Jeff Corwin proclaimed himself a “reptilologist” until he was around 11. After realizing there was no such thing, he has spent the rest of his life a biologist and conservationist.
The Emmy-award winning Corwin, who hosts two TV shows on Animal Planet, visited the USF campus Tuesday night to speak as part of the University Lecture Series. With a full house of students and the public, he shared a number of experiences never seen on his shows.
According to Corwin, “his first wild encounter” was at age 6 with a garter snake on his grandparent’s property in rural Massachusetts. After retrieving the snake from a wood pile, it bit him. He promptly took it in to show his family who, “weren’t crazy about snakes.”
“That was my first moment with an animal and I was hard-wired immediately,” Corwin said. “Maybe if I’d turned over that log and saw a golf club I would have become a Tiger Woods, but it was a snake and I just fell in love with it.”
His second encounter was a few weeks later in the same location. He said he was not frightened at all because he approached the animal in a slower and more cautious manner. Shortly after releasing the snake, Corwin said he saw his neighbor killed it with a spade.
“I was livid,” Corwin said. “And that was the day that I decided to do what I do. I think that was the fuel that pushed me to focus in to become a naturalist.”
That fuel burned inside Corwin the entire way through his graduate work at University of Massachusetts.
“I focused in on conservation biology and wildlife management because of my own interests and because I cared about them (wildlife),” he said. “I see lots of positive things, but yet there are so many unknowns when it comes to conservation, and ultimately, that’s why I do these shows.”
According to Corwin, he’s not scared of any one species of animal in particular, some just make his job a little harder.
“The animals that tend to give me the most trouble for some reason are primates and elephants,” Corwin said.
Corwin gave an account of one of the most terrifying encounters he’s had: While filming in the African Savannah, a large bull elephant charged him.
“The one thing you don’t do is run, and that sounds not very logical, but it’s true,” he said. “If you run from practically any animal pursuing you, it gives them a stronger sense of ego and they try to finish the job.”
According to Corwin, when the elephant began to charge, he turned around to see his crew running towards their vehicles. They drove off, leaving him behind.
“It was then I realized, ‘I’m alone in the Savannah and I’m terrified,'” Corwin said.
Corwin said he hid out in a nearby patch of forest until his crew returned and found him.
Unfortunately, they brought the elephant back with them, and after a dicey situation he was safe once again.
Looking ahead, Corwin said he’s headed to Nepal to look into new evidence of the possible existence of a new species.
“The focus is to validate or disprove that there is a yeti there,” he said. “There are two theories.
First is that maybe it’s some species of bear. The other theory is that it could be some undiscovered species of giant primate, which I think would be the most exciting, but I think the most unlikely.”