If you could re-pursue your career, I might shoot big cats

PantherWhen Shannon Wild presented her show “Pursuit of the Black Panther” in Seattle, we asked when the photographs and videos she had shot would be seen on TV. She said she hoped they would be on Nat Geo Wild in March.

Looking at the Nat Geo Wild upcoming shows, we find:

“The Real Black Panther”
One-hour special premieres Winter 2020; produced by Symbio Studios
The hot, dry, deciduous jungles of South India are no place for a melanistic leopard. But Saya is different. He is the only black panther in the entire Kabini Forest, and he’s got one thing on his mind: to take over and make this leopard paradise his own. But Scarface, the current ruler, won’t give it up easily. With one eye on his prey and the other on the ever-changing skies, Saya must befriend the sun and the clouds to master the shadows so that he can move unnoticed and hunt successfully. Between these trees lies an untold story — one that defies the laws of natural selection. Furthermore, it’s a story of astounding adaptability and success. Told in first-person narrative, this is the journey of Saya — the real black panther.

That may be the show Wild spoke of, but the above promo frames things in a much different way than how Wild depicted her adventures.

The TV promo seems to portray a standoff between wild cats (“Told in first-person narrative”? Meow, meow, grrrr!).

Wild’s presentation at Benaroya Hall on Jan. 14, 2020, seemed to be more about her versus all things that would foil her pursuit of the Black Panther, including being bitten by a cheetah, losing track of the elusive panther for weeks at a time and getting thrown from a truck and breaking her back.

Wild’s photographic career started in 2004 when she opened a pet photography business in her native Australia. As she showed the audience some of the pictures she had taken of cats and dogs, she explained her photographic philosophy: focus on the pets, pose them in natural settings, fade out the background and have vibrant colors in the photo. Also, she said, it helped to win the trust of the pet and be “welcomed into their world” – on the ground, close to the pet.

Above, Kathy shows Shannon Wild a photo of our pet cat Lily.

But after seven years of pet photography, Wild decided she wanted to photograph wildlife. So off she went to the Indonesian islands to photograph what she called “a true living dinosaur,” the Komodo dragon.

Somewhere along the line, she met Russell MacLaughlin, a photographer and videographer from South Africa. After a courtship of one week, they married. That was six years ago.

She moved to Africa and started photographing the wildlife there, using some of her pet philosophy but also learning more about cat behavior: When to hold ground, when to leave. Which didn’t always serve her well.

While photographing a cheetah in an enclosed reserve, she knelt to adjust equipment and should have recognized what the cat was doing: moving around behind her. The cheetah jumped over Wild’s back, clamped jaws down on her left arm and started squeezing it just like a cheetah would do to an antelope’s windpipe to kill it.

Russ and others rushed forward to pull the cat away. The video of her after 20 seconds in the cheetah’s jaws showed her laughing and making jokes “because I was embarrassed” before she went into shock.

She’s left-handed and lost the use of the arm for three months, but learned that “the most dangerous animal is the one you don’t see coming.”

But it didn’t stop her from pursuing wildlife. She and Russ collaborated with Shaaz Jung, a “big cat specialist,” to start filming the “panther pardus fusca,” the leopard in the Kabini Forest, part of the Nagarahole National Park in India. And how is a leopard a black panther? As the National Geographic says on its website: the result of a gene that causes a surplus of pigment in the skin or hair of an animal so that it appears black. (If you look at the third photo on this page you can see that the black panther has spots, as in a photo Wild showed in her presentation.)

The leopards in Africa spend a lot of their time in trees. Not so in India’s forest. There they are on the ground, which makes it harder to find and film them. Wild’s camera crew also had restrictions from the park: Film between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., stay on the roads, etc.

WildAnd leopards don’t sit up and pose like pets do. Wild told about waiting four hours to get 10 minutes of the leopard in the open.

Then one day the leopard showed up with nasty scars across its face and damage to one eye. Leopards are territorial, and if another tries to encroach, well, a fight is in the offing. The leopard disappeared for eight weeks, and Wild and crew did not have enough footage yet to make a show.

They searched and waited, filmed wild dogs, Asian elephants (40,000 muscles in their trunks!) and stopped because they had too much footage of these animals.

Above, if you had 40,000 muscles in your trunk, you could do this. Saul video shot in Africa.

Finally, the panther reappeared. Thin but healed, a white scar across its face. Still had two eyes. Filming resumed. Until a nasty turn in a truck carrying Wild and her amazing equipment) sent the unbolted things flying. Equipment bolted; Wild not. Four broken vertebrae and weeks to recuperate. She adopted Phoebe, a pet cat, as in a small, kitty variety, that gave her “a reason to get up in the morning.”

