Tuesday, August 22, 2017

An Interview With An Animal Television Pioneer

Peter Gros, for over four decades, has entertained, educated, and enlightened millions of people with his major contributions to promoting wildlife conservation and fostering a greater appreciation for animals, though his work in television, park management, and now as a global ambassador.

One of the last pioneers of television wildlife programs, Gros, who first starred on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom in 1986, has been charged, clawed, kicked, bitten, gnawed, and knocked senseless by the wild animals he has dedicated his life to protecting. His work helped bring a part of the unknown, natural world – the “wild kingdom” – into the living rooms of others, shedding misconceptions about that world while inspiring one’s love for all animals and the precious planet.

Gros, who has appeared with legendary TV personalities that include Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Marv Griffin, and Larry King, has been on hundreds of local, national, and international television shows. The wildlife expert often shares fascinating stories while offering useful tips on how one can embrace nature and the wildlife in their own backyard. He supplies positive insights into successful conservation projects and enjoys highlighting which species have been removed from the endangered list.

Gros, a legend in his field, engages audiences with amazing stories about close-up encounters with danger. He also dazzles people with the presentation of in-studio/on-stage wildlife, showing the spectacular power of these beautiful creatures while providing interesting and useful facts.

His unexpected adventures have taken him to nearly 50 countries, where he experienced some wild times, including:

        Chasing a 12-foot python through the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan
        Liberating a fist-sized tarantula from inside Jay Leno’s shirt
        Rafting Class 6 rapids on Africa’s Zambezi River
        Leaving part of his nose in an Alaskan spruce tree after an ill-fated jump from a helicopter
        Bottle-feeding a 500-pound Bengal Tiger named Nadji that spent time in his house for 21 years
        Being thrown 4 feet by a camel – and 11 feet by a giraffe
        Suffering a painful bite by an Andean Condor while filming on TV
        Dodging rocks thrown by African elephants in Zambia
        Coming face-to-face with a cattle-eating 15-foot crocodile in Costa Rica’s Tarcoles River
        Getting chased through a field of stinging nettles  by a grizzly bear in an Alaskan spruce forest

Gros continues his life dedicated to working with exotic, often dangerous wild animals by
touring the nation with both enlivening and educational presentations. Today, he is Mutual of Omaha’s wildlife ambassador.

Gros, who is represented by the public relations firm that I work for, sat down for an interview with us: For more information, please see:  http://petergros.com.

  1. What was it like to work on television for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, which now celebrates its 50th anniversary? It was a thrill to be asked to join a legendary show that I grew up watching with Marlen Perkins and Jim Fowler. I had spent many years creating endangered species breeding programs in the USA but never in the wild, needless to say I jumped at the opportunity. The beginning of my filming career started at locations in Africa, tracking elephants at night to Australia, swimming with sea snakes and white sharks, to Costa Rica, catching crocodiles. My life in the exotic animal observation and research field changed in every way.

  1. How many times did you escape danger during the filming of the show? There was always a tremendous amount of research prior to filming on location. So, the risks we took were well calculated. However, filming wild animals in the wild comes with many x-factors. During one of my very first shows, I reached into the water to grab what I thought was a 4-foot alligator during a night gator relocation show. I felt a large hand on my shoulder as Jim Fowler whispered into my ear on camera, “don’t grab that one his eyes are too far apart.” I was unaware that for every inch an alligator’s eyes are apart, he is one foot long. I was reaching for a 13 foot alligator. Thank you Jim! If it weren’t for that bit of advice, today my nickname would be lefty. 

  1. Sometimes you weren’t so lucky. What happened to you that would make the average person wince? I was part of an education program where we took thirty-nine 7th graders deep into the amazon basin in Peru to do a cross cultural exchange with the Yauga and Rivienos people who live along the Amazon River. We explored the rain forest for 10 days learning about the inhabitants of the rain forest and how comfortably tribal people lived in this extremely humid and bug infested climate. I woke up one morning with a yell, to discover a large spider had built its web over my mouth as it would over a hole in the wild to catch mice. Needless to say, the next two nights I slept on my stomach and closed my mosquito netting very carefully.

  1. Peter, you used to have an interesting guest at your house. For 21 years, you lived with a 511-pound Bengal Tiger. Are you nuts? Many of the animals that I had to bottle raise became very attached to me. If the parents won’t take care of them, you start with bottles of milk immediately, and the first thing a wild animal sees becomes their parent. In my case, one of those was a Bengal tiger, Nadji. Nadji bonded to me like a loyal dog. He would roll on his back and let me scratch his stomach, swim with me, and take long walks in the fields. I had a special room added to our house with what I think was the world’s largest litter box. Nadji became so bonded and trusting of me that he would accompany me to schools, nature and science centers, hospitals, universities, and television programs to talk about conservation and saving tigers in the wild. What better ambassador for his species? The first time you look a tiger in the eyes, up close and personally, you think what can I do to preserve these magnificent animals?

  1. What do you especially encourage young families to do to appreciate wildlife and to value time in the great outdoors? In the time in which we live, young people seem to be spending so much of their lives staring at screens or other technological devices. This is the 21st century, and technology is a valuable part of our lives; however, we need to spend more family time in the great outdoors. I think we should at a very young age introduce our children to hiking, backpacking, bird watching, camping, orienting, kayaking, and any of the outdoor activities that give us a balanced life. It is time that we push back from our screens and shopping malls and enjoy our local, state, and national parks. Nature is the best teacher. The combination of exercise, enjoying nature, and family time is the balance I think we all need.

