovered a giant rat.
Steve Backshall dives alongside a shark
Fewer people are killed by sharks than lightning © Mark Rackley
By Tarquin Cooper

Swimming with great white sharks without a cage? Going face-to-face with crocs? Being hunted by a polar bear? It's all in day's work for adventurer, naturalist and BBC wildlife presenter Steve Backshall, who by the way, relaxes by climbing mountains. For his latest series, he's just journeyed from the Arctic to Antarctica via Alaska and the Americas in search of some of the world's most feared animals.

He's behind you! Steve gets up close with a cobra. © Giles Badger

We're guessing this was quite a trip?
The sum of the experiences was mindblowing: being hunted by a polar bear amongst the ice floes of the Arctic; going nose-to-nose with crocodiles at the bottom of swamps; diving outside the cage with great white sharks; rappelling the insides of moulins in Alaskan glaciers; diving through cave systems in Mexico and finishing by diving with leopard seals and whales. It's been a grand adventure!

Fewer than 10 people are killed by sharks a year. That's nothing. You're more likely to be struck by lightning.

Steve Backshall climbs the Dent du Geant
Steve climbs the final pitch of the Dent du Geant © Tarquin Cooper

Sounds a miracle you survived!
If you believe some TV networks everywhere you go there's a snake, spider, shark or croc waiting to nail you. But it's absolute rubbish and it drives me nuts. I've been doing this a long time and you have to work really hard just to find these animals! Fewer than 10 people are killed by sharks a year. That's nothing. You're more likely to be struck by lightning or killed by a falling coconut.

A leopard seal is a solitary animal that stalks the ice floes. They are brutal animals.

But you had some scary encounters?
Diving with a leopard seal alongside an iceberg in Antarctica - that was the spiciest experience. People think, seals - you see them at the circus, they're happy and fun. But a leopard seal is a solitary animal that stalks the ice floes hunting penguins. They are brutal animals and have killed humans before. And the big difference with sharks or crocodiles is that they're very intelligent. You can tell they're sussing you out, trying to find a weakness in you.

Adventurer and Wildlife TV presenter Steve Backshall diving with a great white shark
No cage diving © Mark Rackley

We were in sub zero waters for 35-40 minutes with this animal. It started off giving us territorial flashes of its teeth but over the course of the dive it worked itself up into a frenzy. It was really frightening, it was grabbing at our fins and then it bit our support boat. We called it at that point. Our safety diver, who does close protection, said after that he'd go back to fighting Somali pirates any day rather than get back in the water.

Steve Backshall posing for a portrait during the climb.
Steve still loves to climb, despite a major fall © Tarquin Cooper

Closest call ever?
My worst experience was rock climbing in Wales. It was the closest I've come to biting the big one and that was totally down to my own fault. [Steve hit the deck after a lead fall, smashing his ankle and breaking his back. The back healed, the ankle didn't.] I've had 12 operations since then. I've had my ankle fused. I don't run anymore. I will be battling that for the rest of my life.

You've climbed Cho Oyu, the world's 6th highest mountain. Everest next?
I have no desire to climb it at all. I found climbing Cho Oyu quite a disappointing experience. It was long, slow and boring. And there were so many people on it. The mountains are about being somewhere that feels wild. I'd rather do an obscure peak in the Alps. It's about being away from it all, about exploring, not following other people.

Steve Backshall posing with an gyrfalcon for a portrait.
Steve Backshall and Gyrfalcon © Steve Backshall

You've been to over 100 countries. Any favourite?
The more I travel the more I love home, the UK. The wildlife may not be as spectcacular as Africa but they're ours and it's where my heart is.

Steve's latest book, Wilds of the Wolf, is out this summer.

Someone else who's been hunted by polar bears is Mike Horn. Find out how he survived here:


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