Reality Bites

Inside an Indonesian cave, Severna Park's Brady Barr, a TV show host, meets a python with a good grip

October 09, 2007|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,sun reporter

Who hasn't this happened to? You're in a snake cave on an Indonesian island and up to your belly in liquefied bat guano (don't ask). A 7-foot reticulated python - the object of your smelly search - coils around your legs and you are sinking in this quicksand, and the python, not caring about your well being at all, bites you rather high on your right leg with his flesh-ripping teeth.

"Ahhhhhh! He's on me! He's bitten me! Where is his head??? Grab his head!!!!!"

Now that's reality TV.

And those are the words of Severna Park's Brady Barr, herpetologist and host of National Geographic Channel's Dangerous Encounters with Brady Barr nature series. Barr, who has spent 15 years tracking crocodiles and other such hospitable reptiles, traveled to Indonesia this year to an area that locals call the "Snake Palace." Deep inside a roach-infested cave, Barr and his crew encountered a particularly shifty python. What ensued in all its mucky drama became the "Snake Bite" episode, which premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday on the National Geographic Channel.

The hype has been as big as the bite.

"I was so completely incapacitated by the pain," Barr wrote in an account posted on National Geographic Channel's Web site. "I was terrified that the snake was going to pull me off my feet with its coils around my legs and drag me underwater."

Who doesn't want to see that?

Did Barr ever catch the python? If not, did he have the nerve to return to that very cave and try again? Did Barr really suffer from a flesh-ripping bite?

"I am fine now," Barr said by phone in Severna Park a few days before tonight's scheduled appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

The point of the expedition, he said, was to determine if these pythons use caves to seek refuge from the heat or if they are capable of eating bats in the dark. If so, how? Barr, who has captured all 23 species of crocodiles, also wanted the novel challenge of capturing cave-dwelling pythons.

"To have a real capture in real time and in a cave - this horrific environment - and have a bite thrown in is unprecedented footage," Barr said.

Shooting the footage was Barr's regular cameraman, Eric Cochran. Both men have traveled the planet to find and study crocs, gators, snakes and other reptiles. They are accustomed to adverse working conditions, and the Snake Palace was anything but palatial. Barr's words, "fecal soup," accurately set the scene. And Cochran, also hip-deep in the stuff, filmed the scene.

"Ignorance is bliss in these expeditions," Cochran said, "but this was brutal."

In the beginning, all was comfy and safe in the cave. A few bats here and there, a river of roaches, a spitting cobra, that kind of thing. After capturing a smaller python (and forcing it to regurgitate two bats - there was that), Barr and his crew wanted bigger game. So, they descended deeper into this heart of darkness. "Big snake!! Big snake!!" Barr bellows, which sounds louder in a cave, naturally.

As the episode continues, a much larger python is seen coiled in a nook of the cave. Barr and his partner in science, Dr. Mark Auliya, attempt to extricate the snake. One grabs the tail. One loses the tail. Snake body wrapping itself around legs and shoulders. Snake suddenly swimming.

"The situation gets out of control real quick. Before you know it, we didn't know where the snake was," Cochran recalled.

The team later admitted to breaking the cardinal rule of snake hunting: They got the tail of the 7-foot python but not the head. On an educational note, if you are underwater in sinking bat guano and can't find a python's head, it might very well find you.

"Brady was the one dealt the unlucky blow," Cochran said.

The unlucky blow from the snake's "backward-curving fangs" can't be seen in the footage but certainly can be heard. Barr howls and nearly loses his balance, which might be a fate worse than getting bit. "I'm bleeding!" Barr screams. Many would pack it in at this point, but the man has a nature show to do.

They go back after the snake, finally find and hold his head, and bag him.

Limping outside the cave, Barr inspects his wounds. Cochran keeps filming. "I would never stop rolling - even if I had been bitten. I have to get the footage."

The gashes on Barr's upper right leg need attention. Pythons aren't venomous, but they don't need to be. The muck alone could kill Barr. "Good God, I'm going to die of some infection," he remembered thinking.

The python is released and any science lost with him. No time for measuring and inspecting him. Barr had to hoof it back two hours to his truck and then to a string of medical facilities, where viewers learn that applying alcohol to a fresh snake bite - while necessary - also looks excruciating. Barr eventually finds a "proper hospital," undergoes four weeks of anti-rabies treatment, and returns to work to finish unfinished business with a snake, a cave and bat guano. As usual, his cameraman was game.

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