The man in the photo above has skied over Greenland, rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, canoed the Yukon River, cycled through Asia and climbs peaks from the Alps to Yosemite for fun. And Niall McCann’s day job is no less challenging: It brings him face to face with the world’s most dangerous animals. The relentless explorer is also a conservation biologist and the host of the Nat Geo Wild series Biggest & Baddest, premiering Friday at 8/7c.

McCann, the Canadian-born son of biologist parents, grew up in Shrewsbury, England and holds a degree in zoology from the University of Bristol and a PhD from Cardiff University. Filming Lost in the Amazon: The Enigma of Colonel Percy Fawcett for History Channel UK led to his current gig, which chronicles his very close encounters with such predators as crocodiles, anacondas, lions, and Bengal tigers. Most of us would run the other way, but for a guy who’s been obsessed with wildlife ever since he was a kid, it’s a dream job.

Here, he shares some of his most memorable experiences—and what he’s learned from them.

“There is no point in fixating on how dangerous a situation is. You’ll simply distract yourself from the most important thing, which is getting through that situation unscathed.”

Face your fears
“My fascination with snakes goes way back and must be related to the obvious fear that snakes elicit in all of us. I wanted to overcome that fear and get to know how they move and how they operate.”

Childhood encounters count
“When I was 15 years old on a walk in the Australian rainforest with my dad, we found a 7-foot-long carpet python and he urged me to pick it up. Feeling its strength and seeing its grace and beauty at such close quarters had a profound effect on me, and that sealed the deal. The largest animal I’ve tracked is an 18-foot anaconda. Filming the show, I was dragged down the bank of a river by a 16-footer.”

Avoid the fangs
“I’ve been nibbled by a non-venomous snake on one occasion, and grazed by a venomous snake (a horned adder) on another occasion, but I take great pride in not getting bitten, I don’t see it as a badge of honor to get bitten, more a sign that you’re probably doing something wrong!”

Pachyderms can be perilous
“The scariest moment for me was when I was charged by a massive bull elephant in Nepal. That was the only my time in my life when I’ve not been sure whether or not I was going to get out of an encounter with an animal alive.”

Stay focused
“I’ve found that when faced with real danger, I focus entirely on the situation at hand and on how to manage that situation in order to survive. There is no point in fixating on how dangerous a situation is. You’ll simply distract yourself from the most important thing, which is getting through that situation unscathed.”

Close calls are part of the job
“On the show, I was charged by a tiger, twice; ‘treed’ by an elephant; had a lion wake up out of anesthetic when I was standing four feet away; and released two man-eating crocodiles back into the wild after relocating them from near the village they’d been terrorizing.”

Play hard
“I cycle to work every day, climb two to three times per week, go to the gym two to three times per week, and enjoy a range of outdoor sports that keep me fit and keep me where I love to be: outside.”

Extreme sports are worth the risk
“I do quite a lot of extreme sports such as mountain biking, rock climbing and speed flying in my free time. In speed flying you run or ski off a mountain cliff while attached to a parachute, and drop to the ground at 40 miles per hour. It’s absolutely breathtaking. The producers were always terrified that I’d injure myself before a shoot, but it’s not happened yet!”

Conservation is crucial
“Traditionally, we have behaved appallingly with respect to those species that hunt us or affect us economically, and I believe that it is our moral responsibility, as a thinking mammal, to find ways to coexist with these species rather than simply driving them to extinction as we have so many other species.”

Adventure runs in the family
“My grandfather and father were both explorers. I followed in their footsteps. I married my college sweetheart this year. She’s a clinical scientist and much smarter than me! The most romantic thing I’ve done? I took her gorilla-watching in the Congo.”

All animal shots by Andy Dittrich

All Yosemite shots courtesy of Niall McCann