Emmy Award-winning cinematographer Bob Poole discusses his latest National Geographic film
National Geographic’s Big Cat Week kicks off in the UK this evening with wildlife filmmaker Bob Poole’s film, Man Among Cheetahs. Bob has worked on more than 35 projects for National Geographic, but the stars of the film – mother cheetah Naborr and her two cubs – still provided enough challenges to keep even the expert on his toes.
Filmed over two months in Naboisho Conservancy, Kenya, Man Among Cheetahs documents the daily excitement and peril wild cheetahs face. Only 10 per cent of cubs make it to the age of two, so Naborr has to work tirelessly to keep her lively pair safe.
Big Cat Week is part of the Big Cats Initiative, an initiative supporting conservation and part of the National Geographic Society’s commitment to preserving big cats in the wild. It’s clear from speaking to Bob that he feels strongly about these animals – he didn’t just make a film about the cheetahs, he immersed himself in their world.
How did Man Among Cheetahs come about?
I’d done a lot of things recently with National Geographic and they were looking for a show to put me in, and they wanted to do a film about cheetahs. I knew a very special place where I’d been filming where there was a mother cheetah with two cubs and so the idea was to follow her 24/7 and just show the exciting rollercoaster life that she leads.
So how did you go about tracking her down and keeping up with the family?
That was the thing – it was really sort of a legitimate adventure because she didn’t wear any kind of tracking collar so we had to follow her the old fashioned way by just sticking with her. Once we’d found her, we really tried hard never to lose her 24 hours a day so we would just follow wherever she went and when she took off we had to go with her wherever that was – across river drainages or through thick bush. You think of cheetahs living on open plains but they actually do very well in woodland as well and most of her habitat was pretty thick bush, so it was a real challenge to keep up with her and not lose her, and when we did lose her it was extremely difficult to find her again. Sometimes we could spend days looking for her, and any time we weren’t with her we were losing good action because they hunt every day and their lives are just so full of jeopardy. It was a challenge but it was really; fun it was a good challenge in that it made for good filming.
You mentioned the jeopardy – was it hard for you seeing the cubs in danger and having to watch?
Absolutely. You don’t realise you invested you become, especially with the cubs – they’re so cute. You really get the sense that you know them and they know you and they’re completely wild animals – you really get the feel for their personalities and how amazing they are and so when they’re in jeopardy it’s scary, but there’s nothing you can do about it because you’re there to document what happens and not to change the outcome. When they’re chased by hyenas and having these really dangerous encounters you feel like you’re about to lose one of your children – it’s awful.
These were totally wild animals and we do everything we can not to interfere with their lives, so filming from a distance with a long lens, never interfering in their hunting, always trying to stay behind rather than approach or lead in any way. The cheetahs get very used to us so they keep close and we try to always keep a distance- we’re not there to habituate them in any way, just to really document what their lives are all about.
If viewers take anything away from Man Among Cheetahs, what do you hope it is?
That these animals are absolutely fascinating, that they’re in trouble, and that we can’t imagine a world without them in it, but our film is not labouring on these issues – it’s really following the lives of these animals, and in getting people to care about those individuals then hopefully we’ll see people caring about the species overall and how we can save them
What can people do to make a difference?
There are pages where you can help on the National Geographic website through the Big Cats initiative. They’re doing great stuff – funding research and anti-poaching and all kinds of things, so I would encourage people to go look at that. And then of course I always tell people the best thing they can do is go to Africa – if you really love this stuff, if you can do it, it’s the best thing you can do because it not only gives money directly to conservation through the parks and camps that help local people with their jobs, but it also sends a message to governments that we care and it’s worth conserving all this wildlife.
Man Among Cheetahs airs tonight at 9pm on Nat Geo WILD, and is part of Big Cat Week.
Feature image: Gina Poole