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.

Kenya and Tanzania in a 38-photo slideshow

Still sorting through my photos from the recent trip to Kenya and Tanzania and realizing it will take forever to put them in some sort of arrangement that will be perfect. So I decided I would not let perfect be the enemy of good.

Here are some of what I think are some of my best in a slideshow. Hope you enjoy them.

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Then I realized I had left out the cheetah. Didn’t want to cheetah you.

Cheetah

Missed 20 rugby games to hang out with baboons

Baboon and baby

I missed watching 20 games in the 2019 Rugby World Cup to hang out with a bunch of baboons.

I thought I could watch the games on an iPad while on a 12-day trip to Kenya and Tanzania, but that did not happen. For one thing, NBC Sports Gold streaming service that I paid for is not available outside the United States. Should have read the fine print. Actually it’s in big type under the FAQ, but what male asks for directions or reads the instructions. Another problem was that my international calling plan from AT&T doesn’t cover Kenya and Tanzania. Then there was the spotty wifi coverage in game camps where we stayed. Missed hearing from friends and family, but a nice break from wars, presidential high crimes and misdemeanors and other worldly troubles as we spend our time watching “slavering animals and colorful natives” as Paul Theroux says in “Dark Star Safari.”

Well, sorry Mr. Theroux, but we enjoyed it probably more than you did in your endless bus ride across Africa.

This blog’s future posts will try to introduce those animals, slavering or not, as I edit almost a thousand pictures and videos. Lions, no tigers or bears, but lots of wildebeest, leopards, zebras, cheetahs and birds will come knocking at your door as one baboon did at the Ol Tukai Lodge in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Kathy and I were dressing in the morning when the door suddenly swung open, and there, standing on his two hind legs with his forearms stretched in front of him, was our friendly baboon wake-up call. He stared, we stared and Ian, one of our traveling companions, said from outside, “You should lock your door.” A few yells and Mr. Baboon went away but returned later to peek in the window and eat a small snake just to the side of our porch.

Baboon in window

Speaking of simian behavior, let me tell you about some of it that appeared at the Rugby World Cup before we disappeared into East Africa. The last newspaper we read in the Amsterdam airport was the Sept. 28 edition of The Times of London (lovely to have a paper that covers your favorite sport). Alex Lowe, the Deputy Rugby Correspondent, wrote about the disconnect between World Rugby’s “promised clampdown on dangerous tackles” and the referees and players on the field. In the first week of RWC play, four potential red cards were missed by the referees. Two Samoans got three-game bans for dangerous tackles in their 34-9 win over Russia. But the suspensions came after the game ended when the governing body and judicial hearings used 28 camera angles and Hawk-Eye technology (whatever that is) to spot the offenses missed by the single referee and his two assistant refs (touch judges, as we used to call them).

Reece Hodge, an Australian player, also received a post-game “red card” for a tackle that left a Fiji player concussed. In his hearing that led to his three-game suspension, Hodge “admitted to having no knowledge of the interpretation of rules on high tackles and had not been given any training on it,” according a an article by Steve James in The Times. That seems to have left the Australian coach fuming. Michael Cheika said he coached his players to tackle around the waist and “we do not need a framework to tell them how to tackle.” That framework, he said, is for referees “to decide whether there is a red or yellow cards in a game.”

That did not work in the England-United States game where Piers Francis was charged with foul play after concussing Will Hooley, a USA back. For Francis there was no yellow or red card or even a penalty in the game. The charge came later, and as Ian points out, getting 10 minutes in the sin bin (yellow card) or ejected from the game (red card) forcing your team to play a man short, could have an effect on the game if referees called them. Given that the United States was beaten 45-7, England might have won with10 men. But in another game? Could make a big difference.

Also in the news of Sept. 28: Wales was trying to figure a way to beat Australia (they did), and Ireland’s coach Joe Schmidt said he “hoped to put more width on the ball” in the their game against Japan, according to an article by Peter O’Reilly. I take that to mean get the ball out to the backs more. It didn’t work. Remember when I said Ireland beating Scotland didn’t prove much about their strength? Losing 19-12 against Japan probably says more. Still hoping for the Irish side to take the tournament, but I’m not laying any green on that pick.

Emerging from Africa and reading the Oct. 10 edition of The Times of London in the Amsterdam airport, we find that Japan and the Rugby World Cup there are battened down as Typhoon Hagibis sweeps over them. So far, there are two people dead and nine missing from the storm.

Three RWC games have been canceled – England vs. France, New Zealand vs. Italy and Namibia vs. Canada. Each of these teams will get two points, as in a tie, in the pool standings. England and France are both going into the quarterfinals and the game would have sorted out seeding. Now England goes as top seed, and France as the runner-up. Italy was going nowhere in a disappointing RWC appearance, and New Zealand will go out as top seed. It would have been nice if Canada or Namibia could get a win in the tournament, but they will have to wait another four years.

Scotland vs. Japan is where it will make a difference. If that Sunday game (starting at 3:30 a.m. in Seattle) is canceled, Scotland will lose its chance to advance out of pool play. Ireland, beating Samoa 47-5, moved into top spot in Pool A. Japan, with 14 points, is second and Scotland with 10 points is third. No game, and Japan ends with 15 points and Scotland with 12. Japan goes on as Pool A runner up, and Scotland goes home.

This, according to Owen Slot, Times Chief Rugby Correspondent, would “discredit the entire event.”

“This is the very stuff of which World Cups are made; it is two teams fighting for survival. To dispatch Scotland from the tournament because of Typhoon Hagibis would make a farce of the event.”

Probably not if players, refs and fans got carried away by flooding rivers, but let’s talk important stuff here: Scotland got screwed in the 2015 by a bad call in their quarterfinal game. The RWC should do all to give them a chance in 2019, even though I am hoping for Japan to go forward as a team outside the usual suspects: South Africa and New Zealand in Pool B; England and France in Pool C; Wales and Australia in Pool D; and Ireland in Pool A.

So far, the United States vs. Tonga game is still on (10:45 tonight). Another rugby all-nighter coming up. And tomorrow, I will sleep like a baboon, as one of the African guides said last week.

Coming up: Rhinos and USA Eagles and “Ikale Tahi” (Sea Eagles).