Argentina and Peru Deadly 60 on a Mission


Argentina and Peru

Steve Backshall journeys to the heart of South America. A hunt for the mighty anaconda goes badly wrong when Steve is attacked by an unseen predator.


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Transcript


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My name's Steve Backshall.

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And this is Deadly 60 On a Mission.

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My team and I are travelling the world

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in search of the planet's deadliest animals.

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I want to find out what makes them so deadly.

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And that means getting close to them in the wild.

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Only the most lethal will make my list.

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And this series, we're showing you my most extreme animal encounters.

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And you're coming with me, every step of the way!

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For this Deadly 60 mission, we're off to South America

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to meet the region's giant killers.

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Some could potentially be dangerous to humans,

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others are deadly in their own world.

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I'm in Argentina and Peru,

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to bring you the deadliest encounters on offer.

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We're starting in the Ibera wetlands of Argentina.

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It's a swamp the size of a small country,

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and we're looking for predators in these waters.

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They harbour a cast of killers made famous by horror movies,

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and I'm raring to go!

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South America is renowned for its giant snakes,

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and the first animal I am after is a master of swamp hunting.

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The yellow anaconda.

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The anaconda group includes the largest snakes on Earth.

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Adapted to life on land and in the water.

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They can hold their breath for up to half an hour.

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Anacondas use their muscular body

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to squeeze the life out of their victims.

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But to catch their prey, they need to set an ambush.

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It'll lie in wait for days, weeks, sometimes months on end.

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Its eyes and nostrils are on top of its head,

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so it can leave the minimum exposed.

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Which makes it difficult for its prey to spot,

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but also very difficult for us to spot, too.

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We could be here some time.

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'The plan is to ride around the area,

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'hoping the horses' hooves will disturb a snake.

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'And I'll get the chance to see one up close.'

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'It's quite spooky, what could be lying beneath this stuff.'

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'This is definitely perfect habitat for anacondas.'

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'These weird-looking capybara are one of its favourite foods.'

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'They're the world's largest rodents.'

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'But no sign yet of an anaconda.'

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'After three hours, one of the team spots movement in the water.'

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Can you take my reins?

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'It could be what we're looking for. Time to get off and investigate.'

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I saw something else move.

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'It's virtually impossible to see anything in this murky water.'

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Is there anywhere I haven't covered?

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'Suddenly, my foot hits something solid.'

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Aargh!

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That was a caiman.

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And I've just been given a really nasty bite.

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Are you all right?

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I don't think so.

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No?

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Oh, dear.

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It's whipped round and taken a chunk out of my leg.

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'That's put an end to our anaconda hunt for today.'

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A mess, isn't it?

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The most important thing is to get me to hospital.

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Crocodile bites have enormous amounts of bacteria in them,

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so we need to get it cleaned up,

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stitched up and I'll be back snake hunting tomorrow.

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'Well, at least that's what I was hoping.'

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Anaconda hunting on horseback is

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going to have to wait for my wound to heal.

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So next, I want to show you the beast that bit me. A caiman.

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It's 24 hours since my disagreement with a spectacled caiman.

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I've been all patched up.

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It's a bit sore, but I can still walk all right.

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The last thing I want is people thinking that spectacled caiman

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are evil monsters. In actual fact,

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spectacled caimans are one of

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the least aggressive crocodilians towards people.

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'Assuming you don't step on them!

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'Let's have a proper look at one.'

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What I'm hoping is...

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I can make some vibrations in the water...

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..and they'll think that it's a struggling animal, and investigate.

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Keep your eyes open, guys.

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'It doesn't take long for them to sense us.'

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See those eyes above the surface?

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He's definitely got his eyes on me.

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Look at that! 'He seems intrigued by the disturbance.'

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Everything about its profile is perfect for its method of hunting.

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Even in water this shallow,

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the only thing above the surface are the eyes and nostrils.

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So he can breathe

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and get a good look at what he's thinking of hunting.

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'Unusually for spectacled caiman, this one seems unafraid of people.'

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He might even come up out of the water if we give him a bit of space.

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Here he comes.

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'This caiman is about the same size as the one that bit me.

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'We're getting a better look than I dared to hope for.'

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Look at that mouth!

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It's lined with around 70 cone-shaped teeth

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that are replaced throughout its life.

