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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Obama Pushes for Gun Reform; Nelson Mandela Hospitalized; Barbara Walters to Retire?
Aired March 28, 2013 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks.
Good evening, everyone. A lot happening tonight. Word that Barbara Walters is soon retiring. President Obama laying down the gauntlet on gun control. Nelson Mandela is seriously ill and back in the hospital.
Also tonight, also in South Africa, the so-called blade runner, Oscar Pistorius, he killed his girlfriend, is charged with her murder. He's already out on bail but now he gets a slew of new freedoms. We'll explain what ahead.
And also later tonight, diving with deadly Nile crocodiles. I went in search of crocodiles with two daring filmmakers in Botswana, and we'll show you what it's like to come face-to-face under water with these extraordinary prehistoric creatures.
We begin tonight, though, with new revelations in the Sandy Hook killings that claimed the lives of 20 young students and six brave educators. We should mention that we do as much as we can on this program to honor the lives of those children and those adults and as little as possible to give their killer any kind of attention at all.
However tonight there is new information about that young man that has bearing on the story and to some changes in gun policy now being discussed. And with that in mind, authorities under pressure from the families released new documents today showing that the killer had an arsenal, more than 1600 rounds of ammunition in the home he shared with the mother who became his first victim. He killed her with a .22.
They also found two rifles, a handgun, a BB gun, three Samurai swords, a bayonet and seven other knives. In his room, photos of dead bodies and an article about the 2008 school shooting that left five students dead in northern Illinois.
Also in the home, a Christmas card with a check written out by his mother earmarked for yet another firearm. In addition to the inventory at home, other documents revealed that 154 spent casings were found at Sandy Hook Elementary from that Bushmaster military style rifle that he used to kill all 26 people there. Twenty-six dead in less than five minutes.
The shooter carried nine 30-round magazines. Police also recovered a loaded shotgun from his car and nearly six dozen 12-gauge shells.
And with that as a backdrop, Newtown parents and survivors of other school tragedies gathered today at the White House, the president declaring this is the moment for Congress to act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is our best chance in more than a decade to take commonsense steps that will save lives. I haven't forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we have forgotten them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Congress debating a number of gun control measures. The president underscored how uncontroversial he believes they are. New polling from CBS News shows 90 percent want federal legislation requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers. And that's largely a nonpartisan view, according to these poll. Support from 96 percent of Democrats, 89 percent of independents and 86 percent of Republicans.
However, that same polling shows more general support for stricter gun laws fading since Newtown. With 47 percent now favoring tougher legislation, which is down 10 percentage points from December, shortly after the Sandy Hook tragedy. So there's mixed messages there.
Let's talk about it with Democratic strategist and former Obama 2012 pollster, Cornell Belcher. Also want to welcome Emily Miller to 360. She's senior opinion editor at the "Washington Times."
Emily, what do you make of President Obama saying shame on -- shame on us if we've forgotten Newtown?
EMILY MILLER, SENIOR OPINION EDITOR, WASHINGTON TIMES: I would say the only person that should be ashamed is President Obama. I mean, we haven't heard him talk about gun control in weeks and suddenly on the day which everyone knew in advance that Connecticut was releasing all this information about what happened at Sandy Hook, he suddenly has a press conference at the White House and starts calling for more -- more of his political agenda.
It's just, it's just, I think it's disgusting. That's -- you know, what he's been pushing for since before he got re-elected and he's going to keep continue to push for it.
COOPER: Cornell, what about that? Emily saying shame on the president.
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Shame on the president for wanting to protect Americans. Shame on the president for calling for commonsense solutions to -- on guns that 91 percent of Americans support. Shame really here should be on those who stand in the way of this.
I mean, look, you know, these high capacity clips, background checks, we have a moral obligation to try to protect -- you know, there's no perfect law. However, if we can keep guns out of the hands of one crazy person, don't we have the moral obligation to do that? So I think there's some shame to go around but it's not on the president, it's the people who are trying to stand in the way of commonsense solutions that 91 percent of Americans want.
Hey, that's not --
MILLER: Well, now let's be clear.
BELCHER: It's not bipartisan when 91 percent want it. It's not a red state or a blue state issue when 91 percent of Americans want something.
MILLER: But, Cornell, you did say 91 percent several times. Let's be clear about what you're talking about. If you're talking about more gun control laws, only 26 percent of registered voters want more gun control laws. What you're specifically talking about is the so-called universal background checks. That is what the president wants and I do think that, you know, Republicans, people on both sides of the aisle want to strengthen the background checks.
