Rare Leopard Behavior Documented on Film

David Braun
National Geographic News
June 28, 2002

Film footage of a wild leopard in South Africa's Mala Mala preserve has documented unusual animal behavior.

Filmmaker Kim Wolhuter followed a single large male leopard for 18 months, recording the most intimate details of its life. Shot mostly in the dark, when the big spotted cats are most active, the documentary recorded a leopard killing twice in quick succession—once for the hyenas that dogged its footsteps and again for its own meal, so it could eat in peace.

National Geographic News interviewed Wolhuter, 43, about the making of the documentary.

NG: You spent a large part of your childhood living in a big African game park, where your father and grandfather were rangers. What was it like growing up in the wilderness like that?

KW: It's hard for anyone raised in a city to appreciate what it was like for me to grow up in the bush. In the veldt you live life more from the perspective of survival and being part of the natural system. You take each day as it comes. You are, to a degree, governed by the events that are happening around you. You don't have total control over what you do.

I am hugely fortunate that I have that experience. It gives me an edge in doing what I do, especially when it comes to understanding and documenting animal behavior.

You were set to follow in the footsteps of your father and grandfather and you studied grasslands science at college in preparation for a career in conservation. How did you get into filmmaking?

It started some years ago when I worked with Richard Goss, who was making a documentary on meerkats for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Before that I shot perhaps no more than a dozen slides a year. Goss wanted me to build camps for him in the remote areas of Botswana.

When Richard came out again to do a second documentary he gave me a camera and told me to start shooting. This resulted in my working for him for six years or so, before I started making films for myself. I have been filming for 14 years now, working with hyenas, leopards, and jackals.

The first documentaries I did for National Geographic were working with Richard. They were Beauty and the Beast and Strandwolf. This one, Stalking Leopards, is the first one I have done for the Geographic by myself.

A striking feature of Stalking Leopards is that so much of it is filmed in the dark. It certainly gives us a different perspective on the African savanna and the nighttime behavior of the animals. How did you do this? And don't you find it really scary being out in the dark, surrounded by carnivorous wild animals you couldn't see?

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