THE WORLD IS FULL OF DANGER AND SOME PLACES ARE FAR MORE FRIGHTENING THAN OTHERS. THERE ARE WAYS TO STAY ALIVE IN EACH OF THEM.
Nature has no inherent malice; it is not natively evil, or purposefully destructive and it has no animus that could be said to be a motive for wrong-doing. Nature does not seek to kill anyone the way people seek to hurt each other. In nature, a lion must run faster than the slowest gazelle or he will not eat that day, and the gazelle wakes up knowing it must outrun the fastest lion. Those are the only rules. That being said, there are many places on planet Earth that are quite dangerous and deadly due to a combination of factors, whether geographic, biological, chemical, or geothermal.
With the proper training and equipment there are methods to survive these locations and situations, even when a person is tossed into the environment unexpectedly. As always, the most important factor in any survivalist situation is the will to live and the desire to continue to fight. Combine that with know-how and the chances of survival climb dramatically.
GOBI DESERT, NORTHERN CHINA
Few places on the globe can be said to be as extreme as a desert in northern China which also covers southern Mongolia – the Gobi desert. Asia’s largest desert, covering a range of 500,000 miles, isn’t one of sand, it is one of rock. It is between 3,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level which generally makes it a cold desert. However, due to a peculiarity of the winds blowing off the Siberian Steppes, temperatures are absurdly variable, ranging from -40 F in winter to 122 F in summer. The temperature can vary by as much as 63 degrees in a single day. As a result, temperature extremes are the most significant survival challenge.
To survive the cold, a few simple principles apply: keep your clothing clean and dry, keep your head covered as that is where humans lose most of their heat, avoid overheating or sweating profusely and wear your clothing in layers. Because wind chill can rapidly cool body temperature, construct a shelter obscuring the wind (death from hypothermia comes at a 77 degree core temperature). Never put your sleeping bag directly on the ground in cases of extreme cold – create a barrier of leaves or reeds to further insulate from the cold. When the temperature is extremely high, the most significant risks are heat stroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion. Staying hydrated and maintaining salt in your system will combat these problems. Remaining lightly clothed is important as evaporation increases the body’s water loss. Finding a spot to shelter away from the sun is critical, and keeping sunscreen on any exposed skin will minimize skin damage.
“SURVIVAL IS NOT ABOUT BEING FEARLESS. IT’S ABOUT MAKING A DECISION, GETTING ON AND DOING IT, BECAUSE I WANT TO SEE MY KIDS AGAIN, OR WHATEVER THE REASON MIGHT BE.”
Whether in the deep cold or the scorching heat, one problem will become immediately evident – there is very little water in the Gobi desert. The desert receives only 7.6 inches of rain a year. However, there is water in the Gobi desert if you know where to look. Because the Gobi is close to some of the oldest ancient civilizations in the world people have been digging out water sources for thousands of years. This means there are literally thousands of wells that were dug. There are also 36 active springs in the desert – a small amount of research would allow a visitor to know these locations and greatly increase the likelihood of survival.
THE AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK, AUSTRALIA
One of the most unusual, and most deadly, continents on Earth that happens to also be the most interesting, is the land down under. Australia is home to some of the most diverse wildlife in the world, with many unique species that have adapted to the harsh environments of the continent. It is also home to some of the most deadly animals anywhere in the world. The most habitable regions of Australia are the areas adjoining the coast, which can be temperate and lush. There are a multitude of cities and beach towns that are modern and safe, but at the center of the country is a less hospitable zone – the Australian Outback.
The Outback is vast, with very small amounts of rainfall and soil that is generally not very fertile. As a result, the population of the region is extremely sparse, with 90 percent of the population living in the coastal areas. Compounding the danger of the region is the poisonous wildlife. The deadliest snake in the world is found in Australia – the inland taipan. It has the most toxic venom of any snake by far, with one bite containing enough venom to kill up to 100 men. Depending on the bite, the venom can kill in 30 to 45 minutes if untreated.
To treat a snakebite, the most common method is the pressure immobilization technique. The primary idea is that the venom is isolated at the bite site while the victim is transported to a healthcare facility. The only treatment after the bite is an immediate administration of 3-4 vials of CSL Taipan Snake anti-venom intravenously to prevent paralysis and muscle damage. Even more peaceful Australian species can be quite dangerous, such as the Australian Flying Fox. The Flying Fox is a type of bat with a wingspan of up to five feet. It primarily eats blossoms, fruit and nectar. Even though the bat is non-meat eating, human contact can result in a bite or scratch, which can then transfer the Hendra virus the bat carries. While the infection rate for Hendra tends to be low, it is very lethal and kills 57 percent of the time. In the case of a bite, carefully clean the wound and watch for signs of infection which would include respiratory problems – immediately seek medical attention should any appear.
