When 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.
And 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.