National Geographic: Land of the Anaconda

Year:
1999
97 Views


In the wild heart of Venezuela,

earth and water merge to create

a landscape like no other

one that has bred many

a legendary appetite.

But for the early explorers

who ventured into this savage place,

no creature loomed larger

or more terrifying

than South America's giant serpent.

Trophy hunters spun tales of 100-foot

monsters, intent on human flesh

and for centuries this astonishing

creature has been obscured by legends

as tangled and dense

as the swamps it inhabits.

But now a barefoot biologist is

taking on the anaconda.

His mission:
to snatch its secrets

from the murk of myth and terror,

giving us our first glimpse

into the hidden life

of the largest snake on earth.

Big snake. Big snake.

In the first scarlet rays of morning

a primeval world awakens.

Birds by the tens of thousands respond

to the siren call of the Ilanos

flooded savannas that cover

one-third of Venezuela.

Months of drenching rains have

waterlogged these plains,

creating a soggy Serengeti as vast and

pristine as its African counterpart.

But the dry season has begun,

and herds of capybaras

now begin to follow the receding water.

These giant rodents the world's

largest can weigh up to 140 pounds.

Soon this lush place will be

a parched plain...

so the creatures of the Ilanos

eat while the eating is good.

But their idyll of peace and plenty

is about to be interrupted.

Curled in the water hyacinth

is 13 feet of starving serpent:

a giant female anaconda.

She has not eaten for months...

and has her lidless eyes

on a suitably giant meal.

Oblivious to her presence,

the capybara family plays.

Dull eyed but sharp tongued,

the snake tastes the air for

the scent of her rodent prey.

The season lends urgency to her hunger

It's time for her to mate

and only well-fed snakes

breed successfully.

Once pregnant

she won't eat again until after

the babies are born seven months later

So she'd better eat well now.

At her strike, the Ilanos takes flight

But for one capybara, it's too late.

Anacondas kill with power, not poison.

Locked in the snake's deadly coils,

the capybara is being squeezed

so tight it cannot breathe...

so tight, in fact,

that it's blood can't circulate.

Her elastic jaws stretched

impossibly wide,

she now begins the ponderous business

of swallowing her victim head first.

She has paid a price for this meal

She bears the bite marks of

the capybara's final struggle.

There may be other snakes in the world

that are as long as the anaconda,

but none can match it for sheer bulk.

Her body was a foot thick before

she ate the capybara.

Six hours later, the last of the

rodent has disappeared into the snake.

Her post-meal proportions are

chilling to the human eye.

She's actually quite vulnerable now.

But fortunately for her,

the only creature audacious

enough to tangle

with a full-grown female anaconda

is on the trail of another snake.

Slogging through the hyacinth is

biologist Jesus Rivas.

Since 1992,

he's headed up the very first attempt

to study anacondas in the wild

a study funded in part

by National Geographic.

Before the study began,

scientists knew virtually nothing

about the biology

of this shy and dangerous creature.

Okay, you want me to hold...

Wildlife biologist Renee Owens joined

Jesus in his slippery pursuit in 1996.

The husband and wife team have caught

and cataloged almost 800

of these giant snakes.

Many are given names:

This one they call Godzilla.

Are you losing your grip?

In a second I will.

Oh, you won't. Hold it tight.

This is an animal that is the absolute

master of the swamp,

the custom-made animal for this place.

catch and kill animals much stronger

and much tougher than people.

Oh, it's a big mama.

Come here and get a better grip.

Come here.

To work on a dangerous

animal like this...

potentially, at least, very dangerous,

you have to have complete trust in

each other or you just can't do it,

because you can't go in

and be worrying about...

what could go wrong

and how you could be hurt.

Godzilla.

We are having a ball, aren't we?

What I want to do is to get to know

what the anaconda is all about...

we're going to study where they live,

what they eat, when they breed,

what temperature they prefer,

what vegetation they like...

to put on the snake

shoes and wear them.

Wait, wait, wait.

Jesus and Renee want to observe the

females during breeding.

To do so, they must get radio

transmitters into as many snakes

as possible in the next few weeks.

The force feeding may look brutal

but it's little more than an

annoyance to a snake large enough

to swallow a small person.

I need you to hold the head now, Renee.

Below my hands.

Wait, wait. Okay, got her.

Ah, don't worry.

Oh, you want to kiss me, don't you?

I'm not your lover.

I'm trying to keep the female

from getting away.

And I have to do that any way I can.

They're slippery, there's no traction,

there's nothing to grab onto...

I'll pretty much kneel

on the body of the female...

I think it went down far enough

cause it's the only way

I have to keep her in one place.

It is thrilling and dangerous work.

But perhaps this female will lead them

to the heart of a great mystery

the remarkable love life

of the anaconda.

Godzilla.

Jesus's living laboratory is an

enormous patchwork of Ilanos,

thanks to three Venezuelan

cattle ranches that

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