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A NEW ADVENTURE

Wildlife biologist Forrest Galante `09 searches for extinct species in new Animal Planet show Wildlife biologist Forrest Galante constructing a lean-to
PHOTO CREDIT: Animal Planet

Raised on a Zimbabwe farm by parents who worked as safari guides, Forrest Galante `09 spent his childhood hiking through the southern African bush. He went on to attend an all-boys boarding school in Harare until political unrest forced the Galante family to return to the United States. As a teen adjusting to life in the California Central Coast, Galante often sought solace in the great outdoors, exploring the mountains of Big Sur and fishing off the coast.

At UC Santa Barbara, Galante earned a degree in biology from the College of Creative Studies. In 2013, he joined the Discovery Channel reality show “Naked and Afraid,” where he spent 21 days in the nude, trying to survive the perils of the Panamanian jungle with a group of strangers. Galante’s wildlife expertise earned him the highest-ever survival skill score in the season’s “Double Jeapardy” episode.

Now a dedicated conservation advocate and youth mentor based in Santa Barbara, Galante will be taking on a new outdoor adventure – this time with more clothes on -- as host of the Animal Planet special “Extinct or Alive: Tasmanian Tiger,” premiering on Tuesday, May 31, at 9 p.m.

In this Alumni Q&A, Galante talks about his experience as a Discovery Channel reality show star (bug bites and all), his days as a UCSB student and what he would like audiences to learn from his new show “Extinct or Alive.”

Did you ever imagine, growing up in Zimbabwe, that you would end up as a television presenter one day?

Never in a million years! It never crossed my mind that I would be on television. I was actually a very shy kid. I’m a wildlife nerd – I did research, took pictures – I was always passionate about nature. And somehow, it snowballed into this career.

Wildlife biologist Forrest Galante in the bush
PHOTO CREDIT: Animal Planet

How difficult was it to adjust to American life when you moved from Africa?

It was very much a culture shock. I remember my first day at school, I pulled out a pocket knife to cut up an an apple – and almost went to jail! I felt so out of place – and that led me to pursue wildlife in a way to reconnect with what my life was like in Africa.

What made you decide to study at UC Santa Barbara?

I was looking for somewhere that was on the beach, had a rugby program and a great science program. And there was only one place on the Central Coast that had all of that.

What made you decide on your major? And do you recall any classes or mentors that helped cement your commitment to your area of study?

I was pretty decided on my major before I started college. I do remember how much Professor Claudia Tyler inspired me and helped me. She was amazing.

Were you involved in any student organizations or sports at UCSB?

I loved being a student at UCSB. I was an avid rugby player. I also started a student-led organization Field Herpetology looking for reptiles and amphibians around Santa Barbara county.

What were your first jobs?

During college, I started a small business taking kids – little kids! -- out in the field, teaching them hands-on science, which I felt was missing in a lot of schools. I had a handful of clients and some part-time employees. After graduation, I spent 14 months traveling the world…and I returned to Santa Barbara a little lost. I started working as a field biologist around Santa Barbara county, in the Channel Islands, at the air base – all in the same line of science work.

Then, all the media stuff happened.

What was your family’s reaction to your show “Naked and Afraid”?

My parents and my girlfriend were the only ones who knew I was on the show. My friends were so used to me going off on some expedition, so they didn’t ask why I was gone.

Several months later, the day the show premiered, we had a party at our house. My girlfriend and I got engaged at the party – and then we watched the show. People were totally shocked. Fifteen minutes into the show, my aunt asked “Is this real?!”

What was it like having all those cameras on you during your “Naked and Afraid” experience?

It was definitely different…and I was enjoying myself. I realized going into this that they would be filming, the producers would be asking all these questions – and I had to get over it mentally. I found it quite exciting being challenged to survive.

We have to ask: how bad were the bug bites during filming?

They weren’t great. (laughs) But it rained 19 days of the 21 we were there – so our experience wasn’t as bad as other casts’ experiences…but yeah, the bug bites weren’t great.

You are now based here in Santa Barbara – what is off-screen life like for you? (And we understand that you coach a youth rugby team here?)

Yes, I live in Summerland. I coach the local youth team, the Santa Barbara Stingrays, which comprises much of my winters here. I also do various field jobs, though I spend a lot of my time now more in front of the camera. I do a lot of free diving out in the Channel. I go around the world doing science-based product testing. I haven’t been home much – I’ve been in Santa Barbara 12 days out of this year so far!

You just got married last year – what has that been like? And has your wife come with you on your expeditions?

It’s been great. Jessica is a fellow UCSB graduate and a zoologist. She is passionate about wildlife and has come with me on my big trips. We’re not the typical couple that stays at home and watches Netflix. We say “let’s jump in the car”…and swim with stingrays or sharks.

And now you are again on television, this time as the main presenter for the new Animal Planet special “Extinct or Alive.” What drew you back to television work? And what has it been like filming for this show?

I couldn’t believe how much work goes into a television show. It is really a lot of work!

After “Naked and Afraid,” I was on the radar for several productions – but I was waiting for the right fit. A lot of the productions were more on the same survival type theme or were a bit “pseudo-sciencey.” I wanted the right one. I met the executive producer of the show and he told me about his idea. I said yes – and we pitched it – and here we are.

What is the big takeaway you would like audiences to absorb from “Extinct or Alive”?

Let’s not give up on things – on species, on wildlife. Just because something is declared extinct doesn’t mean there isn’t a possibility that it’s still out there. And we need to apply these lessons to conservation efforts as well. If I can help save a species from going extinct, I will.

In a few weeks, the Class of 2016 will be crossing the stage and going off into the big world – any words of advice for them?

When you find that thing that you love – financially viable or not – never let it die. My dream was always to help wildlife – and now I’m on television doing it.

Find that avenue and take every opportunity to do what you love.

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