Cambrian: Arts & Events

Animal Planet’s ‘Extinct or Alive’ TV special stars Coast Union grad

Forrest Galante sets out on a mission to find the extinct Tasmanian tiger in Animal Planet’s presentat of “Extinct or Alive,” airing at 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 31.
Forrest Galante sets out on a mission to find the extinct Tasmanian tiger in Animal Planet’s presentat of “Extinct or Alive,” airing at 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 31.

Forrest Galante is looking for a Tasmanian tiger.

There’s just one catch: It’s been extinct for 80 years. Or has it? That’s the question behind Galante’s TV special “Extinct or Alive,” which airs May 31 on Animal Planet.

Galante, who graduated from Coast Union High School in Cambria in 2005, is a wildlife biologist with a degree from UC Santa Barbara. He rose to fame in 2013 when he appeared on one of the Discovery Channel’s most popular reality shows, “Naked and Afraid.”

“About two years ago, I was sitting on this very couch with my girlfriend,” watching TV, Galante said, when they stumbled on “Naked and Afraid,” which challenges contestants to survive in the wilderness without food, water, shelter or clothes. “She said, ‘You can do this way better than they do.’ ”

“They take a random pair of strangers, and they meet in a formidable environment, and they have to survive together for 21 days,” Galante, now 28, said.

Galante earned the highest-ever survival skill score on the “Double Jeopardy” episode, which was filmed in the Panamanian jungle.

For Galante, who says he “was always a bit of a wild child,” the challenge came naturally.

Born in the United States, he spent most of his childhood in Zimbabwe before coming to the Central Coast at age 14. To deal with what the culture shock of his new environment, Galante spent a lot of his time “either hiking the mountains of Big Sur or diving off the coast of Cambria,” he said.

By the time Galante appeared on “Naked and Afraid,” he’d already visited 36 countries, including Belize, Indonesia, the Bahamas and Australia. An expert in herpetology — a branch of zoology focusing on amphibians and reptiles — he was also a free-dive spear fisherman.

Still, he said, “I never in a million years thought I’d be involved in television and the media. I’m just a complete wildlife nerd.”

The premise of “Extinct or Alive” is simple: “We’re looking to uncover evidence that animals declared extinct relatively recently in human history might still be around,” Galante said. “It really conveys an important message about saving what we have on the planet and not writing something off because you haven’t seen it in a while.”

As one example, he cited the coelacanth, a fish long believed to have been extinct since the end of the Cretaceous period, some 60 million years ago. Galante’s grandfather, Gerald Summerfield, was involved in proving that the coelacanth wasn’t extinct, after all.

I never in a million years thought I’d be involved in television and the media. I’m just a complete wildlife nerd.

Forrest Galante

Summerfield “found a whole, fresh specimen in a fish market” in the Comoros, an island chain off the coast of southern Africa, Galante said. “And he knew it was something special.”

Galante described his grandfather as a major source of inspiration, “a fantastic adventurer as an Englishman who settled in southern Africa … at a time when Africa was still unexplored.”

For his Animal Planet special, Galante trekked to Tasmania, which he described as “a challenging environment.”

“It’s very sparsely populated, and it’s very densely vegetated,” which makes it difficult to reach the areas where Tasmanian tigers may still survive, he said. “On top of that, we were there during the worst fire that the state has ever seen.”

Galante’s target was the Tasmanian tiger, a marsupial predator thought to be most closely related to the Tasmanian devil. It’s been classified as extinct since 1936, but Galante said that in the intervening years, there have been some 2,000 reported sightings.

Tasmania is a challenging environment. It’s very sparsely populated, and it’s very densely vegetated.

Forrest Galante

Also known as a Tasmanian wolf or thylacine, for its Greek scientific name — Thylacinus cynocephalus (“dog-headed pouched one”) — the animal once was native to Tasmania, Australia and New Guinea, but became all but extinct in the latter two locales hundreds 2,000 years ago or more.

It’s actually neither a tiger or a wolf, but its head resembles a dog’s and its back is striped like a tiger’s. The earliest Europeans to visit Tasmania reported seeing “wild beasts with claws like a Tyger.”

The Tasmanian tiger is the largest known carnivorous marsupial encountered in modern times. But is it still alive?

Galante’s not giving the answer away: You’ll have to watch the show May 31. But he does describe the experience as exciting, adding that “the conclusion is very interesting.”

Stephen H. Provost: 805-927-8896, @sproauthor

How to watch

“Extinct or Alive: Tasmanian Tiger” premieres at 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 31, as part of Animal Planet’s eight-day “Monster Week,” which begins Thursday, May 26. For more information, visit www.animalplanet.com.

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