Brady Barr, the National Geographic Channel’s resident herpetologist, is wading waist-deep in a vile and viscous puree of bat guano in a cave in Indonesia when he is attacked by a 12-foot reticulated python.
The snake wraps itself around his legs, sinks its razor-sharp teeth into his left thigh, shredding his flesh. Screams of excruciating pain echo off the cave’s walls.
The footage is chilling.
“That’s an early morning eye-opener, that’s for sure,” a smiling Barr told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer from Baltimore after watching footage from his close encounter of a reptilian kind.
The attack will be broadcast on National Geographic Channel at 8 p.m. ET and PT on Saturday.
Pythons are non-venomous, but Barr was in grave danger.
“I’ve got these gaping open wounds that are full of bat feces,” he said, recounting the episode. He also had running through his mind the knowledge that a friend and fellow herpetologist had lost a leg from infection after being bitten in the field – and that attack happened in the United States.
Barr was on a remote island in Indonesia, far from civilization. He had to hike two miles uphill to a car to get to a rural clinic to get the wound properly cleaned and then travel even farther to get it stitched. Some 27 hours after the attack, he finally got to a modern medical center in Singapore, where he was pumped full of antibiotics and began a four-week series of shots to protect him against rabies.
Three months removed from the attack, which occurred while he was filming for the National Geographic show “Dangerous Encounters,” Barr said, “I’m great. . . I got the best job in the world. I’m a herpetologist. I study reptiles, and any time you can spend some time with giant reticulated pythons is a good day.”
Since the death from a stingray attack of the celebrated Steve “Crocodile Hunter” Irwin in Australia, some have questioned whether the pressure to create sensational television programming is pushing explorers like Barr into increasingly dangerous situations. Lauer pointed out that it wasn’t just Barr in the cave, but a fellow scientist, local guide, and camera crew as well, all of whom also could have been attacked.
“I’ve been doing this for a long, long time, over a decade,” he said. “The number of accidents that have occurred I can count on my fingers. We’re real, real careful. But it is called ‘Dangerous Encounters.’ You work on crocodiles or you work on snakes, these are dangerous animals, and you just try to take every precaution when you’re out there.”
In a pre-interview with TODAY, Barr went into stomach-churning detail about the conditions in the cave he and his crew were exploring. In addition to the “fecal soup” of bat guano, it was crawling with scorpions, cockroaches, maggots and other vermin, not to mention millions of bats hanging from the roof. It was also short of oxygen.
“The cave was literally a chamber of horrors, probably the worst place I have worked in the 10 years I have been at Geographic,” he told a TODAY producer.
But, he said, he was doing serious research on reticulated pythons, non-venomous constrictors which can grow to more than 30 feet, making them the longest snakes in the world. Despite their enormous size, little is known about them, and Barr, who holds a Ph. D. in herpetology, was attempting to learn why they inhabited caves like the one in which he was attacked.
With research funds scarce, he said it is important to make the most of every opportunity, and he has since returned to the cave, where he has collected specimens and done more research.
Dangerous workBorn in Texas and raised in Bloomington, Ind., Barr is the first person to capture and study in the wild each of the 23 known species of crocodilians, including a Siamese crocodile that was thought to be functionally extinct in the wild. Among the places is expeditions have taken him are Cambodia, French Guiana, Brazil, Africa, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.
He admits the work can be dangerous, but, he said, it’s the same for many scientists.
“If you’re a field researcher, and you work on wild animals, whether you’re a geologist working on volcanoes or an oceanographer working in the deep sea, there are risks in what you do,” he told Lauer. “We just try to minimize these risks when we’re in the field.”