The naturalist explains why he got eaten by an anaconda for Sunday's Discovery special

By Lynette Rice
Updated December 07, 2014 03:30 PM
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Credit: Jason Elias/Discovery Communications

Sure, it’s sensational – allowing an anaconda to eat you for lunch – but naturalist Paul Rosolie had a much grander reason for shooting Sunday’s Eaten Alive special for Discovery.

The author of Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon says his real mission was to draw attention to “resource extraction” going on in the Amazon and rain forests worldwide.

“I’ve been down there for 10 years watching it burn every day,” Rosolie, 27, tells PEOPLE. “It’s a problem that continues, and everyone is going to have to deal with it. I wanted to try to do something that would shock people and get a lot of attention and to start a conversation on a bigger stage than it is right now. We have to organize and get smart about it. It’s a massive issue, but it’s easy for it to be out of sight, out of mind.”

It didn’t take long for his stunt to generate controversy. After a teaser of Eaten Alive airing during Nik Wallenda’s high-wire walk over Chicago last month, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals jumped to the anaconda’s defense by saying “making this snake use up energy by swallowing this fool and then possibly regurgitating him would have left the poor animal exhausted and deprived of the energy that he or she needs.”

How did those comments make Rosolie feel? Simply elated.

“I was very happy with PETA and everybody who came out to support of the well-being of a snake,” he says. “That’s the most important thing that could have happened for this show. You care about a snake? That’s great. Now let’s talk about the fact that snakes and other species are being destroyed. There is animal annihilation going on every day.”

And just in case you were wondering, the snake survived the special, Rosolie says, as did he: The naturalist wore a high-tech carbon fiber suit that took specialists 18 months to create. A team was able to monitor Rosolie’s vitals in this “very carefully done experiment” that was shot over a period of 60 days in the spring.

And don’t go looking for a Don’t try this at home disclaimer at the beginning of the special. It’s not like any yahoo can walk into the Amazon and happen upon a marauding anaconda.

“You have to go wading in inaccessible swamp. It’s not easy to find them. It took almost a decade of field notes just to have the resources so we knew where to look,” Rosolie explains.

“They have no routine. They come out at day and night and go underwater for a few months. So we had to be in the swamp day and night and spent weeks on boats,” he continues. “I think what’s most surprising about the stunt is the crazy things you never see. In order to get to that point, our bodies were just deteriorating just looking for the snake. It took 60 days. We got real down and dirty.”

Eaten Alive airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on Discovery.