WADE TEACHES CONSERVATION THROUGH ENTERTAINMENT
April 15, 2012
we be afraid of the goonch? Perhaps if you knew it by one of its other
names--giant devil catfish or man-eating killer catfish--you might be
more concerned, especially if you were swimming where it lives in the
Kali River in India. A 150-pound fish over six feet long that is said
to eat anything that doesn't eat it first might indeed decide a human
would be tasty.
in the 1990s a person died after being attacked by a large goonch in
the river. By the end of 2008, three more deaths were said to have occurred,
including one of a teenager who was dragged underwater and drowned.
Adding to the fish lore is the suggestion that some goonches have gotten
"a taste for human flesh" by eating "half-burnt corpses
discarded from funeral pyres along the river banks." Sounds like
a fish to take heed of. Time to call in Jeremy Wade, star of Animal
Planet's "River Monsters."
of deaths by a man-killing river creature are just the beginning for
Jeremy Wade. He not only investigates the reports but also goes to the
site and catches the culprits. He may not catch the individual that
made the attack, but he does reel in a colossal specimen that could
have been responsible. Attesting to the fact that he gets the big ones
are photos of him with a giant catfish that is longer than he and two
helpers sitting side by side are wide. To capture the mighty goonch
he had to jump into the river to keep it from escaping.
In a telephone
conversation with Jeremy last week I asked why he does what he does.
I liked his answer. He noted that when a person fears an animal two
common responses are to hide from it or to destroy it. He advocates
a different approach: learn about the creature so you can appreciate
it. This is certainly better from a conservation perspective; I think
it's better for the person too. Jeremy is well schooled in ecology,
rivers, and conservation, and his objective is to teach people about
animals with which they are unfamiliar because you "can't care
about what you don't know about." He delivers ecological lessons
with a fine mix of suspense-filled entertainment, environmental teachings,
and a lot of experience with catching fish. He says one of his goals
is to reach children of all ages because "they really get into
strange names and obscure facts" and become an ideal audience for
likens his role in revealing both truths and misinformation about river
animals as one of a detective. He hears of victims and of witnesses
who provide information that leads to a suspect. He then tracks down
the culprit and usually catches it. The difference he says is that instead
of convicting and executing the perpetrator, he tries to understand
its ecology and behavior, and teach others about it. He then releases
his catch back into the river.
can be filmed anywhere in the world. The choice of which river to go
to is based in part on some graphic story told by people of a particular
region about attacks on or deaths of humans from a "river monster."
Some of the classic extreme angling adventures in the weekly "River
Monsters" series have been goliath tigerfish and river bullsharks
of Africa, rare Fitzroy River sharks of Australia, and a six-foot-long
arapaima in South America. He has even followed up on river monster
reports in Florida and Missouri.
our conversation, Jeremy Wade talked about why people should care about
this enormous catfish. And I, for one, certainly wish the best for it
ecologically. When we understand the ecology of a species and can identify
the boundaries of safety in dealing with it, we can avoid letting fear
control us. With that in mind, my environmental safety take-home message
is that swimming in India's Kali River where the big goonches live may
be hazardous to your health.
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