Buchanan is the host of the 2016 BBC documentary series Tribes, Predators and Me, in which he travels to remote tribes to learn about indigenous people and how they live alongside dangerous animals. Perhaps most notably thus far is his trip to the Amazon River.
In one particular episode in the series, Buchanan travels to Ecuador to meet the people of the Waorani tribe, who live along the Amazon River. He spent seven weeks with them and learned all about surviving in the jungle.
The Waorani have an interesting tradition that would probably make most people immediately say “NOPE.” They are expert anaconda hunters! But instead of killing these big snakes, the Waorani believe that capturing and then releasing them can give one strength and courage.
5. Finding An Anaconda
During this episode of Tribes, Predators and Me, Buchanan and a few of the tribesmen go out in search of an anaconda. In the video, they spot one in the water and then pull it up by its head while untangling it from the roots of a tree. You can hear one the men saying, “Don’t let go of the head or it’ll bite me!” Eek!
From the video, you can tell that this snake is clearly massive, but it turns out that this particular anaconda was the largest ever recorded at a whopping 17 feet long! The group even posed with it afterward for a photo!
We just hope the snake got to go on peacefully with its life afterward...
The green anaconda, which is what the Waorani hunt for, is a member of the boa family and the largest species of snake in the world by weight - they can weigh up to a ridiculous 550 pounds! Despite their terrifyingly large mouths, the green anaconda is a constrictor and is non-venomous, although, don’t try to give one a hug anytime soon…
Okay we lied, not fun, just plain terrifying: the green anaconda regularly feeds on animals including deer, capybara, turtles and caiman. And what’s creepier is that the anaconda can easily kill an adult human. Luckily, however, humans and anacondas generally do not come into contact with one another very often.
Here he is after what appears to have been a delicious meal.
Given how impressive it is that these men were able to capture a snake of that size, it’s really no surprise that Buchanan labeled the Waorani as “the toughest people on the planet.” He says that "their bravery is infectious."
Buchanan says that the hardest part about his job on the TV show has been trying to make a good impression on his hosts. However, he also says, “I realized with each place, very very quickly, that the differences between humans all over the planet is negligible. You don’t have to share a language to understand what’s being communicated.”
Throughout his time with the Waorani tribe, Buchanan learned a lot that he had never considered in Western culture. He says that he never felt intimidated by their strength while hunting the green anaconda. “That machismo wasn’t there,” he says. “Machismo is just a corrupted version of hunting to survive … Every one of us, just a few thousand years ago, was running barefoot through woods and hunting with bow and arrows.”
The Waorani people are experts on the wildlife of the Amazon. Having lived alongside it for centuries, they have come to understand it better than anyone else. Aside from the belief that capturing a green anaconda gives strength, this practice also now has a scientific purpose...
Due to the drilling and mining from oil-industry expansion, the Amazon forest has continually been shrinking, and the Waorani are very aware of it. They know that pollutants can be expelled from these processes into the river and harm the wildlife.
Because of this, they’ve been partnering with scientists to take biological samples of the snakes to track the effect of the pollution on the ecosystem.
After the Waorani capture a snake, they hand it off to researchers who test whether the animal has been affected by pollution from oil. “The top predators in the water will have the most amount of toxins in their bodies as they are obviously at the top of the food chain,” explains Buchanan.
The Waorani tribe has managed to remain largely out of contact from the rest of the world, but now that various industries have depleted 15 percent of the forests in the area, the tribespeople have been forced to engage with others who can help them preserve the forests where they live.
“It’s not them who are having a negative impact on the environment,” Buchanan says about the Waorani people. “If they continue to be able to live in the way they have done for thousands of years, that lifestyle is sustainable. We tend to look to scientists for all the answers, but for tribal cultures that have coexisted with large predators and who know plant species better than anyone, it would be crazy not to harness their expertise.”
Anacondas might seem like terrifying real-life basilisks, but just keep in mind that they play a vital role in our ecosystem and they help to test pollution levels in their habitat, which ultimately helps keep us humans happy!
And if you’re still not convinced, here’s a picture of a cute little baby snake.