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Five Reasons to Watch Henry Rollins' Animal Underworld

May 26, 2012  |  9:45am
Five Reasons to Watch Henry Rollins' <i>Animal Underworld</i>

Next week, Nat Geo WILD is set to unveil a three-part documentary series titled Animal Underworld. The series—which is also hosted by former Black Flag frontman, spoken word artist, actor, observer of culture and all-around interesting guy Henry Rollins— explores the connection between people and animals that many U.S. citizens would find dangerous, scary or maybe just disgusting.

We spoke with Rollins yesterday to discuss the series, what’s to be learned from traveling (India and Vietnam were the main locations for the show) and what it was like to wrestle an alligator. Here are five reasons (mostly given from Rollins himself) to check out the show, which airs May 28 at 8 p.m. EST.

5. Rollins Actually Cares About This Stuff:
With TV hosts across America phoning it in to cash in on the big bucks (take a look at any popular singing competition), it’s hard to tell who is sincere. But from a young age, animals fascinated Rollins. In fact, before he was shouting lines about T.V. Parties and Six Packs, Rollins was given a job at a pet store after repeat visits right out of high school:

“There was a local store in my neighborhood, and I would go in there so often asking about the animals that the owner of the place finally said ‘I’m giving you a job just basically to shut you up.’

“...They’re animals to me, so you have to be very careful with some of them, I mean, the bite can be painful or deadly. So depending on the species you’re dealing with, you have to be really careful, but, um, I’ve never had a great fear of them; I’ve just always had a great respect for them. You’ve got to just have an understanding of whatever the animal is you’re dealing with. “

4. You’ll Open Up to New Tastes (Maybe)
Another element of the show for Rollins is testing the waters on not-so-conventional wild-animal fare. For example, Rollins takes a shot of snake blood that includes the still beating heart of a snake. But as Rollins says, it’s all in the spirit of education:

“I think the more cameras go into countries and watch with the locals, learn everything from culture and religion to water acquisition to food acquisition, I think that clears some ignorance and draws the world together.”

3. The Show Has a Heart
Aside from picking out some pretty extraordinary locations with even more unique animals, the show has a serious side. In one shoot, Rollins stumbles upon a “bear bile farm” in Vietnam, where grown bears are held captive in order to harvest their bile, which is an ingredient that has been a traditional medicine for Vietnamese for centuries.

“It’s illegal but allowed,” Rollins says. “And when you see these bears—and you know we humans, we try to read the emotions on their faces. We try to humanize them, but these bears look pretty damn miserable, especially when you see the parts of their bodies. They barely have room to turn around in these cages so they will go in these repetitive habits like circling—maybe just to get some exercise. On their skin the fur is rubbed off, they circle the cage so much. When you see it, you’re like, ‘what are you doing to these animals?’ These beautiful bears, I mean they’re magnificent.”

2. Rollins Wrestles an Alligator:
“Those things are not tame, as if you could tame a big reptile,” Rollins says about wrestling an alligator. “There’s no familiarity. They might not scare you, but it is a very big animal. I had never done anything like that before. But basically I just tried to stay very present and very aware of what I was doing. I have not seen the footage but I’m sure my face was a study of concentration. I do remember going ‘okay, get through this.’ Before I jumped on the alligator, the owner was like, ‘You know he’s more of a runner than a biter.’ Which apparently is supposed to buck you up.”

1. You’ll Actually Learn Something About Other Cultures:
“I think more and more, it’s good for at least Americans to get more information about other cultures and other parts of the world,” Rollins says. “You look at American media, and basically, you’re taught to fear other cultures and believe that the people of a country are necessarily in league with the leadership of that country. You know, No one likes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. ... When I asked everyone I met [in Iran] what they thought about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, they said, ‘What, that psycho?’ and I said, ‘Okay, thought so.” The same goes for the lifestyles of people on the show, ranging from the city in India that treats rats as royalty and an American named Arthur that keeps dangerous animals like alligators and poisonous snakes as pets.

“I don’t necessarily agree,” Rollins says. “I think it’s a crazy endeavor, but this is, some people, it’s what they’re into. I’d much rather sleep late and eat pizza, but this is what some people get into. Some people skydive. There’s always going to be a demographic of people who seek a higher pulse rate than some of us. They need to be a little bit closer to their physiological limits, to some kind of edge.”

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