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The upper and lower teeth overlap the mouth, and its muscular jaws

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bite down, crushing its prey in a vice-like grip.

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The reason it's known as the spectacled caiman

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is that, between the eyes, there's a bony ridge that looks like

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the bridge on a pair of glasses.

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Now we've got one that's being friendly,

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what I'd really like to do is to show you one hunting.

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To do that, we head back into the water.

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Because that's where these guys get deadly.

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'With vibration sensors around their mouth,

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'spectacled caiman can detect tiny movements.

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'A specialised heart means they can hold their breath for over an hour.

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'But thanks to fast-twitch muscles in their tails,

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'they attack with phenomenal speed, lunging at their prey

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'and grabbing it in their jaws.'

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'To see our caiman in action,

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'we're going to use a fishing rod and bait

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'to lure it as close as possible to the underwater camera.'

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Caiman are opportunistic hunters, and he can't resist

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our bait for long.

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He's getting over his natural nerves.

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This is quite a strange sensation,

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being this close to a crocodile, in the water,

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looking into its mouth. Look at that!

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Whoa! It's got the fish!

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I never thought I'd be able to be this close

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to a wild crocodilian feeding.

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Oh!

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Give it a good pull!

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He's going to lift his head out the water

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and throw that fish back in one gulp.

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'Having seen it hunting, and experienced its bite first-hand,

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'I know it's not a man-eater, but it is deadly to just about

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'all the other animals living in this swamp.'

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The spectacled caiman - fish-munching,

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capybara-crunching,

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absolutely awesome, and on the Deadly 60.

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They can hold their breath for over an hour

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thanks to adaptations of the heart and lungs.

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Fast-twitch muscles give it awesome speed.

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With multiple replaceable teeth.

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Take it from me, it's a vice-like bite.

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'With my leg too sore for anaconda hunting on horseback,

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'we're looking for an even more infamous local predator.

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'So feared that they've inspired blockbuster horror movies.

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'Marcus, the owner of this ranch, knows the best way

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'to get a look at these creatures.'

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How do I cast this thing?

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'Using a fishing rod and a chunk of meat.

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'In seconds, I've hooked a killer.'

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Ooh. Have something. I've got piranha already. Look at that.

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There are several species of piranhas in these waterways.

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This is a smaller one.

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Beautiful yellow colours.

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Black bar down the tail.

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This isn't what we're looking for.

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There's a species of piranha in here that dwarfs this baby.

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That's what we're hoping to catch.

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I want to wash my fingers, but I don't want to put them in the water.

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More bait, please.

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'Piranhas are virtually throwing themselves into the boat,

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'but not the ones we're after.

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'Luckily, Marcus is a much better fisherman than I am.'

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Yay! Good catch!

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'He's got the one I'm looking for.'

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Now, THAT is a piranha.

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This is the real deal.

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Local people call these the brave piranha.

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Also, the yellow, from the wonderful bright yellow belly.

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I'm now about to show you one of the most awesome sets of gnashers

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you'll ever see in the animal kingdom.

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Hopefully, without losing one of my fingers.

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Uh-oh! Urgh!

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-STEVE GASPS

-Look at those!

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The teeth are fiercely sharp.

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They interlock with the teeth on the upper jaw.

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Forming a vicious trap that it uses to munch into other fish

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and animals unlucky enough to be struggling in these waters.

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'To show you how sharp their teeth are, watch this.'

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That's what I call sharp.

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When the water's murky, I wouldn't think of getting in with these guys.

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But I have a plan for showing you how piranhas feed up close.

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'Piranhas sense the movement of potential prey in the water,

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'with a row of tiny hairs on their side called a lateral line.

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'Plus, they have an extraordinary sense of smell,

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'they can detect one drop of blood in 200 litres of water.

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'Then, the frenetic feeding begins.'

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We've found ourselves a sheltered lagoon. The water is much clearer.

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I'm hoping that this is piranha paradise,

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but there's only one way to find out, and that's to jump in.

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'You did hear me right, I'm going to have to risk it,

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'leg wound and all, before I can put them on the list.

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'For protection, I've just got a wetsuit and some gloves,

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'and a big piece of steak for bait.'

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I'm in piranha-infested waters!

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'Within five seconds of dunking the bait and the camera,

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'the piranhas are all around me.'

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Look at the size of that one!

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Hey, hey! It's starting to happen!

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Once we get a few of those showing interest,

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all of its fellow piranhas will pick up the signals.

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They'll start feeding, and that's when it gets spectacular.

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They are tearing the meat to shreds.

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'Whether they're scavenging dead meat

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'or taking on live prey, this technique is the same.'

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They come in at great speed

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and sink those interlocking surgical scalpel-sharp teeth into the meat,

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then wrench away, using all of their bulk,

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taking a great big chunk of meat.

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Then, the next one comes in.

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It's like a conveyor belt of frenzied fish.

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'One reason for this hit-and-run strategy

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'is to avoid being eaten by each other.'

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This is just one of the phenomenal displays of predatory behaviour

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you'll ever see.

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'And just three minutes later...'

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Look at this!

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Look what's left of our meat!

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They've totally destroyed it.

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A few little sad bits of bone left.

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And I'm stood here, hoping that my wetsuit's going to protect me.

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'Many piranha species are actually vegetarian.

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'But not these.'

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I don't think anyone's going to doubt

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piranhas have got to go on the Deadly 60.

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-Can I get out now, please?

-LAUGHING

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With built-in motion sensors to find prey in murky water,

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the ability to smell a single drop of blood,

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and scalpel-sharp teeth for shearing off flesh...

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..piranhas are deadly to the core.

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'Two days after my altercation with the caiman,

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'my leg's healed enough to get back in the saddle.

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'It's out last day in Argentina and I really want

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'to fulfil my objective - to find a yellow anaconda.'

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We have such a vast area of swampy land to cover.

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We're trying to spread out as much as possible.

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'Time is really running out.

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'We know they're out there -

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'people sometimes find them in their back yards.

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'But they're so well camouflaged in this swamp, we just can't see them.

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'Empty-handed, we head back to base.

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'But while we've been out scouring the countryside for snakes,

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'the owner of the ranch nearly ran one over on his way home.

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'He rescued it and put it in this box.'

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Will it let me just get it out?

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'We're going to return it to the wild,

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'but first I want to show you its assassin skills.'

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So...

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this beautiful snake is a yellow anaconda.

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It's actually quite a small one.

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This snake can get up to four metres, the big females.

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As it's opening its mouth,

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it's revealing the rows of razor-sharp teeth.

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They're like needles, and they all point back towards the throat.

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Once it's got a hold of prey,

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it's almost impossible for them to escape.

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Look how those teeth point backwards, into the mouth.

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Even though this is a non-venomous snake, a bite would be very painful.

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Obviously, yellow anacondas don't eat people.

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What they eat is the water birds and small mammals

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around the swamp where they live.

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'This may not see me as prey,

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'but he's giving me a good example of how they overpower their victim.'

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This little male is transmitting

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an enormous amount of power into my hand.

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Look how it's doing it.

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It's wrapped several coils around,

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and then has this extra coil going lengthways across it

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that it's using to anchor itself.

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Just increasing its grip and its squeeze.

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That is like the firmest handshake I've ever had!

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If I was to allow that to continue,

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it would probably start breaking my hand bones.

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Ow!

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I wasn't joking. This will actually start to break my hand pretty soon.

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Ugh! Wow!

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Can I help?

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That is a perfect example of how strong

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the yellow anaconda can be.

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Almost brought me to my knees.

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'That strength is backed up by acute senses.'

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Look at that tongue flicking out.

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This is the prime method of sense for snakes.

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Drawing in molecules of taste and smell from the air,

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and processing them in their mouths.

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OK, back to the swamps where he belongs.

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This is about as perfect habitat as you will ever see.

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So...back to the swamp for our beautiful yellow anaconda.

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Look how quickly he disappears.

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I mean, you would never know he was there.

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That's why yellow anacondas have to go on the Deadly 60.

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It's a camouflaged ambush predator

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with a tongue that can taste the odour of its prey,

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and when its got a hold, it squeezes the life out of them

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in a matter of minutes.

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Yellow anaconda...

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deadly.

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'Argentina's swamp monsters have been full of surprises.'

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Ah!

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'But there's another South American giant

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'that could eat these guys for breakfast. And to show you that,

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'I'm leaving Argentina and heading north and west

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'to the Peruvian Amazon.'