We have in place laws. All of which this -- you know, that horrible killer, and as Anderson says, let's not even mention his name in Newtown, you know, committed. He had broke all these laws. We have laws against someone who's mentally ill carrying a gun, laws against someone who is a felon, and that case wouldn't apply to him, someone under 18.
We have laws in place. The problem is -- two major problems. One is that these mental health records are not being put into NICS, the federal background -- FBI federal background check. NICS results are not being put into the system so people aren't getting caught. And also criminals don't buy their guns from dealers that do NICS checks.
You can do -- you can background check the world, you can background check your mom and dad, but the criminals aren't getting their guns that way. They're buying them on the streets, 80 percent, according to the Justice Department, 80 percent of criminals bought their guns either on the streets or stolen from their friends and family.
They're not going through background checks. And I think it'd be hard to believe that someone is going to be buying, selling or stealing a gun off the street, the seller is going to stop and pick up the cell phone and call the FBI and do a background check.
BELCHER: So am I understanding that now you are supporting us closing the loopholes in gun shows and you supporting closing loopholes that allow, you know, these people to buy guns and -- (CROSSTALK)
MILLER: Well, Cornell, let me ask you a question.
BELCHER: Are you now -- no, you talked for awhile. Let me just ask a couple of questions. So now you're supporting that? You're supporting -- are what you're saying is really we don't need any more gun laws whatsoever. What we are having right now is just fine, that the vast majority of Americans right now just have to, you know, grin and bear it and take tragedy after tragedy so that a few people can do whatever they want whenever they want with guns, the rest of us just have to sort of grin and bear it?
MILLER: Well, Cornell, I'm not sure --
BELCHER: I don't think -- I think that's selfish. I don't think that's reasonable. And I know it's politically not tenable.
COOPER: Emily, when you talk about strengthening background checks and you say there are a lot of Republicans who agree they should be strengthened, what you're saying, though, is strengthening existing ones, more prosecutions of people who have lied on background checks, making sure states report information more than they currently are.
But do you support any further increasing of background checks to cover all sales or private sales or some private sales?
MILLER: Well, Anderson, I just want to clarify this, Cornell asked me a question that I want to respond to it. He asked if I favor closing the gun show loophole. And I just want to -- since we both seem to be hijacking your show right now, I'd like to ask Cornell, how many percentage of people get their guns through gun shows? Does he know the answer to that?
BELCHER: You know what -- you know what, I don't care how many percentage of people get their guns at gun shows.
MILLER: So you don't know the answer. The answer -- my point is only --
BELCHER: It's irrelevant. Because if one person gets a gun through a loophole and they kill somebody, you know what? That's enough for me.
MILLER: OK, well, Cornell, you're operating off some sort of -- this sort of world view which President Obama has that we pass laws based on helping one person. If we do that, we're going to have to pass a lot of laws because a lot of people die than one person. Every life counts --
BELCHER: So we shouldn't try to save one life?
MILLER: Let me finish. We are universally human beings who care, who want to keep our kids safe, who want to stop criminals on the streets. We all have been victims of crime. We all want to protect ourselves. That is universal. How we go through it has got to be done by policy. It's got to be done by fact.
There has been one major study by the government, it's done by the CDC, it's a two-year study, it looked at every gun law, state, local and federal level. It concluded, and the CDC is obviously not a pro-gun organization, in fact, it's the opposite, it concluded there has never been one single law on the books at any level that has reduced crime, o has stopped any kind of mass shooting.
COOPER: Wait, wait.
MILLER: So why -- why do you support --
COOPER: Let me just jump in here. Emily, let me just in here. There are background checks in place and those background checks have stopped criminals from getting guns. I mean, we know it has stopped convicted felons. We know people have been rejected on those background checks.
MILLER: We know people have been rejected but you can't prove --
COOPER: How can you say that hasn't had any impact? I mean, you can't --
MILLER: I'm not -- Anderson, I'm not --
COOPER: You can't study a crime that didn't occur.
MILLER: Let's go back to what happened today at the White House. The president has called for a lot of things. He spent three months exploiting this horrific tragedy and now he's calling for this, quote, "universal background check." The reason he is is because he wants universal registration. He wants to know who owns guns, where they are and everyone who owns them.
COOPER: But wait.
MILLER: That's not according to Emily Miller.
COOPER: Well, hold on. Stop. Stop.
