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Kim’s jungle book

AT HOME WITH FRIENDS Kim Wolhuter

AT HOME WITH FRIENDS Kim Wolhuter  

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Kim Wolhuter, who spent two years running, playing, and drinking with the cheetahs of South Africa, talks about his bond with them

For two years, he walked with them; drank where they did; and observed their every move. And in those days, the cheetahs spoke to him in their own way. Emmy Award-winning wildlife filmmaker Kim Wolhuter has attempted to capture this special bond he developed with the animals in Man, Cheetah, Wild, a two-hour programme that will be featured on the Discovery Channel at 8 p.m. on August 24.

The cheetahs opened up to Kim in ways beyond his imagination. There he was, a human being armed with nothing more than a camera and truckloads of interest and love for the wild, who seamlessly merged into the animal world. “I started off with five cubs,” says Kim, in a telephone interview. Kim saw the cubs grow, hunt, and play; he even saw them lose their lives to bigger predators such as the lion and the leopard.

It all happened at the Malilangwe Game Reserve, Southern Zimbabwe. One day, Kim found out that a female cheetah he had been tracking had given birth to a litter of five. His journey with the animals began then on. Kim’s day started at 4 a.m. every day. “I would have my tea and sandwiches and head out to find them,” says Kim. “I spent the whole day with the cheetahs. I would park my vehicle and walk with them; see them sleep and hunt,” he says.

In the 18 months he spent prowling in the cheetah world, Kim got fascinating insights into their lives. “They accepted me, trusted me, and came to me for attention,” he observes. Out in the wild, every day is unpredictable. Kim woke up to changes in the lives of his little friends every day, some of them drastic. One morning, he found that the only male cub in the litter was attacked by a leopard. “I felt terrible,” he recalls. “I became attached to him. He was my solo mission — I thought the main film would be about him.”

Kim says that he “learnt a lot from the cheetahs.” For one, he found that for animals, life was all about food and sex. “From the food perspective, I ensure that I never feed my animals. So, they do not growl at me like a domestic dog would,” he explains.

Kim has been in wildlife conservation and filming animals for 25 years. Born to a head ranger inside the Kruger National Park in South Africa, Kim was always surrounded by wildlife. He took to the camera merely out of interest. “I have no training as a photographer,” he says.

It’s perhaps his eye for photography and the ability to understand animal behaviour that enabled him to capture stunning images of the animals of South Africa with staggering detail. And animals have let him photograph them; his endless hours of following them with patience, reached a point where his subjects chose to ignore his presence. This is a gift, which Kim says is “hard to explain.”

He has photographed elephants, leopards, wild dogs…but Kim has a special corner for hyenas. “They are highly intelligent and live in social groups. They are excellent hunters and good mothers. Hyenas, to me, are good entertainment in the bush.”

Cheetahs accepted Kim into their lives to astonishing levels. Two years after he filmed them, he was walking alone in the bush when he saw a female cheetah on the path. Kim stopped in his tracks. Would she remember him? She walked close to him and licked his palm.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 9:59:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/kim-wolhuter-and-his-cheetah-friends/article6331890.ece

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