Primal Survivor returns for its fourth series tonight on National Geographic as Survival Instructor and Biologist Hazen Audel talks about the production.
Hazen is a Kootenai and Salish Native American and Greek by descent. Born and raised in Spokane, Washington, Hazen has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and went on to post graduate studies at the University of Hawaii, specialising in ethno botany, cultural use of natural resources, Meso-Indian traditional hunting practices and tropical ecology. He also has a Masters degree in teaching from Whitworth University, Washington.
In 2002, Hazen founded ‘The Wild Classroom’, a non-profit online web-series offering teachers and students quality, natural history educational videos for use in the classroom and home. As well, Hazen loves sharing his passions for nature hands-on, directly and personally: he has been a high school biology teacher for over 10 years, and has worked as a wilderness instructor and guide for organisations such as Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS). He has also been organising and leading his own guided trips to such places as the Amazon, Central America and the South Pacific since he graduated from high school.
Hazen is a talented artist and craftsman. From technical botanical illustration and sculpture to designing and building architectural installation pieces for residential and commercial projects, his work and craftsmanship is praised for its blend of aesthetics and utilitarianism.
Primal Survivor documents the adventures of Survival Instructor and Biologist Audel as he travels to some of the most extreme places on the planet, taking on solo challenges that will push him to the limit of his knowledge, endurance and skills. After first living with the locals to understand their way of life, he then tackles some of the most rigorous journeys in the world, where he must rely on natural instinct and ancient techniques honed over thousands of years to make it out alive. Each episode he will answer the killer question – how does anyone survive here?
For those that don’t know, what is Primal Survivor all about?
I am so lucky to have a show based about what I have been fascinated by my entire life and what I have been doing since I was about 19. In fact nobody knew about this part of my life apart from my family and friends. My Mum always wished she didn’t know about it!
The show looks at wildlife and nature. I always wanted to see the wildest animals that there are and to get to those places you have to go to the most extreme places on earth and in those places you meet the most fascinating people. I learnt at a young age that to get to those really wild places see the animals you have to rely on the people that live there to help you get access to them, but then I started to see later on that my agenda wasn’t to just see the animals but to learn about the people too.
So, that’s what got me into it, the show is about traditional living people, tribal people and people living in some of the most remote areas left on earth and we are looking at how these people are surviving off the earth, whether they are hunters and gatherers, pastoralists (meaning they have to live of their cattle, camels or sheep to survive) or agriculturalists. These are people who could be living deep in the mountains in the most remote deserts in the world or in the jungle.
How do you survive in these places?
I think in my personality I just get right in there and dig in. What is really magical with Primal Survivor is that we couldn’t do it without the people who live in these locations. I am learning from the masters, the people who have figured out how to do it and a lot of this stuff has been handed down over the years to them and if I’m going to be there I’m going to put it into practice.
They don’t have stores or a hospital if you are going to be there you have to have the skills and learn from the best. Primal Survivor takes me into these places and I’ll embark on a rite of passage or a journey which is pretty typical of what would be normal for these people. There is a saying, “Don’t ever judge a person until you have walked a thousand miles in their shoes” and that’s what I’m doing with this series to see what life is like for them.
You go to some amazing places in the fourth series, can you share some highlights?
My highlights over this series include visiting this amazing place called Guyana, it has this pristine jungle with hardly any roads with a group of people living off the land in one of the most bio-diverse places in the world with over 5000 species of trees, they know how to live off these trees, they know how to fish. I am learning from the best. In the hottest deserts in the world in Kenya.
The Rendilie people live, the key to their survival is their relationship with their camels, those people living in unbelievable challenging conditions and they have figured out how to make a living out of it. That’s the one thing I love, it is unchartered territory, we spent a lot of time in China, access to some of the remote regions there.
You spend a lot of time with the crew, you must become like family?
There are no hotels and we spend a lot of time with the tribes and communities, the film crew are working 16 hour days coming home to the village and the community pulls everyone together to make the film as beautiful as it is. Mentally it is as demanding as it is going to get. The hardest part of all of this though is making the films and lifelong friends, you promise you will visit them again but you wonder if you are ever going to get back to see them. Behind the scenes this is the neatest part of making these films.
What is the one thing you think the Western World could learn?
The biggest thing with this modern culture we are not carrying with it a knowledge of nature, which we have been dependent upon for 100s of 1000s of years and it has been defining and evolving. People are thriving on that and we are at a pivotal point in human history where we are more reliant on technology and we are don’t know where this new reliance is going to lead other than it is not sustainable, it is not going to keep going.
However, the knowledge that these tribal and traditional people know is sustainable for the years to come. It is changing every day, I am looking at the intricacies and skills that these people know. As strong as they are, it makes it fragile which we all need as part of our lives. Whether it is knowledge from these people that we can incorporate in medicine or building materials. I understand that the time I spend filming Primal Survivor and the stuff I have learned is precious and I try to take it all in.
Can you share what was your scariest / hairiest moment?
I have a knack for getting people in trouble not on purpose! We observe and want to document how these people are living but the way they live, and we were once with the Delong People in China, there is no candy store there, the sweetest thing to get is honey.
To get to the honey we had to scale 300ft up a rock face, we took ladders made out of bamboo and sticks to climb up to the top of a Himalayan bee nest which was buried in the underside of a cliff side. One of us or all of us could have died, we were all getting blasted by these bees, and we were all holding on to the cliff side, it was an amazing scene but wow!
What was the harshest terrain?
When we saw the Rendilie in Kenya, the landscape is so brutal looks like it is Mars and it is so inhospitable, you can’t grow anything on it and the only way for them to survive has been their relationship with camels. The Rendilie or Warriers take them to graze for months on end and they live with them, with nothing to eat but camel milk and blood, the heat, the lack of water and the breakfast, dinner meals of milk and blood was challenging.
A month later we went to visit the Wanatu where it rained solidly for a month, we walked through ankle deep mud, slept in the mud and our clothes were covered in it, they never got dry through the whole two weeks our crew got tropical ulcers from their wet clothes, parasites, trench foot stopped some of the crew walking and some serious fungal infections. It was very demanding but we pulled through and made it quite the film. To get to these places that’s what it takes, they are unchartered territory.
Who is your hero?
Sir David Attenborough of course, he has been such a spokesperson for bio-diversity and showing how magical it is. I think everyone in the world has the ability to take on that fascination but we need to be exposed to it. My family are also my inspiration, encouraging me to do what I love. I guess I view myself as a teacher, showing people what I love, it is so satisfying to live my dream.
Primal Survivor airs tonight at 8pm on the National Geographic Channel.