MILLER: That's according to --
COOPER: You just made a jump in logic. Cornell, let me ask you about this jump in logic that she just made. Because do you believe that the president -- that anybody who wants to expand background checks to cover private sales, gun show sales, however small those gun show sales may be, wants automatically every gun to be registered in this country?
BELCHER: No --
COOPER: I don't see the two are equated.
BELCHER: I think that's a -- that's a -- I mean, it's a conspiracy theory leap and unfortunately all the people who want guns aren't Emily because if they were, you know, we wouldn't have these mass tragedies that we see almost weekly right now. We wouldn't be, you know, in this studio 10 minutes away from southeast D.C. where these people are reminded of the ravages of gun violence --
MILLER: Even though it's against the law in D.C. to bring a gun out of the home.
BELCHER: Every night. It is against the law. And you know what they do?
MILLER: And that's not -- that's working really well.
BELCHER: They're not getting their gun -- they're not getting -- but, Emily, they're not getting their guns from D.C. That's the problem.
MILLER: Yes, they are.
BELCHER: That's why we have -- no, they're not getting their guns from D.C.
MILLER: How do you know that, Cornell?
BELCHER: Just -- well, just like people in New York, there is a corridor of --
MILLER: Cornell, how do you know that?
COOPER: We know that because Mayor Bloomberg and the chief of police in New York City will tell you there is a pipeline of guns coming into the city from southern states.
MILLER: Yes, because Mayor Bloomberg makes this stuff up. Because Mayor Bloomberg wants --
COOPER: So you're saying the chief of police is making up where the handguns in his city come from?
MILLER: I absolutely believe the liberal chiefs of police in this country who are not elected like the sheriffs are have an agenda. And that's why they support all this stuff. You talk to the elected sheriffs in this country.
BELCHER: And this encapsulate --
MILLER: They do not want more enforcement because they know that they're not going to waste their time going after the law abiders. And I want to talk about --
COOPER: So you're saying that people who are elected sheriffs don't have an agenda, they don't need to kowtow and stuff to voters in order to get re-elected?
MILLER: To their -- to these big city mayors, absolutely.
COOPER: The thing I don't understand, and I've asked the NRA this and I don't take a position on this, I'm not -- it's not my job, I'm not Piers Morgan here, I'm not trying to push an agenda.
MILLER: Thank god.
COOPER: But the thing I do not understand is if background checks have prevented some felons, some domestic abusers, some people who have been convicted of crimes in the past, has prevented them from getting guns because they've lied on their background checks and they've been caught, and we know the statistics on that, it has done that, why not expand them to prevent more people like them from getting guns? That's what I just don't understand.
MILLER: OK. And this is how I'll explain it to you. There are some practical issues involved that we're not thinking about. This 28 percent or so people who don't buy their guns through the -- you know, through the firearms dealers, who use the background check, again, it's between friends and family. So what we're going to have to do is pass some sort of law which requires them to then either go to the gun store and have this done or, you know, somehow, I don't know how they're going to do this.
But we don't know logistically how it's going to work out. How will you enforce this? You don't -- we don't know who owns guns. We don't know who is exchanging guns. If someone has intent to commit a crime, you really think that they're going to ask their uncle for a gun, that they're then going to go to a store and get an FBI background check if they're not legally supposed to be having one?
Let's say tomorrow we said, we, Congress, we -- Congress, say Congress said tomorrow somehow this got passed which it's not going to, but let's say somehow Congress passed a law that says any time you transfer a firearm in this country, you have to call the FBI and get a background check.
COOPER: You know what? We somehow figured out how to do it with cars. You can probably figure out how to do it with guns. I don't really know how the car system works.
MILLER: Well, there's a difference that --
COOPER: But you know what, it seems to work. I'm buying a car right now. And you know what, it's a pain in the butt but you got to do it. Somehow that works. MILLER: But if you were -- if you were -- Anderson, if you are going to take the car to do a drug deal to steal the car, you're sure not going to the DMV first. Number one. Number two, driving is a privilege. Owning a firearm is a right. We don't have -- the government does not have to be in the middle of it because our founding fathers gave us the right to keep and bear arms.
COOPER: Emily Miller, it's great to have your voice on the program. Thanks for being with us. Cornell Belcher as well.
Let us know what you think about this debate. Follow me on Twitter @Andersoncooper.
Coming up next, the world is holding its breath hoping Nelson Mandela will be OK. He's in the hospital again. We'll tell you why. The latest on his condition.
Also in South Africa, the blade runner, Oscar Pistorius charged with murder, now free to roam the world. Whatever happened to don't leave town? Well, why he gets to leave the country.
