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Experience Animal Planet’s Jeff Corwin

He may not wrestle crocs at the drop of a hat or use Aussie slang for all the critters he encounters, but Jeff Corwin still knows his animals.

Corwin, 34, has created a small, but growing, niche for himself as a wise-cracking, decidedly quirky animal biologist. Sure, he wants to teach viewers about the wonderful world of animals. Sure, he wants to conserve endangered species and ecosystems. He takes his job very seriously.

But he wants us to laugh a little while he’s doing it. Just think Jacques Cousteau as a stand-up comedian and you’ve got Corwin, the perfect guy to take TV where all the wild things are.

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Although the Disney Channel cancelled Corwin’s first show, Going Wild With Jeff Corwin, in 1999, Animal Planet executives who had seen some hilarious outtakes knew that Jeff-and his sense of humor–belonged on their cable network. They gave him a vehicle in The Jeff Corwin Experience, and it’s paid off. Entertainment Weekly just labeled him the “It Nature Boy” for his “hipster-geek edge,” setting him apart from his outrageous Australian counterpart, Steve Irwin.

Why Jeff’s a Natural for a Full-time TV Gig
Since his early adolescence, when Corwin was introduced to the Central American rainforest while on an expedition in Belize, he’s as had an unflagging interest in wildlife conservation. He earned two B.S. degrees from Bridgewater State College-in Biology and Anthropology-then completed graduate work on Central American bats through the department of Natural Resource Conservation at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. In May of 1999, Bridgewater honored Jeff with a doctorate in public education for his tireless efforts to spread the word about using natural resources wisely and protecting endangered species.

Corwin also spearheaded the Emerald Canopy Rainforest Foundation, a grass roots organization dedicated to protecting rainforests through educational outreach and habitat conservation. In 1994, he took part in the JASON Project–a program broadcast live from the rainforests of Belize. Corwin explored wildlife, using technology to give children a fun and educational adventure. After the JASON Project, Jeff went on to help produce and host Jaguar Traxs, a natural history docu-drama filmed on location in the jungles of Costa Rica.

Explaining the Uniqueness of Jeff
Carole Tomko, vice-president of development at Animal Planet, told Men’s Journal, “The thing about Jeff is that he’s an expert in natural history, but he also has this wicked sense of humor, and a remarkable ability to consistently reach back and pull out one-liners–on anything from The Brady Bunch to an old show tune. He’s just a natural, with great timing, who can flow right into a joke and then right back out into facts about the venom of a snake.”

How Jeff Deals With Disappointment
Corwin told Entertainment Weekly how he felt after Going Wild With Jeff Corwin got cancelled: “I had that crushing feeling where you can’t sleep, don’t want to talk and just want to eat…I had some bad marshmallow spells.”

Jeff’s Personal Menagerie Consists of…
On his sprawling 22-acre house on a Massachusetts island, Corwin has three cats, an alligator, a snapping turtle, one of the largest toads in captivity, an African fennec (that’s a small fox with big ears) and eight snakes. Jeff’s wife, Tasha, who is left alone quite a bit as her husband goes all around the world, is not a big fan of snakes.

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Jeff’s Well-kept Secret
Corwin told EW he could “go without a shower for two weeks and still be clean.” Apparently, it’s all about what you eat.

Jeff’s Most Life-threatening Experience
It’s a toss up. He described to EW the time he and the Experience crew crash-landed in a hot-air balloon while on camera. “I can remember it as this sort of powerful, silent moment. Then we played back the tape to hear four grown men screaming like banshees.”

But there was also the time when he was in the rainforest in Belize, before all his fame and fortune, when a very poisonous coral snake bit him on the toe. Annoyed at his own carelessness, Corwin also knew he had to find the antivenin fast, since he only had about four hours to live and he was about two hours from any hospital. He found a school nearby and was able to call the British embassy to arrange a rescue. He just barely made it out alive. Corwin told Men’s Journal that when the embassy called his wife to say he might not survive, she asked “Is he conscious?” He was. “Could you give him a message for me? Tell him: ‘I want you to know before you die that I’m going to cut off the heads of all your f***ing snakes.'” Corwin just smiled as said, “Yep, that’s my honey.”

And Jeff’s Burgeoning Acting Career?
Corwin’s been getting some offers to star in the movies, but as he explained to EW, “I’m a biologist and this is what I’m known for…I’d feel odd saying, ‘Dr. Ruth and I are doing a sitcom, Really Too Close for Comfort.”


Some Animal Facts–Corwin-Style
We compiled a list of questions and answers taken from a live chat Corwin did with his ZooDisney.com fans:

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How much water can an elephant drink in a day?
Jeff: I’m not sure, but a lot. In just one hour, the entire blood supply of an elephant passes through its ears — now THAT I remember! But the amount of water, I can’t recall.

Do camels really spit?
Jeff: Yes! So don’t get too close!

Can you give me some information about anacondas?
Jeff: Anacondas are extremely fat. They can get fatter than a telephone pole! Anacondas are also the longest snakes in the new world and grow from 25-30 feet.

What is the most poisonous snake in the world?
Jeff: The snakes with the highest amount of venom are sea snakes, taipans, and tiger snakes.

What animal lives the longest?
Jeff: Probably a toss-up between certain parrots and tortoises. Each has species that can live well over 100 years.

How big can a giant clam grow?
Jeff: Giant clams can grow very big. Once near Palau, I was diving and I swam by a giant clam that was five feet in length! And don’t believe any of those stories you might have heard about clams trapping divers–they’re all false!

Do flying squirrels really fly?
Jeff: Flying squirrels don’t really fly. There’s only one flying mammal and that’s the bat. “Flying” squirrels actually glide, using their wings like an umbrella to catch the air and create some lift. But since they’re gliding, they can only go a certain distance before they must land and plan their next flight.

How do you tell which bugs you can eat and which ones you can’t?
Jeff: Believe it or not, I don’t eat a lot of bugs! And there’s no way to tell by simply looking whether a bug is edible or not. What I use is the historical record, research, and the reports of natives to tell me if a certain bug can be eaten.

Why do dogs not like cats?

Jeff: Dogs and cats can like each other just fine. But conditioning can make them enemies. If you have a dog and a cat, and raise them together, they can live together just fine.

Why do cats meow?
Jeff: Cats meow as a form of communication. They express themselves and share messages through meowing. Cats are also very territorial so meowing is also used to guard their territory.

Why do skunks stink, and do they smell bad to each other?
Jeff: Skunks smell to ward off predators. They lift up their tails and spray a predator. It’s a defense mechanism that will keep a predator smelling for miles and days! To each other, skunks probably don’t smell that bad. They’re probably used to the smell. But if you get sprayed, you soon find out who your friends are!

Animal Planet’s The Jeff Corwin Experience, which Corwin executive produces and hosts, airs Wednesday and Sunday nights.

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