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This is Peru, and the Amazon rainforest.

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If we can't find deadly predators here, we might as well give up.

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'But there's no time to waste,

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'because we've got a tip-off that the giant predator I'm after

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'is in the vicinity.'

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Just over the other side of this lake

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is one of the most elusive but one of the most fascinating creatures

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found in the whole of the Amazon - the giant river otter.

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'As their name suggests, this is no ordinary otter.

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'At a length of two metres, they're longer than I am tall.

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The only thing on our minds is getting to these animals

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before they disappear.

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SCREECHING

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'We can hear them on the edge of the lake,

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'and from the sound of it, they're trying to scare something off.

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'But hearing them is far easier than seeing them.'

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'Giant otters are incredibly rare,

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'and very few people actually get to witness them at close quarters.'

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(Steve, Steve! Slow down.)

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'And there they are.'

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This is just extraordinary!

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There's a group of about seven animals in front of us,

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and one of them has just made a kill.

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-And... Look, this branch here.

-OTTER CRUNCHES

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And I can hear him crunching from here!

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Local people call these animals river wolves,

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and it's a really apt name.

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Firstly, you look in their mouths,

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and they've got canine teeth that wouldn't look out of place

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on a wolf.

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Secondly, they're the longest of the weasel family,

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and in weight - about 35 kilos -

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actually not that dissimilar to a wolf.

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And thirdly, they hunt in packs.

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'And it's by ganging together that these guys

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'can take on South America's other deadly predators.

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'They can kill a caiman twice their size,

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'slicing it open with their long, pointed canines.'

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'They've been seen dispatching five-metre anacondas,

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'giant catfish, and piranhas are regular prey.

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'Whether it's hunting or defending its territory,

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'this animal dominates the flooded forest.

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'I never thought for a second we'd see otters hunting.'

0:22:490:22:52

Wow!

0:22:520:22:53

'But then...'

0:22:540:22:56

The water's just parting in front of him,

0:22:560:22:58

he's coming right up to us.

0:22:580:23:00

You can see the power of them as they swim!

0:23:020:23:04

'They need to be powerful swimmers because,

0:23:070:23:10

'although they will eat reptiles, over 90% of their diet is fish.

0:23:100:23:13

'They're perfectly adapted

0:23:160:23:18

'for hunting in the murky waters of the Amazon basin.

0:23:180:23:21

'They can stay under water for eight minutes at a time,

0:23:230:23:27

'using their paddle-like tails to propel them forward

0:23:270:23:30

'and webbed feet for quick manoeuvring.

0:23:300:23:32

'When visibility is poor, their long, sensitive whiskers

0:23:340:23:37

'feel the movement of fish in the water...

0:23:370:23:39

'..allowing them to hone in on their prey.

0:23:400:23:43

'By working together, a group of giant otters confuse the fish,

0:23:500:23:53

'rendering them helpless.'

0:23:530:23:55

One, two, three heads come to the surface. Five heads to the surface.

0:24:020:24:06

Three of them have got fish.

0:24:060:24:09

That is incredible.

0:24:090:24:11

You'd be hard-pressed to find any other predator in the world

0:24:110:24:15

that has that kind of success ratio when they're hunting.

0:24:150:24:18

OTTER GRUNTS AND CRUNCHES

0:24:190:24:21

I may be a battle-hardened naturalist.

0:24:250:24:28

I've seen lions hunting, orca, great white,

0:24:280:24:31

but none of them come even close to being as efficient as these guys.

0:24:310:24:35

And that's why they're going on the Deadly 60.

0:24:350:24:38

How good was that?!

0:24:420:24:44

Giant otters use tactile whiskers to detect prey,

0:24:460:24:50

they can hold their breath for eight minutes to hunt it down,

0:24:500:24:53

and work as a team to make the kill.

0:24:530:24:56

When otters get together, the outcome is always deadly.

0:24:570:25:01

'It's into the jungle to top off this mission,

0:25:040:25:07

'not looking for anything specific this time,

0:25:070:25:10

'but in this jungle, I'm bound to find something that fits the bill.

0:25:100:25:13

'There are poisonous frogs, venomous centipedes and scorpions,

0:25:130:25:17

'and snakes - some of the most impressive found anywhere.'