Also, my very visit, my very careful visit, dropping in on crocodiles where they live and feed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: To finally see one. It's amazing. The beauty to it. But it's also incredibly intimidating. You really have the sense when you're so close to it just how strong it is and it looks right at you. And you know and it knows that it could attack you at any moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: There's a new health scare for Nelson Mandela to tell you about. The 94-year-old is back in the hospital tonight. Former President Clinton there posing with him on the eve of his birthday last summer. This is really one of the last images we have of the former President Mandela. He's been ill. He's now being treated for a pulmonary infection.
Goes without saying obviously Mandela means the world to South Africa and means much to the entire world. As our best wishes go out to him and his family, Robyn Curnow joins us with the very latest on his condition.
How serious is this hospitalization, do we know?
ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't know the exact details but we do get a sense that this is serious, mostly because he was rushed to hospital in the middle of the night on Wednesday, suffering from this lung infection. Now the reason that it's serious, that Nelson Mandela's home where he lives, the bedroom in which he sleeps, is literally like a mini hospital. It is sterilized, people are limited coming in and out so that he doesn't get infections. You know, there's a lot of medical equipment there. He also has 24-hour medical care.
So in addition to that, why did his doctors feel that they needed to make this emergency run to the hospital? They are now saying that he's responding well to treatment, treatment to what is essentially for pneumonia, but beyond that, we're not getting much information.
COOPER: I mean, he's had health problems in the past. There have been scares about what might happen to him. He's been hospitalized in the past. Is there any indication that this time it's more serious or we simply just don't know?
CURNOW: We don't know and I think what is important here is that sense that, you know, this is a man who is frail, who has definitely been aging and, you know, he's been in hospital four times in the last two years. He was in hospital just a few weeks ago and each time that he's been in hospital, the authorities here when giving their very brief press statements have just said, you know, calm down, don't panic.
They've tried to reassure the public. They haven't really done it this time. They have been asking for people to pray for him. You know, there have been indications just in the tone coming from the South African authorities that this is serious. And of course many people here love him dearly, as you mentioned.
CURNOW: So there is a concern about how he's going to pull through on this.
COOPER: Robyn Curnow, appreciate the update from South Africa.
Our "Crime and Punishment" report tonight also comes from South Africa. And it's a global head scratcher. Oscar Pistorius, the so- called blade runner, who's charged in the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, already free on bail, is now free to leave South Africa. Free to travel overseas.
The judge making that decision also allowed him to drink again and if he wants to return to the scene of the crime, his house. Plenty of people not familiar with the South African legal system might be asking why an alleged murderer or accused murder not only gets bail but also the official go ahead to possibly travel beyond the reach of justice?
Our Drew Griffin joins us to explain the why and the how of it all -- Drew.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is a head scratcher. I mean, this guy is charged with murder and awaiting trial but this decision, Anderson, seems to be based on one question. Is Oscar Pistorius a flight risk? What his attorneys argued is he's already out of jail, already allowed to live in his uncle's house while he awaits trial.
He has already been determined not to be a flight risk, so they say why put any restrictions on him at all? And they argue that in order for Oscar to actually make a living, perhaps to afford legal defense, he does need to travel internationally to compete in meets.
Well, the judge today, Anderson, agreed with that. Here is what Judge Bert Bam had to say in court.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE BERT BAM, PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA: I could find no reason why the defendant should be forbidden to leave the Republic of South Africa if invited to compete in athletic events in other countries.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: Oscar Pistorius was not in court, Anderson, but the judge did place some restrictions on that travel. Pistorius will need to file an itinerary with the court a week in advance. He's going to have to surrender his passport within a day after returning to South Africa but, as you alluded to, there's more leniency in this bail. He can drink alcohol now and yes, he can return to the very house where he shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day.
COOPER: And this victim, I mean, it's important not to forget her in all of this, nor her family. Was Reeva Steenkamp's family in court? Did they object publicly to any of this?
GRIFFIN: You know, true to their word, Anderson, they weren't in court and they won't come, as they say, on these particular court issues and events that have been coming up from time to time. We did get in touch with Mike Steenkamp, he's Reeva's uncle, sort of the spokesperson for the family. He confirmed there wouldn't be a comment on the court proceedings except to say this. "We're feeling a little bit lost about that."
But he did want to tell us this about Reeva. "This is the time of year we are missing Reeva so much. It's close to Easter and she used to spend every Easter with us."
