Wildlife expert Casey Anderson returns to Nat Geo Wild for a fourth season of “America the Wild” on Aug. 18, featuring his signature up-close-and-personal creature encounters and new perspectives on some familiar but little-understood animals. Kicking off with an episode about wolves that have attacked dogs and a kayaker in Vargas Island, British Columbia, the series will then follow Anderson’s interactions with mountain lions, bighorn sheep and vampire bats, which are migrating north from Mexico and Guatemala to Texas.
“I covered the entire map this season,” says Anderson, who always looks for compelling subjects and found that wolves were in the headlines for too-close encounters. “Wolves are by nature super shy animals and don’t interact with humans so I knew something was up. Turns out, wolves and dogs have been breeding over the last few decades, so they have less fear of humans. They’ve become really brave, going into town to have a cat for a snack. The good news is they can get back to wild really quickly, but it’s going to take a realization of what the problem is and what we need to do.”
Anderson is particularly excited about the vampire bat episode. “It’s an animal people are afraid of, Dracula, you know? Why would you want to protect it? But it’s an animal that’s so essential for the ecosystem,” he points out. “I didn’t know a lot about it myself, and I went out there with a sense of adventure and to learn about them, for instance, how smart they are. People think of them as a rat with wings but they’re more like a dog with wings. They have personality. They’re the only mammal that flies, which is pretty cool,” he adds, noting that he lay down next to a herd of cows while bats were feeding on them but he was ignored. “They know what they want.”
Another episode of "America the Wild" follows grizzly bears, filmed at night, “something no one has had the ability to document until modern technology made it possible. When you turn a light on behavior, it changes. But now with thermal or infrared technology, nothing changes in their world and you get to peek into it. So it’s behavior you’ve never seen before. The most dynamic behavior happens at night. Before we could speculate. Now we can see.”
Filming the grizzlies gave Anderson quite a scare when he found himself sandwiched between two bears in front of him and one approaching from behind. “Bears are nearsighted and have a pretty poor sense of sight but a great sense of smell. Fortunately, the wind was blowing from the side so they couldn’t smell me, and the one behind saw me and ran away. But to be able to capture that moment of super anxiety was good.”
'I thought I'd be a researcher'
Born and raised in Montana’s Big Sky Country, Anderson has “always been in love with animals, as long as I can remember. My father was a bit of a naturalist and took me out when I could just barely walk. I was turning over logs and rocks. But I was also a pretty shy kid. I never thought I’d be on camera. I have a wildlife biology degree. I thought I’d be a researcher.”
That changed when he realized that “there was a story that needed to be shared, a message that needed to be told. I had the unique ability to take people out and show them something. With that soapbox I could be a voice for the voiceless. That trumped my shyness.”
Anderson values his education and field experience equally, “taking what you’ve learned academically and applying it — dust off the books and get your boots muddy. I feel like I’m taking people on a hike with me and I’m hoping that they’re simultaneously falling in love with that place and that animal and understanding and respecting them in the same way I am.”
He’s aware that there’s an element of preaching to the choir involved in wildlife shows on Nat Geo, so he endeavors to give the show “a little humor, a little fun, a little edge” and bring in new viewers to the fold. The conservation element is prominent in what he does. “I’ll use social media to talk about climate change, how food sources are going away, and highlight the organizations that are doing something about it. NRDC is one of the best ones for grizzlies,” notes Anderson, who operates a grizzly bear sanctuary in Montana that’s currently home to five bears. “Some are orphans, some were in bad captive situations and we rescued them,” he says.
Anderson does not, however have any pets. “I travel so much that I would be the worst pet owner ever. I respect animals so much that I don’t have one. I want a dog but I’d have to leave him a month at a time and that would be horrible,” he explains. To him, every animal is as valuable and worthy of attention and protection as man’s best friend. “When I look at an animal I see an individual. It has emotion, it’s intelligent, it is a being. It’s no different than Fido,” he points out. “It’s my responsibility to highlight those characteristics so that people can look at animals and really understand and appreciate them for what they are.”
Check out a video of Anderson as he talks about bats: