The Amazon boasts the world’s greatest variety of wildlife, but no one had ever seen anything quite like this.
Gliding through the dense, waterlogged vegetation was a 20ft long, 18 ½ st green anaconda — one of the world’s most terrifying creatures.
Moving tentatively towards it was a man on his hands and knees pretending to be a wild boar — clad head to toe in a black armoured suit slathered in pig’s blood.
Paul Rosolie was on a terrifying mission: to be eaten alive by the biggest and mightiest snake on Earth.
The 27-year-old wildlife presenter and his ten-strong team had spent 60 days struggling up to the headwaters of the world’s largest river, battling electric eels, floods and poachers.
Finally, they’d found a snake that might be big enough to swallow Rosolie whole as the cameras rolled.
Tomorrow night in America, the Discovery Channel will broadcast the result of his experiment in its show Eaten Alive, despite protests from conservationists on both sides of the Atlantic. The documentary — to be aired in the UK on Friday — will follow his stomach-churning quest into the very belly of the beast.
The channel has refused to say exactly what ensued after the snake wrapped Rosolie in its coils. But he has explained what drove him to such extremes of apparent lunacy — and told of his fear as he realised the snake had accepted his invitation to subject him to one of the natural world’s most lingering deaths.
‘I wanted to do something to grab people’s attention to the plight of the disappearing rainforests, something completely crazy,’ he told me this week. ‘Everything else has been tried.’ Whether his idea will ignite a debate about saving the forests or just terrify people even more about snakes remains to be seen.
Rosolie, who has written the well-received book Mother of God about exploring the region, says anacondas are misunderstood. He describes the species as a predator at the top of the food chain, with no natural foes except human beings — who wrongly see the snakes as a threat.
They are in fact shy creatures, but they can be deadly when roused. Reaching up to 30ft in length and 39 st, they live in or around water and are far thicker than the pythons of Africa and Asia.
They are not venomous but boast powerful jaws attached by elastic ligaments. Rosolie had already been bitten by one anaconda and seized by another — it took five people to pry it off him, by which time it had broken one of his ribs.
His bid to be eaten and, of course, rescued before perishing, was filmed last spring but the documentary took two years to prepare. Its makers’ main task was to ensure Rosolie didn’t end up like the snake’s usual meals: crushed until he was asphyxiated.
Anacondas will bite their prey, such as wild pigs, with teeth that curve backwards — preventing the animal from breaking away. Then they’ll pull it into water if they can, wrapping it in coils that crush its bones to make swallowing it easier.
The power of a giant anaconda (they are always female, the males are much smaller) is awe-inspiring. The force of constriction is equal to having a nine-ton bus on your chest, according to Rosolie. Happily, they rarely encounter people. But they will go after any prey that they can subdue and swallow.
‘An anaconda can stretch to three times its own girth, so a 20ft snake would easily encompass my shoulders,’ says Rosolie.
For his experiment, he needed a lightweight but super-strong carbon-fibre suit to protect him from being crushed. One was created by a team of engineers, who used a 3D scan of his body to make sure it fit his 5ft 9in frame closely.
It was also streamlined so he’d be less likely to damage the snake’s insides, and — crucially for Rosolie — its material would resist the anaconda’s digestive fluids.
The sealed suit was finished with built-in cameras and a radio mic so he could communicate with his watching team. Doctors also made him swallow a capsule that would transmit his vital signs in case he was unable — or unwilling — to signal he was in trouble.
‘They knew I’m the type who’ll say “I’m fine, I’m fine…” until I’m dead,’ says Rosolie. ‘We had to make sure I didn’t get crushed, but the suit took care of that. But if I was eaten, we were worried what would happen to my breathing system because I could have suffocated very quickly.’
His face mask was connected to a crush-proof hose that trailed behind him, leading to an three-hour oxygen supply. Another hose removed the air he exhaled so it wouldn’t leak into the snake’s stomach and kill it. Next, the team had to find a suitable snake. They eventually encountered a vast beast in the dense foliage of the Peruvian Amazon. Then they had to ensure that it ate him.
Pig blood was slathered on the suit to make it smell more like prey. But Rosolie says: ‘I had to provoke a defence response from the snake and turn it into a predator. I got down on all fours to make contact with it and simply let it bite me.’
Snakes almost always eat their prey headfirst so it goes down more smoothly. Rosolie was no exception.
‘She nailed me right in the face, and the last thing I remember was her mouth open wide, straight in my face, and everything went black,’ he tells me. ‘I went limp and let it constrict. All the while I was just thinking: “Eat, eat, eat!” ’
He describes the crushing feeling of the constriction as like being caught under a powerful wave. Incredibly, it lasted for more than an hour.
‘She wrapped around me and I felt my suit cracking and my arms ripping out of their sockets,’ he says. ‘It was absolutely terrifying.’
Enveloped in the snake’s coils, he couldn’t see anything but he was able to radio back to his team to say he was alive. They had agreed that once he was in past his waist, they would pull him out before it became too difficult to extract him without damaging either him or the snake.
There were doctors and vets on hand, he says, and his wife Gowri, who’s also a naturalist, was watching too. ‘She was keeping everybody else relaxed, saying: “Paul will be fine.” ’
She wasn’t entirely correct, though. Rosolie will not reveal until the programme airs how much of him was actually swallowed — but he says the snake ‘beat the s***’ out of him and came off a lot better from the encounter than he did. Months later, he is still not entirely recovered.
He has no problems about people calling his escapade a stunt, saying: ‘The whole idea is to shock people.’ But he hadn’t expected the volume of hate mail and even death threats he’s attracted from animal-rights campaigners around the world.
The campaign group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) judged from early reports of the experiment that the snake was ‘tormented and suffered for the sake of ratings’. The anaconda would have expended valuable energy in swallowing Rosolie and then regurgitating him, it argued.
And Dr Ian Stephen of the British Herpetological Society, which covers the study of reptiles and amphibians, was ‘horrified’ by the project. ‘It demonstrates a complete disregard for animal welfare of the highest degree,’ he said. ‘It would have been stressed beyond belief.’
If it’s any comfort to his critics, so, surely, was Rosolie.
Culled from Dailymail