When Wild returned, it was the rainy season, when the forest grows lush and it’s harder find and see the leopard. They learned the behavior of the animals, the sounds and were continuously listening, finding the animal’s territory, basically sharing their lives. You can get quite close, Wild said, as you become irrelevant: Neither prey nor enemy.

Until finally, there was enough footage and soon, Wild hopes, the show will appear on Nat Geo Wild. Don’t miss it if you love seeing wildlife in their natural setting.

Which I do. I envy Wild for her job filming big cats, probably our favorite on a fall trip to Kenya and Tanzania. Would love to do that full time, except that I would find these lion cubs I shot in the first video below so cute I would try to pet them. That would make me an enemy, soon to have my windpipe crushed.

Conversations on a train to Chicago

CutbankI’m headed back home for two days of hunting and fixing my mother’s cars. I’ve worked as a mechanic, but now I’m in school in clinical engineering.

Which is?

Mostly I will be fixing medical equipment, which might pay more to support my collection of several vehicles and my BMW motorcycle.

You might do some work on some of the equipment that helps me get around, something that might help with what diabetes has done to my legs.

What kind of treatment are you getting? How long you had it?

I got it from being around something very Orange.

ShelbyBet I know where that happened.

You’re probably old enough to know about Agent Orange. Saw lots of it in you know where.

You fully eligible at VA?

I am.

Had a friend that could never get to be fully eligible for MS treatment even though he ate lunch sitting on top of Agent Orange barrels.

Gotta stay positive though. You know how to count in Spanish?

How?

What do you call four gringos in quicksand?

What?

El quatro cinco.

You heard about Sven and Ole and their great fishing spot, right?

Tell me.

It was so great that Sven told Ole they should mark it. So Ole leaned over and painted a big X on the back of the boat.

You stupid, that won’t work; what if we don’t get the same boat when we come back?

Hey, we better give up our table for the next bunch of diners.

Let me tell you this though, the best ride is from Chicago to San Francisco – great views in the daylight rather than passing through the Cascades at night.

Night all.

Malta

Great day, huh? Waking up in beautiful Montana, larch trees yellow, snow on the ground.

Where you from?

Austin, but our daughter works in Seattle.

And you?

Taught Spanish in Mexico.

You won’t think there’d be much need for Spanish teachers in Mexico.

Also in Guatemala, Alaska . . .

Williston

I’m a TV camerawoman and when I was hired in 1992, I was the third woman to hold that job in my city.

Me? I wanted to be a forester since I was five years old. We were bombed out in our German city, and I went to live with my grandparents in the country. I came to America because of a woman, and I’m still with her 50 years later.

She on the train?

No, she’s a military kid and doesn’t like to travel, but I just spent a week on a 50,000-acre ranch, hunting deer in Missouri Breaks and Bearpaw forest. I carried both a rifle and a camera and only shot with the camera. I did my forestry training in Germany and hunting was part of it there. Hunting makes me feel more connected to land, following the fauna and the flora.

You always travel by train?

Mostly. I like to see the land from the ground up – not at 50,000 feet. And you travel on trains much?

I do, said the camerawoman. I don’t like that you can’t pull over to the side of the road if something goes wrong on a plane.

Let me show you some of the photos I shot of the deer. They always stop at the top of a hill and look back at what scared them before going over the top. So I “shot” this one right at the perfect moment.

And here’s one that we followed for hours.

And this one.

And this one.

And this one.

Maybe we should give up our table,

Red Wing

Here’s my theory on questions: When you drive, you can see the road and you can ask about it. But if it weren’t for the road, you would not be driving. So if it weren’t for the universe, you would not be able to ask a question about the universe.

And where does that lead you?

To my own mysteries, which are:

Number 1: Why does God hate trailer parks?

Number 2: Why do you never see old limousines? Really, you ever see one? Where do they go?

And lastly, Number 3: What did pigeons do before there were cities?

WinonaDid you hear that Hillary Clinton said all black people look alike?

She said it was a joke.

Yeah, but she made it sound as if race doesn’t exist.

It doesn’t, according to the latest National Geographic.

You need to get better reading material.

ColumbusLike what?

I just read a book by Tucker Carlson, whom I admire.

Can’t agree with you on that. He always seems off the news, talking about things his audience of one would like to hear rather than Mueller, investigations, etc.

Hey, he’s telling the truth about the Trump administration – the good economy, the . .

He had a good economy when he came into office. And there’s more than the economy. He’s taking down the American culture, what it has come to represent over more than 200 years.

And he wants to get us into a war because he knows that the wartime presidents are more remembered and admired.

That’s baloney. All I can say is that when I go to bed each night, I say “Thank God for Donald Trump.”

He’s a crass, a racist, incompetent . .

I say thank God for Donald Trump for what he’s done, but you’re a liberal and you don’t want to talk about it. So good night.

Chicago