Mike Steenkamp told us that the family early on, Anderson, they made a collective decision never to be in court for any of the proceedings, including the eventual murder trial of Oscar Pistorius.
COOPER: It's so interesting that they're not even going to be in court for the trial, they say.
Drew, appreciate the reporting.
For more on this story, you can go to CNN.com.
Just ahead tonight, television news icon Barbara Walters who broke so many barriers, so many big stories, got so many huge interviews, is making her own news tonight. She's reportedly decided it is time to retire. We'll give you the time table, all the details ahead.
Also coming up, one of the most incredible experiences I've had under water in Botswana, on the trail of man-eating crocodiles.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It's hard to pursue the crocodile right now. It's -- I can't tell how large it is. Its tail is so (INAUDIBLE), I'm almost right on top of it. I can reach out right now and just touch the tail.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: New revelations that will come as a bad body blow to the families of all those killed, wounded and terrorized by that man, the alleged doorstep killer, Evan Ebel. That's ahead on 360.
COOPER: It looks like the end of an iconic era in TV news may be just around the corner. Barbara Walters is reportedly ready to retire. The news broke today, multiple reports that Walters is likely to retire May of next year.
ABC, the place where Walters has hosted "The View" since 1997 in addition to primetime specials, isn't commenting officially. Walters is 83 years old. She's had some recent health problems. She had heart surgery in 2010, took some time off earlier this year to recover from chickenpox and a concussion.
Let's talk about it now with Bill Carter who covers the TV industry for the "New York Times."
Bill, it's good to have you on again. As we said, I mean, this is truly the end of an era when she retires. Any idea why she's reportedly doing this now?
BILL CARTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, she hasn't said. I think she will say. I think she will explain it, but I think this news leaked a little early, obviously. They were -- I think they were planning on her doing it on her own terms, on the show, probably in May, to say it will be a year from now. But I think, you know, given her age and given her health situation, it's probably just come to her that it's a good time for her to stop.
COOPER: Does that mean stopping from "The View" as well? Because she also has not just on air, you know, responsibilities, she's the co-owner, she's the co-producer of "The View."
CARTER: Yes. Yes, I don't know about whether she'll continue to be supervising on that show. I think she is going to withdraw from appearing every day on the show. That show is not a really taxing show. I mean, you know, it's basically a discussion show and I don't think it requires as much work but I also think, you know, the whole notion of getting yourself up, getting yourself on the air, made up, you know the process, it's not always the easiest thing in the world to do every day of your life and I think probably she's decided that this is a good time for her to step away from that.
COOPER: They've had some pretty taxing moments on "The View" over the years, I must say, though.
CARTER: Yes, they have. Yes.
COOPER: Both on -- both on camera and behind the scenes. But I mean --
CARTER: Mainly off.
COOPER: Yes. Mainly off. But you know, it is, I mean, remarkable when -- I mean, I read her autobiography when it came out and her career is just extraordinary. More than half a century in this business. It's really hard to exaggerate her legacy and her effect on this profession, particularly I think for women journalists.
CARTER: Well, you have to remember when she started on the "Today" show in 1962, the women were considered sort of ornaments to television. They were not considered to be journalists. And she forced her way into that role. She really did. And through force of will. And once she got inside that, she's a very determined and ambitious and bright woman, and she just is relentless and always was.
And, you know, pushed her way into being a -- a serious news person, took the job as the co-anchor of "ABC Evening News" and that blew up but then she remade herself again.
COOPER: All right. She was treated horribly by her co-workers, as I recall.
CARTER: She was. That was a famous reaction he had -- you know, he didn't want a co-anchor at all but to have the first woman, it was just amazing to see almost the ice-cold aspect on the air. They -- virtually never could do a two-shot with them together. They could only do them separately.
So -- but she recovered from that rather remarkably because -- she still talks about that as an incredible low point in her career. But you know, she was doing interviews with every big figure in the news at that point in her time. She was part of that whole shuttle diplomacy era, flying back and forth in the Mideast between Begin and Sadat and all the other big figures, like Castro and Gadhafi and all these very famous figures in history that she sat down with.
COOPER: Yes, I think every president since Nixon, she's talked to. I had her on the show recently, couple months ago, talking about Moammar Gadhafi, who she had interviewed several times. Just the amount of travel, the amount of situations that she put herself in is really extraordinary. CARTER: Yes. And most of the time, it was through her own booking. She would get on the phone and book these people. You know Barbara was often criticized for her social activity because she would socialize with a lot of people, but a lot of that was calculated on her part. She knew how to make relationships, get insiders to listen to her, and then she could book them and get big gets. That's what her business was.
