When it comes to natural history programming, cheetahs are the new stars for Fall 2013. In November, Nat Geo Wild will present a special pitting two NFL players in a race against the fastest land animal. And tonight, Discovery Channel debuts the even more fascinating, and quite touching, two-hour special Man Cheetah Wild.
Man Cheetah Wild follows Kim Wolhuter, a filmmaker and one-time game ranger with a unique ability to bond with the animals of his native Zimbabwe. Wolhuter’s approach has allowed him incredible access into the secretive world of cheetahs. In particular, one cheetah family accepted him as part of their group, and he filmed his year and a half spent walking among them, capturing the remarkable footage seen in the program.
At a recent press conference, Wolhuter — calm, cool and barefoot — sat on a panel and explained his ability to connect with these elusive animals.
“Of all the predators — the lions, leopards, wild dogs, hyenas — the cheetah are the most timid and they would rather run away from something than confront it. I don’t run away from them, and I present myself in a respectful manner, but also in a confident manner, and they respect that and we have this just incredible relationship, which for me went beyond anything I could ever imagine.”
Different from the typical sort of nature show that has become in vogue in recent years, where the host loudly intrudes upon a creature’s world and grabs it to look at it, Man Cheetah Wild has a quiet dignity about it to match the soft-spoken beauty of its feline subjects. Wolhuter clearly has enormous respect for the wildlife of his native land (even the rhino that threatens to charge him at one point), and he doesn’t seem to have a “hey, look at me!” attitude that so many natural history hosts today appear to have. He is quiet, thoughtful and even emotional as he bonds with the cheetah family over 18 months, and in the process, we develop an emotional bond of our own with the mother cheetah and her five adorable cubs (which are whittled down, through various reasons, to just two; this special does not shy away from how rough nature can be).
Just as Man Cheetah Wild sheds incredible light onto the secretive world of the elusive cheetah, the lovely production itself manages to capture something else that has proven to be elusive over the past several years — finding a balance between today’s “you are there,” thick-of-the-action nature filmmaking with the thoughtfulness and sense of purpose and responsibility of natural filmmaking from years gone by.
Man, Cheetah, Wild premieres Oct. 3 at 9pm ET/PT on Discovery Channel.
Kim Wolhuter with the cheetah family in Man Cheetah Wild: Credit Discovery Channel