Airing Thursdays at 9 p.m., on WLIW, through Sept. 10, the 30-minute nature series Extreme Animals with Steve Leonard, follows the British veterinarian and television personality as he scours the earth, often braving the most extreme elements, in search of animals and insects that defy explanation. The show’s first half-hour The Big Chill finds the researcher on a snowy Japanese mountain stripping naked before diving into volcanic springs to join macaques, who bathe in the springs to stay warm. A few minutes later he’s in South Georgia with King Penguins who huddle together and sustain 125 mph winds and temperatures of -80C to keep fragile penguin eggs alive. The halfway point of the show is a visit to the Arctic, where he dives under water to watch bearded seals swim through the water. Of the foray, he admits: “This is my limit … diving underwater, under the ice in the high Arctic, at -45 degrees!”
The series’ second half-hour The Heat Is On, finds the charismatic Brit in the deserts of Africa watching as hundreds of Kenyank flamingos patiently wait the chance to bathe and drink from a volcanic, sulfur-laced soda spring. On the heels of that, Leonard joins elephant expert Saba Douglas Hamilton as they watch as desert elephants use their memory to remember where hidden springs of water lay six feet beneath the arid terrain. While in India, he firewalks across scorching hot coals to illustrate the inner tenacity of desert ants who race across the Sahara at speeds equivalent to 125 mph.
Though it originally aired on the BBC in 2002, the WLIW showings are America’s first glimpse of the daring and dashing British host. With a comedic flair and a courage that calls to mind the late Steve Irwin, Leonard is a natural host and the show works quite well. Each 30-minute episode is packed with six, four-minute pieces, so the information and the details are presented briskly and without a lag. Whereas many nature documentaries can suffer under their weight of their own grandiosity, Extreme Animals is the exact opposite. Swift, sensational and scintillating with stunning trivia, it’s arguably one of the best ways to spend an hour in front of the TV.