CLIPPERTON ISLAND, PACIFIC OCEAN
There’s a tiny patch of sand and flora lost in the Pacific Ocean where not a single soul lives. It is completely isolated and is nearly 600 miles from any other patch of dry land. Known as Clipperton Island, it has a macabre history. There was an attempt by around 100 people to colonize it in 1915, but with the start of the Mexican Revolution, resupply ships stopped arriving. By 1917, all but one of the men on the island had died from a combination of scurvy or in an effort to fetch help (the last perished after declaring himself king and attempting to rape the remaining women on the island, who killed him for it). A passing Navy warship rescued the final four women and seven children later that year.
A lonely, unoccupied lighthouse remains on the island. There are several survival challenges associated with living, however briefly, on Clipperton Island. It has already claimed nearly one hundred lives. Fortunately, there are some examples of castaways using the island after an incident at sea to survive until they could be rescued.
In 1962, a tuna boat went down, and nine sailors were able to escape to the island and called it home for 23 days. The island has a stagnant fresh water lagoon which is drinkable. Modern filtering techniques could promote the quality of the water. A simple sock can act as an effective filter. Placing layers of sand, charcoal, leaves, and reeds can successfully remove small particulate matter and larger organisms that can be harmful.
The only land animals known to exist are bright-orange crabs, birds, lizards and rats, the last of which seem to have arrived from recently wrecked ships. The birds that lived on the island produced eggs that could not be eaten and they have little meat. The remaining buildings were uninhabitable, but they were able to turn the old huts into firewood and built shelter from some sheet metal and concrete they found. They were able to fish off the fringing reef, and they’d salvaged a small amount of onions and potatoes from their vessel, which was quite lucky as there were not enough coconuts on the island to sustain them. They were rescued when they were able to get the attention of a fishing vessel and were later picked up by a Navy destroyer. These techniques are effective in other desert island situations as well.
KIDNAPPINGS IN AFRICA, CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA, AND THE MIDDLE EAST
A dangerous aspect of visiting certain locations in Africa, Central and South America, or the Middle East, whether for business, tourism, or charity work, is that of kidnapping. If a person is visiting these areas professionally, oftentimes a briefing will occur with a security professional who will provide guidance to a potential visitor on ways to stay safe and potential scenarios that might occur should the worst happen. There are companies, such as Risks Incorporated in Miami, that will supply this training for around $650.
Generally speaking, there are two major types of kidnappers in a given region. The first type was, for a long time, the most common – a kidnapper that simply has the intention of ransoming a victim for money. This type occurs more frequently in areas such South Africa, Mexico (which recently reported a 300 percent increase in the crime) and Columbia.
To prepare for this situation, travelers to these dangerous regions will have the option of acquiring “kidnapping and ransom insurance”– or K&R in the industry lingo – which is underwritten by most major insurance providers such as AIG or Global Underwriters. This type of insurance is not cheap, and it can run as much as $3,000 per day, depending on where you are going and what you will be doing there. Some businesses will cover these costs for the employee and some may not, allowing the employee to opt for the coverage or not. In general, security specialists will tell a potential traveler that in the case of a kidnapping for ransom an escape attempt may not be worth it in terms of the danger incurred. This type of kidnapper just wants as much money as they can get, and will generally free the person once the money is paid.
“ONCE IRAQ BECAME A HOT BED FOR KIDNAPPING, REPORTERS HAD TO USE EVERY KIND OF TRICK THEY COULD MANAGE TO AVOID IT. THIS INCLUDED CHASE CARS, SECURITY MEN FOR MORE PROSPEROUS AGENCIES AND NETWORKS, AND GPS SIGNALS ON SATELLITE PHONES THAT COULD PINPOINT THE JOURNALIST’S LOCATIONS.”
However, there is a second type of kidnapper that has more recently emerged and is the much more dangerous of the two. This type of kidnapper is a religious extremist and most often there is a single ending for the victim — death. Public beheadings have become a growing phenomenon as the kidnapper attempts to make a political statement. If a person is caught by this type of kidnapper, security professionals will generally give a different type of advice: Do whatever you can do within your power to escape, no matter how dangerous, because they are almost certainly going to eventually kill you. Fight to stay alive, fight to reach someone who can help, and odds of survival increase significantly.
SURVIVING DEADLY LOCATIONS:
Survival! The Shackleton Story (2014) – This documentary describes the experiences of a ship’s crew that survived a year in Antarctica after their ship was destroyed by packed ice.
Braving Alaska (1993) – This is a National Geographic documentary following several families that make their living in the more extreme parts of Alaska.
The Extraordinary Tale of William Buckley (2010) – This a dramatization of a 23 year old Australian convict that escaped from prison and then lived 32 years in the Australian wilderness, one of the harshest environments in the world.
Alone in the Wild (2009) – This British documentary series follows the exploits of an extreme photographer that captured his experiences surviving for three months alone in the wild. He was dropped off in the Dog Pack Lake region of the Yukon Territory of Canada and traveled the area looking for food and resources.
Editors Note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.