We don't know if the Discovery Channel's upcoming Eaten Alive special will truly show an adult man being swallowed by an anaconda. But regardless of whether it's real or fake, you should steer clear of this special, because if an anaconda did try to swallow a human, it would injure—and could even kill—the snake.
The Discovery Channel has released promos for Eaten Alive, showing wildlife filmmaker Paul Rosolie in his carbon fiber "snake-proof" suit as well as the anaconda that he will allegedly try to get to swallow him.
As soon as Discovery announced the special, protests and petitions popped up decrying the stunt as animal cruelty. But we wanted to know: what would actually happen to an anaconda if it tried to swallow and then regurgitated an adult human being?
We spoke with Dr. Jesús A. Rivas, a herpetologist and tropical ecologist who specializes in researching the green anaconda. Dr. Rivas told us that he hopes the footage is fake, because just swallowing something as large as Rosolie would be hazardous to the snake's health:
It's clearly not the diet of the anaconda. Normally, the average size [of a meal] is about 30 percent of the body weight, and they can eat something a lot bigger than that. But the larger [the meal], the more risky for the snake. When they swallow a prey, because they don't have the respiratory system that we do, they can either swallow or breathe. They can't do both. So during the time the prey goes through what would be the throat, they have to do that in apnea. So swallowing a large prey, in itself, that is dangerous for the snake. Just swallowing it.
Above: Rosolie's "snake-proof" suit as it appears in the promo.
And swallowing isn't the only time a snake risks asphyxiation. Rivas said:
And the regurgitation is worse because they are intended to swallow, not to puke. So a snake that would try to regurgitate a very large prey takes the same risk as swallowing it, but higher because it takes longer. With the time it takes to regurgitate it, it will be exhausted. It will be tired. For a snake to swallow a very large prey is a very physical and exhausting task. So the snake that did that, by the time it started to puke it would be so tired that not have any muscle power to pass it out completely, so it would get stuck right where the snake can't breathe.
At the very beginning of my study, I caught some animals and they had a big meal. One had a deer—and a white-tailed deer in Venezuela, we're talking about something like a hundred pounds or less, 60 to 100 pounds. They regurgitated and died in the process. One regurgitated a capybara, and again, we're talking 40 to 70 pounds. And that kind of prey caused them to die when they tried to regurgitate them. So a person is what, 180 pounds plus the suit? It would be very dangerous for a snake to do that.
He estimates that the anaconda in the promo video is in the neighborhood of 17-feet long, meaning it weighs around 180 pounds. According to those estimates, the snake would be swallowing and regurgitating something roughly its own body weight.
Above: The anaconda as it appears in the Eaten Alive promo.
Rivas also said that, with that suit that protects his rib cage and spine, Rosolie would be in no danger whatsoever from this stunt. It's only the snake that would suffer.
He notes that, if you really wanted to film an anaconda's eating and digestive process from the inside, you could do it with little risk to the snake. The filmmakers could simply attach a miniature camera to a rabbit, feed that to the anaconda, and then retrieve the camera after the anaconda passed it. Discovery, he charges, is just trying to capitalize on the spectacle of an anaconda eating a human being without. It won't capture any footage that couldn't be captured with significantly less trauma to the snake.
But even if the footage is faked, the whole concept of Eaten Alive just furthers the myth that anacondas are monsters capable of eating humans. "They play on the already existing fear, the bad rap the anacondas have," Rivas said. His only ray of hope in all this? "Hopefully they will embarrass themselves so badly that they will go back to doing good documentaries."