0:25:170:25:22

Great stuff! OK.

0:25:220:25:24

-HE CHUCKLES

-I really want to kneel down here,

0:25:240:25:27

but there's loads of nasty stinging ants.

0:25:270:25:31

Wow!

0:25:420:25:44

That...

0:25:440:25:46

is an enormous snake!

0:25:460:25:48

Torch, someone? Torch?

0:25:500:25:52

It just keeps on coming and coming and coming.

0:26:030:26:07

Look at the size of it!

0:26:080:26:10

'At first sight, this snake may look similar to the yellow anaconda,

0:26:140:26:17

'but it couldn't be more different. It's not a constrictor,

0:26:170:26:21

'but it bites with utter ferocity,

0:26:210:26:22

'then thrashes its prey against stones or tree roots,

0:26:220:26:25

'battering it to death.'

0:26:250:26:27

This...is a yellow-tailed cribo,

0:26:270:26:30

and it is absolutely enormous, by far the biggest one I've ever seen.

0:26:300:26:35

The tail is a glorious golden-yellow colour.

0:26:350:26:40

The scales are so shiny, it's almost like handling a snake made of silk.

0:26:400:26:45

It's almost impossible to keep a hold of him.

0:26:450:26:48

He just keeps shifting through my hands. Look at that!

0:26:480:26:51

You just can't grip him.

0:26:510:26:53

'And it's this smooth, muscular body allows the cribo

0:26:540:26:58

'to move silently through the forest in search of prey.'

0:26:580:27:01

Now, this is a snake that will feed on all sorts of things,

0:27:010:27:04

and also on other snakes, and a big one like this

0:27:040:27:07

could take on some of THE most dangerous, THE most venomous snakes

0:27:070:27:12

found in Latin America.

0:27:120:27:14

'Lanceheads, coral snakes, rattlesnakes, even the bushmaster.

0:27:140:27:19

'And it dispatches them headfirst,

0:27:190:27:21

'with possibly the most powerful bite of all snakes.'

0:27:210:27:25

Ooh-ya!

0:27:260:27:28

'This snake's a real handful,

0:27:290:27:31

'and it's easy to see how it overpowers its prey.'

0:27:310:27:33

Well, I got absolutely covered in ant bites and stings,

0:27:360:27:40

but it is absolutely worth it.

0:27:400:27:44

This is one of THE most magnificent snakes found around here,

0:27:440:27:47

and by far the biggest yellow-tailed cribo I've ever seen.

0:27:470:27:52

I reckon this awesome animal that eats other snakes,

0:27:520:27:56

birds, lizards, frogs, anything that is unlucky enough

0:27:560:28:00

to come into its path -

0:28:000:28:02

yellow-tailed cribo is on the Deadly 60.

0:28:020:28:06

The yellow-tailed cribo is a giant snake-hunting serpent,

0:28:080:28:12

it'll eat anything it can swallow...

0:28:120:28:14

..with possibly the most powerful bite of any snake.

0:28:160:28:19

Now, THAT is a killer appetite.

0:28:200:28:22

'This mission has been deadly in name,

0:28:250:28:28

'and very nearly deadly in nature.'

0:28:280:28:30

Ah!

0:28:300:28:32

'I've been bitten by a caiman,

0:28:320:28:34

'I experienced a piranha feeding frenzy...

0:28:340:28:37

'..and a yellow anaconda put the squeeze on me.

0:28:380:28:40

'In the Amazon, I witnessed giant otters hunting as a pack,

0:28:410:28:45

'before winding up with the largest yellow-tailed cribo I've ever seen.

0:28:450:28:49

'It's been a killer trip,

0:28:490:28:51

'so join me next time for Deadly 60 On A Mission.'

0:28:510:28:54

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:580:29:01

E-mail [email protected]

0:29:010:29:05

Join Steve Backshall on one of his best ever missions, this time to the heart of South America. A hunt for the mighty anaconda goes badly wrong when Steve is attacked by an unseen predator; when he does find his snake it almost breaks his hand.

Steve takes a dip in piranha-infested waters to see these voracious predators up close, and has a surprising face-to-face encounter with the creature that bit him.

Steve's mission then takes him over the border into Peru, where he meets the fierce giant river otter and another very different - but equally formidable - snake.


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