Warwickshire vet Mark Evans tells Roz Laws why cutting open dead animals on live television is important for conservation.
Millions of TV viewers watched transfixed last night while Mark Evans cut into a whale which had died while stranded on an Irish beach.
The Warwickshire vet is the presenter of the Channel 4 series Inside Nature’s Giants, in which experts dissect an elephant, whale, crocodile and giraffe.
But it’s a good job odours can’t be broadcast like sights and sounds, or viewers would have swiftly turned off.
As it is, audiences need something of a strong stomach to watch. If you can bear a little gore, it’s well worth staying tuned for fascinating footage of how these large animals are put together.
However, it’s just as well we can’t smell their bodily odours, especially when it came to cutting up a huge fin whale.
Mark explains: “Whales fill up very rapidly with gas which cooks them slowly and blows them up to twice normal size. Venting the gas is very tricky, as if you don’t do it properly whales can explode in very dramatic fashion.
“The process is delicate, dangerous and really, really smelly, even with the amount of wind in Ireland.
“The rank smell managed to get through our protective clothing. We put everything we wore through an industrial washing machine but the smell was still hideous, so we had to throw all our clothes away. For days afterwards I could still smell whale in my nostrils.
“But dissecting the second biggest animal on the planet was an extraordinary event. We always knew it would be tough for some people to watch the dissections and we didn’t know how audiences would react, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive,
“I think some people may have started watching it with their hands over their eyes, then taken a glimpse and gone ‘oh my God’ and started to watch.
“Natural history is portrayed in a very traditional way on TV but this really pushes the boundaries. It’s very innovative and a little bit shocking. It’s as extraordinary for us as the audience, we’re all in absolute wonderment.
“I hope people see we genuinely care about these animals, who deserve our respect. But to bury them without taking the opportunity to learn about them would be wrong.”
Mark, who’s an advisor to the RSPCA, points out that information gleaned during the dissection of the elephant will help other animals in captivity.
He says: “There are serious concerns about their welfare. Our elephant had to be put down because she was in such pain, and we discovered she had severe arthritis. It’s this kind of evidence which makes people realise we have to take action. Significant numbers of zoo elephants are obese and can’t move normally. They live in restrictive environments and can’t get into water which takes the weight off their legs.”
Mark was born and grew up in Bishops Tachbrook, near Leamington Spa, where his parents still live. He inherited his mechanical skills from his father, a retired agricultural engineer who worked for Massey Ferguson in Coventry.
Mark fell into TV work by accident. In 1990 he complained about an item on TV-am that made fun of fat pets, so the producer asked him on to advise a 23-stone woman and her obese cat.
From there came shows like Barking Mad and Pet Rescue, but for the last few years Mark has presented programmes about his other love, engineering. For the series of programmes A Car Is Born, A Plane Is Born and so on, he built a supercar from scratch, put together a 200mph plane and even built his own helicopter. For Wreck Rescue, he painstakingly restored dozens of rusty bangers. But then he’s always been obsessed by cars – at six he had a savings account called The Land Rover Trust Fund.
Married to vet Sarah, they have sons Finlay, 14, and 12-year-old Jake.
Mark, 46, says: “My sons take what I do for granted and are usually not too impressed – they’re my worst critics. But they were both glued to Inside Nature’s Giants. They were sitting there with their laptops and iphones, getting texts and emails from their mates who said ‘this is incredible, I can’t believe your dad has just cut open an elephant’.”
Mark got close to live elephants in the wild when he went to South Africa to film scientists in the field, and also took footage of giraffes and Nile crocodiles.
“We went out at night to find crocs by shining a torch which reflects in their eyes. We were in a tiny boat with no life-jackets, bobbing about in a river in the pitch black in the middle of nowhere. I heard a splash and there were two hippos just feet away. It was a pretty dangerous place to be – crocodiles have the most powerful bite in the animal kingdom – but also an incredible privilege.
“The crocodile we dissected died in a conservation centre in France. From an anatomy point of view, it’s staggering – the inside of a crocodile is like an alien.
“This series combines my two loves, animals and engineering, so it’s my dream job. I’ve had a bizarre career but it’s been great to come full circle with this, and to work on a programme that’s intelligent and changes the way people think about animals. I hope I can do more.”