Posted on 05 May 2013.
Tarsiers, the Wild Kingdom, and Finding Out Life Isn’t Fair
Freaky, freak, freaky.
Tarsiers are that much and more, as the above clip shows.
Don’t worry, it’s safe to watch. There’s not too much drama and trauma going on. Just those big bug eyes staring blankly into your soul.
I’ve always been wary of animal flicks ever since they offed Old Yeller. Some boundaries are sacred and shouldn’t be crossed. Old Yeller was one of those lines. A protective and gentle yellow Lab winning the heart of the frontier family, the faithful old dog was put down after contracting rabies. It was one of those unfair endings brutally assaulting and ripping the innocence out of our childhood and left us bawling on the floor.
OK, life is unfair. We get that. And we’ve never been the same ever since. Thank you, Mr. Disney.
Then there was the “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin. He was a total pain in the ass for any animal crossing his path. There’s a way to film animals without harassing them and screwing up their day but this guy didn’t know it. He constantly had to be poking, taunting and wrestling them, working his schtick to prove what a brave Aussie scamp he was until nature finally canceled his film contract.
You’ll recall it was a benign stingray calling it curtains for Irwin. This should have been a normally uneventful crossing of paths between man and aquatic beast. But no-o-o-o… Mr. Crikey had to screw with the stingray and catch a spike to the heart. Nature is all about the quick and the dead. Nature batted first, not last, with the Crocodile Hunter. It’s surprising it took that long.
Mutal of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom reflected the realism of nature early on for those who remember. No longing shots of doe-eyed baby seals and cute furry-faced koalas here but ’round-the-clock-murder that constituted the natural world and made observing its moments of grace such an ephemeral joy.
Wild Kingdom was hosted by the gentlemanly, avuncular, and dapperly-dressed Marlin Perkins. Mr. Perkins was an expert on reptiles and particularly venomous snakes, of which he was bitten four times. Unlike Irwin, however, he survived.
Perkins took his viewers all over the world and was one of the first voices to embrace the idea of conservation and the protection of endangered species. He had a particular love of odd animals and was fond of civets, mongooses, hyenas and the wild dogs of Africa. Neatly dressed in his freshly pressed khaki safari suit, Perkins loved square-offs and showdowns between nature’s Davids and Goliaths– the weasel-like mongoose killing the infinitely more frightening king cobra, a scorpion backing up a coyote with a bad-ass tail display, a six-ounce kestrel pounding the holy crap out of a pigeon in flight.
We learned all manner of weird facts from this show. That many people in India wear masks on the back of their head to stave off tiger attacks. That snakes actually hear with their tongues. That bluefin tuna, depending on water temperature, can be cold-blooded and warm-blooded. Or that the honey badger is immune to cobra venom. Oh, it might make him fall asleep for a minute or two, but upon waking up Mr. Honey Badger continues eating the heck out of the cobra with a zest and zeal like nobody’s business.
Mr. Perkins was a stickler for realism. His show was filmed on location and very often his co-stars, Jim Fowler and Stan Brock, would wind up in some hair-raising struggles with wild animals. Being the boss and certainly being no one’s dummy, Mr. Perkins usually stood in the foreground when danger was most imminent. He would remind the viewer just before the commercial break, “If a Bengal tiger ever tries to chew your face off… make sure you have adequate insurance coverage with Mutual of Omaha.”
I vividly remember Jim and Stan wrestling a 27-foot anaconda in the Amazon once. Jim’s head was buried in the snake’s coils and held underwater. Mud, leaves, swampy water, parasites, brains and who knows what else were leaking out of Jim’s ears as he’d come up and gasp for air every few seconds. Stan was desperately trying to get the snake into a gunny sack before Jim succumbed to his untimely fate.
Mr. Perkins calmly provided the narrative: “While Jim struggles to free his head, Stan is on task collecting the specimen into the snake bag.”
Jim Fowler, freaked out and frantically pointing at his head, was screaming and yelling as stuff poured out. Perkins wryly retorted, “Jim is getting quite a workout now, isn’t he!”
It was honestly scary. They finally got the snake into the sack. Jim Fowler was seriously fucked up and out of breath, looking short of brain cells and covered head to toe in snake crap.
For a ten-year old kid, it was a terrifying drama to see unfold in the living room.
Mental note to self: ‘Never go to the Amazon. It sucks, and you will die. You won’t live very long with the wild animals and bugs, you will die a slow and horrible and painful death, and you’ll probably get eaten alive somewhere along the way.’
We’ve come to realize an important lesson early on from
these real-life animal shows. Life, like nature, is a brutal,
quick, and patently unfair business.
We’ll stick to seeing tame videos. Cordial ones. Where they don’t torment and torture wild animals. Like Tarsiers, seen safely from a distance.