COOPER: I hope she's on air for a long time to come. Bill, appreciate you being with us. Thanks.
CARTER: Nice to be with you, Anderson.
COOPER: All right, let's get you caught up on some of the other stories we're following right now. Susan Hendricks is here with the "360 Bulletin" -- Susan.
SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, just released, prison records show that Evan Ebel, the parolee suspected of shooting to death Colorado's prison chief, threatened to kill a prison guard in September of 2005. That was just six months after he entered prison.
Now, the records reveal that Ebel had 28 violations during his incarceration, including three assaults. As a result, his original three-year sentence grew to eight years. Much of that time was served in solitary confinement.
Today, we also learned Ebel was wearing an ankle bracelet to track his movements before the attack last week. It's unclear when he removed it.
Also a 22-year-old woman appeared in court today. Stefie Marie Vigil is accused of purchasing the gun that Ebel used in the killing. She faces up to 16 years in prison if convicted. Ebel couldn't make the purchase himself since he's a convicted felon.
The sister of one of the two suspects in the shooting death of a Georgia baby was arrested today on an evidence tampering charge. Sabrina Elkins is accused of helping her mother get rid of the gun used to kill a 13-month-old baby boy during an attempted robbery last week.
In Washington State, five homes have now been declared unlivable. That is according to our affiliate there. Amazingly, no one was injured after that massive landslide on Wednesday.
Police in Reading, California are looking for this guy. A would- be burglar caught on tape with what is believed to be women's stockings on his head. Then he throws a rock at the front door of a grocery store. The suspect fled when the alarm went off, and then he tripped and fell. Not too bright. Anderson, back to you.
COOPER: Susan, thanks very much.
Up next, see what it's like to dive with deadly crocodiles in Botswana. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER (voice-over): I know I should be terrified but the truth is, it's actually thrilling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Just ahead on 360, I come face-to-face under water with the deadly Nile crocodile.
COOPER: Welcome back. I recently filed a report for CBS' "60 Minutes" about deadly Nile crocodiles. They're prehistoric creatures that can grow up to 20 feet. I went diving with two very daring film makers and it was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had.
It was a rare chance to show others what few had ever seen. As I said, my guides were two wildlife film makers who are doing pioneering work getting up close with Nile crocodiles under water to try to unlock their mysteries.
Although these sometimes man-eating creatures are as old as dinosaurs, kind of little is known about their behavior under water. Studying them under water was always thought to be impossible. Turns out it's not. Take a look.
COOPER (voice-over): The delta has been called one of the last Edens on earth. Hundreds of miles of winding waterways and untouched islands are home to some of Africa's most exotic and enchanting wildlife. It's also home to tens of thousands of Nile crocodiles.
For the last five years, Brad Vestalink and his wife, Andi Crawford, have been risking their lives filming these man eaters in the most daring way imaginable, following the crocodiles into their underwater lairs.
It is a dark and foreboding world down there. Visibility is sometimes only a few feet. You can't even see the crocodiles until you catch a glimpse of their long rows of razor-sharp white teeth.
(on camera): How did you know you could do this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were next to a ledge and this crocodile swam up and actually swam between us, and then settled on the ground next to us.
COOPER: What first went through your mind?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, lots of bubbles and just panic. COOPER (voice-over): The panic was understandable. Nile crocodiles are Africa's largest and most feared predator. But surprisingly, this one didn't attack. Brad and Andi have been getting closer and closer to these creatures ever since.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You do get a different sense of them. They're very beautiful animals, speckled in gold and black, and you see them as more timid, I think, beyond the teeth and the terror. There's an incredible creature that is actually an amazing animal in its own right.
COOPER: You actually think they're beautiful?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do think they're beautiful. I didn't used to think they're beautiful. I used to have a whole different view of them.
COOPER (voice-over): This is the view most people have of Nile crocodiles. Stealthy and patient killers, they grab their prey, drag them into the water, then drown and dismember them. It's not just animals they eat. Hundreds of people in Africa are killed each year while bathing, laundering clothes or fishing along the water's edge.
Nile crocodiles are now protected in Botswana, but Brad and Andi believe more needs to be known about their behavior so that humans can better avoid them. They have invited Dr. Adam Briton, an Australian zoologist, to dive with them.
(on camera): When you first heard about what they were doing, what did you think?
DR. ADAM BRITON, ZOOLOGIST: I'll be honest. When I first heard about this, my instant immediate reaction was that sounds crazy.
