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Where the wild things are, so is Corwin

eff Corwin with his friend the wallaby. The host of shows like “Jeff Corwin Unleashed” and “Corwin’s Quest” doesn’t like to anthropomorphize the animals he studies in the wild, but at the same time  relishes the stories they have to tell.  - Photo courtesy of Kids Discovery Museum
eff Corwin with his friend the wallaby. The host of shows like “Jeff Corwin Unleashed” and “Corwin’s Quest” doesn’t like to anthropomorphize the animals he studies in the wild, but at the same time relishes the stories they have to tell.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Kids Discovery Museum

The naturalist and TV personality hits Bainbridge for a KiDiMu benefit.

What would propel a man to wade waist-deep into a river of crocodiles, wrestle a bear cub as if it were a puppy, or fish a mammoth reptile out of the brush?

On purpose?

“When I have that moment of discovery of seeing a king cobra in the wild, that for me is the ultimate,” Jeff Corwin said. “What might be someone else’s nightmare is for me a fantastic moment of discovery.”

One of the most appealing qualities about the biologist, naturalist and conservationist, and the one that helped lead to a 2004 Emmy Award for his Discovery Kids’ show “Jeff Corwin Unleashed,” is that as much as he loves to learn about wildlife, Corwin also loves to share.

Thus, when he’s not out in the field or home in his native Massachusetts, he’s on the lecture circuit at venues like Bainbridge High School, where next Saturday he’ll present “Tales from the Field” and sign copies of his new book, “Living on the Edge: Amazing Relationships in the Natural World.”

Corwin is the third big-name draw the Kids Discovery Museum has brought in for its annual fund-raiser, following science teacher Bill Nye in 2006, and the swoon-inducing Kratt brothers last winter.

Even the Animal Planet website takes pains to point out that Corwin’s “winning personality, combined with his camera-friendly good looks, led editors to choose him as one of People Magazine’s ‘50 Most Beautiful People.’”

Corwin is well aware of his exposure and admitted that even he turns on the television sometimes, sees an animal show, perhaps his own, and says “been there, done that.”

But he also believes as a 15-year broadcast veteran and one of his generation’s first television naturalists, he’s earned his chops.

He often gets more satisfaction out of the “simpler” results of his work than the flashier ones – witnessing the discovery of a new species, for instance, or contributing to a successful conservation project through one of his shows.

“To tell the story of the natural world that is pristine and that really captures authentic behavior as ‘the proverbial fly on the wall’ is for me a greater challenge than trying to manhandle a reptile,” he said. “So a lot of times, (the theatrics) are really to try to tell a story, to try to build that sense of empathy and compassion in my audience.

“Most of what I do is unscripted and in the moment, and it’s a way to get the information that I want to convey out to my audience.”

That, more than his affability or his making of the People “BP” list, is why he thinks people across vastly different demographics love his shows.

“The stuff I do is designed to reach what I consider the everyman and everywoman, to make them feel that I’m not necessarily unique, that I’m doing what I do because I love to do it, and I imagine you the audience as my adventure companions,” he said, “and that we go out and have a journey together.”

That’s also why as tame as a high school gymnasium may seem when compared to a herd of elephants in Botswana, Corwin relishes the challenges of live performance just as much as his recorded forays into the field.

“Not only does it allow me to connect with my audience, that loves what I do, but it allows me that feedback,” he said. “We’re there, we’re in the moment, and not only do I get to share the nuances and the adventure, but also to introduce them to these creatures.”

Corwin’s not spilling details about who exactly will accompany him to the high school for “Tales from the Field,” other than to say that many of his wild ambassadors have been rescued from unhappy beginnings and that they are by turns creepy, beautiful and flighty.

“I guarantee things that you’ll never see in the waters of Bainbridge Island,” he said.

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Out of the wild

Kids Discovery Museum presents Jeff Corwin’s “Tales from the Field” at noon and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 9 at Bainbridge High School, with a 2 p.m. book signing. Tickets are available at KiDiMu, by calling 855-4650 or online at www.kidimu.org.

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