Host of River Monsters Jeremy Wade (above) swimming with the manatees during his first time in the water with them at the River Safari Singapore yesterday. -- ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
About 12 years after he was rammed in the chest by an arapaima in Brazil, extreme angler Jeremy Wade came face to face with the species again - this time in Singapore.
The 58-year-old British host of the popular Discovery Channel series River Monsters was in town to promote the sixth season of the series.
At River Safari Singapore yesterday, he swam with and fed the arapaimas - one of the world's largest freshwater fish - in the Amazon Flooded Forest aquarium.
Speaking to Life! in an exclusive interview, he says he was "a little fearful" before getting into the tank because of the bad experience in 2002.
He had then been working with a Brazilian scientist and had been trying to transfer an arapaima from one pond into another when the fish tried to escape and head-butted him.
He says: "It wasn't even a very big arapaima but that was very painful. For weeks after that, I could not sit up and literally had to slide my way out of bed."
He recovered about two months later.
Other injuries sustained include a stab in the hand by a catfish and rupturing a tendon from the strain of fishing for a stingray.
Yesterday, he says he enjoyed swimming alongside the arapaimas, but did not try to touch them.
He was fearless, however, when it came to interacting with the manatees that share the same aquarium as the arapaimas. He tickled and nuzzled the large, mostly herbivorous marine mammals and even tried to take a selfie with them with his underwater camera.
"They seemed curious about me, but were not interested in photo-taking. This was my first time in the water with them," says Wade, who is single.
His overseas filming assignments take him away from his home in the countryside of Somerset, England, for about six months a year. When he does go home, he is usually busy with editing his episodes or meeting his show producers. "So to do a tour like this is really rare for me," he says, adding that he was delighted by the rousing welcome here.
About 600 people turned up yesterday at River Safari Singapore for a show-and-tell session with Wade which was followed by a meet-and-greet. Adults and children alike cheered loudly when he came on stage.
This is only his second time in Singapore, his first being about 30 years ago to run a half-marathon.
He was impressed by the number of freshwater species of fish that River Safari has. "This is amazing. I want to jump in all the tanks," he exclaims.
He started fishing at the age of seven. "The first fish I caught was a tiny little thing," he says. "It awoke my curiosity."
In the six years that River Monsters has been running, he has travelled all over the world in search of large freshwater fish and other creatures.
River Monsters 6 will feature him with piranhas, anacondas and electric eels that hail from extremely remote locations across the Amazon.
"The programmes are about fear, about something dangerous in the water," he says, adding that common responses to fear are to either hide from the source or to kill it.
"But in River Monsters, once I've shown the fish, we put it back alive. The message we try to put across is that the other thing you can do with fear is to understand the behaviour of what you are afraid of."
His catch-and-release approach is one of the reasons his fans here love his programme.
Ms Jasmine Tan, 27, an avid angler who owns a tuition centre, says: "By advocating that approach, he is also spreading the meaningful message of conservation. It helps that he is very charismatic too."
Businessman Clarence Soh, 52, was at the meet-and-greet with his son Koen, six.
"My son and I came across this programme two years ago and we have been hooked on it ever since. We watch every single episode," says Mr Soh.
Adds Koen: "I like big fish."