COOPER (voice-over): Dr. Briton has been studying crocodiles for more than 18 years.
BRITON: I describe crocodiles like Ferraris. They're just extremely finely honed creatures. They are just perfectly adapted to do what they do. You know, they're the smartest of all the reptiles.
COOPER: Briton is building a genetic data base on Nile crocodiles in the delta to better understand how to protect them. For years, the only way to study them up close was to capture them.
BRITON: Once I have him --
COOPER: It is difficult, dangerous work.
(on camera): What are you doing now?
BRITON: I'm just going to cover his eyes so that he can't see what we're doing.
COOPER: So he's not injured at all?
BRITON: No, no, he's not injured apart from his pride, perhaps.
COOPER (voice-over): This crocodile is not sedated. It's simply trying to conserve its energy.
(on camera): Why are you doing this?
BRITON: If we can get a sample of all the DNA from every single crocodile across the delta, then we can start to build up a picture then of exactly not only where these crocodiles came from, but how they're moving within the delta.
COOPER: Because right now you don't really know that?
BRITON: No one really knows anything about that at all.
COOPER: When you actually see the crocodiles up close, there is a beauty to them, often in pictures they're covered in mud, they look very drab. But up close, you see the variety of color, not just on the top but also on the bottom.
And the touch, really, there's a softness to them particularly on the feet like this. The claws are about an inch, inch and a half, but the pads of the feet are actually incredibly soft.
(voice-over): Capturing crocodiles is stressful to the animal and for us. Putting them back in the water is just as hard.
BRITON: Just keep pressing down on the top of the skull. Ready to go, OK. Three, two, one, go.
COOPER: Diving with Brad and Andi has given the doctor a whole new understanding of crocodiles and their underwater world.
BRITON: You're in the water, you've got the current washing over you, you can feel the changes in temperature. You think this is what it's like to be a crocodile. This crocodile is experiencing these same things.
COOPER: He has actually begun to take DNA samples from crocodiles underwater, cutting off pieces of their tails. Incredibly, they don't seem to mind. Diving with Nile crocodiles is only possible in the winter months, when the water is chilly and the animals are sluggish. These cold-blooded reptiles are far too dangerous to dive with in the summer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The crocs are much more active, much more inclined to want to attack. They want to go eat something.
COOPER (voice-over): So two months from now, three months from now, you would not dive in these waters?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No. I don't want to die. Make no mistake. I do this because I get an understanding of how these predators work.
COOPER: Brad has spent his whole life around these predators. He grew up here in the delta and these home movies show his grandfather, who is a legendary crocodile hunter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe shot in excess of 30,000 crocodiles.
COOPER: Your grandfather killed about 30,000 crocodiles.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More than -- well, very close to what's the entire population today.
COOPER (voice-over): Brad and Andi offer to take me diving with them, explaining it's crucial to get off the surface of the water as quickly as possible, because that's where the crocs attack.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's the most important thing. As soon as you're underwater, we believe the crocodiles don't know what we are. They don't recognize us as prey.
COOPER (on camera): You say we believe. Do you know?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't know for sure. We can never know how they are perceiving us. We try to establish how they perceive us.
COOPER: Again, you're not really building my confidence here by saying you're not sure. What do I need to know before going in?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we believe you're safe. With all that uncertainty, we believe you're safe.
COOPER (voice-over): Safe? Take a look at a recent encounter they had with a crocodile.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see how close he comes to me?
COOPER (on camera): Look at the eyes. Look at those teeth. Those are huge.
(voice-over): This croc was 12 feet long and weighed about 1400 pounds.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's the diver.
COOPER (on camera): My gosh, but because the croc's moving, it doesn't even really sense that diver's there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It didn't even know he was there. You'll see how it just goes, it hits his light.
COOPER: So it just thinks that's some debris or tree or something.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
COOPER: That's amazing.
(voice-over): We set off early the next day. It's an hour up river to a spot that has a lot of underwater caves. Three divers will go in with me, Brad, the cameraman, Richard, and Andi. She'll be the safety diver watching our backs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll let you know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The international sign for crocodile?
COOPER: It's the international sign for crocodile? I didn't learn that in scuba school.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to give you one of these to dive with. It makes you feel better. It also gives you some barrier --
COOPER: No matter what, you do not want to drift.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't want to drift on to the crocodile.
COOPER (voice-over): As soon as the crocodiles see our boat, they disappear. We hope they've gone to the bottom to hide in their underwater caves, but they might still be floating near the surface, waiting to attack.
