It’s a long way from looking for snakes in a Johnson County creek to swimming with humpback whales in Tahiti.
But Evan Antin has been there, done that — and so much more.
The 2003 Blue Valley North high school graduate — named “Sexiest Beast Charmer” in 2014 by People magazine — is the star of a new Animal Planet series, “Evan Goes Wild.” It debuts at 8 p.m. on Feb. 24.
The season’s eight episodes take him to exotic locations across the globe, where he encounters all kinds of wildlife, from cuddly to cold and meek to menacing.
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“I’m chasing my dream,” Antin says enthusiastically at the onset of the whale encounter, in which he helps collect skin sheddings for scientific analysis.
The camera loves Antin’s wide smile and bodybuilder physique. When The Star wrote about him in 2016, he had nearly 190,000 Instagram followers. Now he has 1.1 million. He also has been featured in Forbes.
Antin grew up in Leawood and Overland Park with a passion for animals. His parents, Sara and Alan, still live here and Antin returns a couple of times a year.
“Oh gosh, I love the wildlife there, especially in summer,” Antin said in a recent telephone interview from southern California, where he practices veterinary medicine at Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital in between global excursions. “I love looking for snapping turtles and snakes.”
Now 34, Antin studied evolutionary and ecological biology in Colorado and has done in-training rotations at zoos. He has been traveling far and wide since he was 21, working with wildlife preservationists. In recent years, he has been in contact with a producer at Animal Planet.
“He reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this opportunity and I want you to be the guy,’” Antin recalled. “He had seen a lot of what I do through social media.”
Antin is also on Facebook and Twitter.
The Animal Planet opportunity opened the door to one bucket-list experience after another.
In addition to the mother-and-calf whale encounter, Antin also got to know sea turtles in Tahiti, one of which had lost its front flippers, and helped capture a lemon shark to collect a feces sample for parasite research.
Along the way he participated in the amputation of a street dog’s forelimb and rescued a litter of abandoned newborn kittens.
Other episodes of “Evan Goes Wild” show him interacting with crocodiles in Sri Lanka, rhinos in Africa and binturongs, also known as bearcats, in Asia.
In one case in the Yucatan, a jaguar that had been losing weight was placed under sedation so Antin and others could take blood and urine samples. But the jaguar awoke earlier than planned, which Antin called “scary.”
“You have to have a healthy respect for these animals,” he said. “Elephants can be extremely dangerous.”
Most of the encounters involve Antin using his expertise to help individual animals. In other cases he is furthering scientific research. But always, he hopes, he is helping spread awareness about species that are in trouble and in need of conservation.
“Some of these places, they don’t have a vet on staff regularly,” Antin said. “And sometimes I’m working with other vets, so I’m getting to be a part of what they do and learning.”
Much of treating exotic animals has to do with extrapolating from more familiar species. The jaguar is an example.
“I’m treating it, for the most part, like a cat,” Antin said. “As a veterinarian I’ve seen thousands of cats over the years. It’s just another kitty cat.”
Antin’s personal pets include a Chihuahua mix and two cats, all rescue animals. He also has a lizard, a tortoise, a snake and some fish. He and his fiancée, a digital journalist, started dating 12 years ago and she often accompanies Antin on his trips.
The demands of the new series took Antin away from home for two-and-a-half months, with only a 24- or 36-hour break before catching the next plane. It was a grueling schedule but Antin loved it.
He’s hoping the show gets picked up for a second season.
“My fingers are crossed,” he said. “We did everything we could to make this a kick-butt show. We’re pretty pumped.”
‘Evan Goes Wild’
Premieres on Animal Planet at 8 p.m. on Feb. 24.