  1. Peter, you’ve traveled to over four dozen countries to share your insights into the animal world, and have singularly encouraged millions of people to embrace nature. What lessons have you learned about co-existing with the natural environment? As I have traveled around the world, I have seen the result of many of our natural environments destruction. What I have also observed is that we are learning from our past mistakes. Many countries used to use DDT, almost wiping out their birds of prey populations. Many have stopped and there is a healthy resurgence of our beautiful birds of prey. I’ve seen sections of rain forests that were slashed and burned that were supposed to never come back. With current controls, I’ve noticed small pockets of success where new forests are over 15 feet tall. Reforestation is going on in some of the poorest countries in the world and being harvested sustainably. Fish farming in the tropics is feeding hundreds of thousands of people, reducing the pressure on our wild streams and rivers. Water conservation, the use of solar energy, and general conservative use of our resources is becoming popular. We have a long way to go, but what better example to show the next generation than our recent so called “unsolvable problems”?

  1. What can people do in their own neighborhood to experience the amazing world of animals and nature? Zoos are evolving nicely into education centers and cages are disappearing for moats and free roaming displays. Science centers, estuaries, and botanical gardens, even a visit by a local stream in a county park, observing frogs, fish, and the many other living things that you find at a close look along a babbling stream can be rewarding for a young family. Volunteer programs replanting indigenous saplings and flowers to attract wildlife are a fantastic way to connect young people with philanthropy and nature.

  1. As an active conservationist, you’ve made presentations at the White House, and currently lead a nationwide conservation education program. What tips do you have that we, as a society, should adopt to help conserve nature? We are rapidly learning to be conservative with our natural resources. I like the fact that this generation thinks its very “in” to be green. Research what you can do locally to help. There is a misconception that it takes a lot of money or resources to make a difference. Each person can make a difference at their household. Small things like recycling, not being wasteful, leaving a small footprint, sharing rides. Contact one of your local conservation groups and ask what you can do to help. You will feel great when you participate in a local project.  

  1. How are zoos and circuses evolving? Should either be banned? Circuses are a part of Americana as far back as I can remember. They have evolved from displays of menagerie of touring animals to Cirque de Solei and other forms of entertainment. I do think that seeing animals up close is an important way for people to meet and learn to appreciate wildlife. Not everyone can hop on a plane and go to Africa to see wildlife in their natural habitat. Zoos used to be like a stamp collection of as many distinct species that you could fit in a suburban display, and are evolving quite nicely. Now, and I have been proud to be a part of this evolution personally, we are eliminating cages and turning the animals loose in fields or veldts or wide open spaces and caging the people in trams, rafts, and safari vehicles. I have often wondered what the animals are thinking when they see those large groups of homo sapiens, passing by in their metal cages. “What a strange species?”

  1. How do TV shows of today’s era, such as Shark Week or Untamed and Uncut, compare to the work you did? Sadly, some of the shows have succumb to selling fear, teeth, claws, and blood thirsty animals looking for people to consume to boost ratings. Believe me I know ratings are important, but when we talk about a shark being at the top of the food chain let’s also discuss its role in nature. They aren’t giant carnivorous marauders patrolling the ocean looking for people to consume. So I do think we should keep shows exciting and interesting, but let’s do our best to keep it accurate. Let’s teach people to understand, respect, and appreciate wildlife in addition to being fearful. They are wild animals, but let’s keep the danger aspect in perspective.

  1. What was it like working with TV’s Jim Fowler? My first introduction to Jim was watching him Sunday afternoons bring wildlife into our living room with Marlen Perkins. He was the big guy that Marlen Perkins would send downstream to catch the two horned rhino in heat while he went to get a martini, as Johnny Carson used to quip. Jim was unflappable, regardless of what type of venomous snake he was holding or elephant he was out running, he would always keep his cool and turn to camera and deliver his lines. He could not have been more patient as I learned the ins and outs of on location filming and presenting in extreme conditions. To this day Jim is still an active spokesman for nature. Although I still like to kid him about his famous one liners and segways, “like the little squirrel storing his nuts for the winter, you too should plan ahead and buy Mutual of Omaha Insurance.” There are many Jim and Peter stories to follow.

  1. Were you nervous bringing a world-record litter of eight tiger cubs onto The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson? No, I was quite comfortable bringing the tiger cubs to bring Johnny Carson, since he had such a wonderful reputation for being respectful of his wildlife guests. The tigers were strong and healthy at 8 weeks old and were thinking only about the bottles of milk that I had with me. I also had the father, my old friend Nadji, at 500 pounds and very careful and patient around the cubs.

  1. The world hears about climate change, deforestation, and other calamities. Can you tell us some good news, such as the number of species coming off the endangered list? I grew up in a time when there was little discussion about climate change, deforestation, and endangered species. The general thinking was there is plenty more where that came from. How lucky we are to live in a time where people are conserving water, getting their power from the sun, driving electric cars, eating sustainable foods, and becoming good stewards of our planet for future generations. Just to point out a few, I have seen sections of the forest in the northwest that have been replanted and thriving as well as sections of rainforest in South America, rivers that were so polluted they used to catch fire. Our national bird the bald Eagle, the paraben Falcon, the black footed ferret, the grizzly bear, wolves, just to name a few, are no longer on the endangered list. As I speak around the country I notice excitement and energy and the accompanying questions of “what I can do to help to preserve nature?” The ball is in our court, this next generation is poised and active and wants to make a difference. They are aware we need to use our resources, but in a much more frugal manner. Let’s be sure to give them the hope and education so that they can actively participate in preservation.

  1. How can one live his life adventurously – without necessarily being face to face with a 3-ton elephant or a killer snake? Get up and get out! Be at Central Park, a short train ride to a county or state park, or your closest sea shore or river, or nearby hiking trails. It is important that we are physically active and mentally immersed in nature to stay healthy mentally and physically. Make wildlife, open space, and wilderness an important part of your life.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs 

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