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“Trafficked” host Mariana van Zeller remembers running for her life through a jungle with poisonous snakes and spiders and the looming threat of gunfire while filming the documentary series.
“We were in the high Amazon jungle and had to run out with our gear and make it safely to our car,” she told The Post.
The Portuguese-born reporter helms the National Geographic show, which premiered on Dec. 2, that delves into the inner workings of global underworld markets such as the illicit tiger trade, illegal guns, cocaine and steroids.
Van Zeller said the scariest moment happened while they were filming in Peru.
“We were suddenly told in the middle that locals had spotted us and [were] possibly coming after us to harm us,” she said. “So we had to run out of that valley. We were in the high Amazon jungle and had to run out with our gear and make it safely to our car.
“It was not easy to get up there — it was a dark night. We couldn’t use our flashlights because we could be spotted. There were poisonous snakes and spiders all around us,” she continued. “And we’re slipping and sliding everywhere, because it was by a stream, and we couldn’t use any flashlights, so we couldn’t see where we were walking.”
The Peabody-winning reporter said that she was most surprised by “the extent that all these black markets operate so much out in the open, in plain sight, so much more than I was aware of.”
She recounted a gun deal with a car packed full of AK-47s and AR-15s that was conducted near a major freeway, 10 minutes from where she lives in Los Angeles, on a weeknight.
Despite sometimes feeling frightened, van Zeller said it’s imperative that she not show any trepidation while doing her job.
“If I was to show up with a bunch of security with guns, it’s never going to work in my favor,” she explained. “Being calm and collected and treating people with trust and respect, and they will treat you like that back.”
“Trafficked” airs on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on National Geographic.
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