(on camera): It's a very strange feeling before you go diving because you know the crocodile's in this area, but you don't see any on the surface. The problem is that the boat comes in. Any motion on the surface does tend to attract crocodiles. You want to try to get here and in the water and to the bottom as quickly as possible.
(voice-over): We suit up, do our final checks, and then take the plunge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go with Anderson. OK.
COOPER: Now part two of my report on Nile crocodiles. I went to Botswana assignment for "60 Minutes" to go diving with these magnificent, sometimes man-eating creatures. I was in good hands. My guides were wildlife film makers, Brad and his wife, Andi. They have been studying these reptiles up close underwater for five years now.
As I prepared to come face-to-face with my first crocodile, I followed their first piece of advice. Once you leave the boat, don't linger at the water's surface because that is where crocodiles attack. Here's what happened next.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anderson, good. OK.
COOPER (voice-over): We get to the river bottom as quickly as we can. It's only about 15 feet deep. Thankfully, the visibility is good and we find ourselves in a stunning underwater garden with overhanging ledges, walls of papyrus, submerged trees and lies. (on camera): We know there's at least one crocodile in this area because we saw the ripples on the water. We believe it's gone into a nearby cave system so we're going to go into the caves right now to try to see if we can find it.
(voice-over): It's eerie and intimidating down here. The only light comes from our camera and it's easy to lose your way. Brad signals that he sees a crocodile. At first I can't see anything, but then out of the darkness, on the floor of the cave just as Brad warned, I see that gleaming row of white teeth.
(on camera): I finally see one, amazing. The beauty to it, but it's also incredibly intimidating. You really have the sense when you're so close to it just how strong it is and it looks right at you, and you know and it knows that it could attack you at any moment and there's nothing you could do about it.
(voice-over): The crocodile disappears into the darkness. We push further into the cave. It gets narrower and more claustrophobic as we move deeper into the gloom. Then, lurking on a nearby ledge, there's another crocodile.
(on camera): This crocodile's about nine feet long. Its tail makes up about half its length. Crocs have the amazing ability to actually slow their heart rate down. They can close off one of the valves in their heart, which stops the flow of blood to some of its organs and allows them to stay underwater for hours at a time. It's amazing how close a crocodile is. You can't tell if it's watching you or not.
(voice-over): Suddenly the crocodile backs away. It's not taking its eyes off me. I have no idea what it's going to do. My heart is pounding. Neither of us moves. Then with a flick of his tail, he's off. We move further through the undergrowth and find yet another crocodile.
This time, it's facing me head on. On the stick, I'm holding, I have a small camera and I move it closer to try and get a better shot. I know I should be terrified, but the truth is it's actually thrilling.
(on camera): It's extraordinary to get so close, literally looking at it right in the face, staring face-to-face. A crocodile's front vision is not very good, so this is actually a relatively safe place to be. The crocodile is also laying low, which is a good sign. If it would rise up on its feet that would be an indication it might be ready to strike.
(voice-over): When it finally takes off, we start following it. The crocodile is kicking up so much sand and sediment we can't see where we're going.
(on camera): We're trying to pursue the crocodile right now. I can't tell how large it is. Its tail is so curved. I'm almost right on top of it. I could reach out right now and just touch the tail, but I'm worried if I do that, it will somehow turn around. It just doesn't seem like a good idea, but I got to say it's so tempting.
(voice-over): The croc is moving so fast, we can't keep up for long. It's time to surface and find the boat.
(on camera): That was amazing. I was right on top of it. I was right on its tail. I could have touched it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then he turns around --
COOPER: Then he turns around. I swear there was a moment I thought he could just attack. There was nothing I could do about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ever feel like he was going to attack?
COOPER: Well, maybe a little, actually.
(voice-over): I dived with great white sharks before, but in terms of numbers of people killed each year, Nile crocodiles are far more deadly. Ones ruthlessly hunted, still vilified as mindless killing machines, we can observe them as they really are, perfectly evolved denizens of the dark, ancient creatures now for the first time fully visible in the light.
COOPER: Just want to reiterate, you should not go diving with crocodiles or alligators, the two divers I went with are very experienced. They have been diving with Nile crocodiles for more than five years now.
And there's a very limited window for when they are able to go, when the water is at a certain temperature and the crocodiles are sluggish and therefore, not as hungry. We'll be right back.
COOPER: That does it for us. See you again one hour from now, another edition of 360 at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" starts now.