The Big Cat Man: An Autobiography

I am really excited to start off my recommended summer reading with The Big Cat Man: An Autobiography by Jonathan Scott who you may know as one of the presenters of BBC’s popular TV series Big Cat Diary, the long time running nature show that followed the lives of Africa’s big cats in Kenya’s Maasai Mara.

I have always had an inherent love for the big cats and Africa, as a child I wanted nothing more than to see in person all that I had read about or had seen on TV. While I was still dreaming of Africa (I wouldn’t take my first trip through Kenya and Tanzania until the late 90’s) Jonathan Scott had already been on a path that would change his life forever, a path that would bind his heart and soul permanently to a continent that had called to him since childhood.

The Big Cat Man, Jonathan Scott, Angela Scott, Africa, Kenya, Lions, Big Cat Diaries, Cheetahs, Leopards, Conservation, Book Review, Wildlife Photography, Tourism

Big Cat Diary aired from 1996 to 2008 leaving a lasting impression on wildlife lovers from all over the world. It gave the viewer an intimate look into the lives and social structure of lions, leopards and cheetahs like never seen before creating an emotional connection between the average person at home and Africa’s most iconic and beautiful animals. Whether or not you have seen the TV series, if you love the big cats and have ever wondered what life was like behind the lens for a wildlife photographer, you will most definitely enjoy reading The Big Cat Man.

Jonathan provides a fascinating and candid look at his life including his childhood, travels, his time in Africa, his accomplishments as a wildlife artist and photographer, TV show presenter and, as an advocate for the animals he spent years filming and photographing. He talks about the success and the challenges, both personal and professional, encountered along the way as well as the one event that would change everything for the better – meeting his wife and partner, Angela Scott, who equally shared his passion for Africa and its wildlife.

The Big Cat Man is full of interesting and inspirational accounts about his experiences with wildlife, including the time spent with the feline characters from Big Cat Diary and wild dogs. In addition there are stories of formidable sea lions, that weigh twice as much and are longer than a male lion, from Jonathan and Angela’s trip to Antarctica.  Accompanying the writing are many wonderful photographs as well as superb wildlife illustrations that appear like little treasures throughout the book.

The Big Cat Man, Jonathan Scott, Angela Scott, Africa, Kenya, Maasai Mara, Lions, Big Cat Diaries, Cheetahs, Leopards, Conservation, Book Review, Wildlife Photography, Tourism, Endangered Species,

Jonathan Scott with Kike the Cheetah – Image © BBC Big Cat Live

The book also touches on some of the harsh realities facing wildlife, as much has changed since Jonathan took his first his overland journey through Africa many years ago. Lion and cheetah numbers have dropped to the point where their future is questionable (there are estimated between 15,000-20,000 Lions and about 7,000 cheetahs left in all of Africa), and poaching, poisoning, illegal wildlife trade, hunting, animal agriculture, the growing human population, corruption and even development threaten wildlife. All odds seem stacked against the animals and the environment, yet Jonathan says that despite this “you cannot give up hope”. The key is to act now while we still can.

There is a lot to take away from this book including the message that the journey is just as important as where we ultimately end up and, the risks we take in order to pursue our dreams and what we love, are worth it.

The Big Cat Man: An Autobiography is part of my Recommended Reading List and can be purchased at online retailers like Amazon.

For more on Jonathan and Angela Scott, be sure to visit: Big cat people. They can also be followed on Instagram @thebigcatpeople or Facebook @JonathanAngelaScott

Advertisements

Leopards in High Places

Many of the big cats are known for climbing trees to escape the heat, flies, to watch for prey or to escape other predators. It is not uncommon to see them taking to heights and, in Africa leopards are commonly seen hanging out in tall trees. Although lions have been known to do the same in certain places they are not exactly designed for tree climbing and come across a little more awkward compared to the fluid and graceful leopard who is naturally at home in the heights where they will stash kills, eat and happily sleep.

Leopards, big cats in trees, leopards love heights, africa, zambia, south luangwa, salt pan, graceful cats, wildlife photography

©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Salt Pan female hangs out and catches a breeze in a large tree – South Luangwa NP. Zambia

During my trip to Africa last year I was fortunate to have many wonderful leopard sightings both on the ground and up high, in fact over a few days all I had to do was look up to see these dappled beauties looking down at me. Of course, that’s when they weren’t busy enjoying a siesta or post-meal nap.

Leopards, big cats in trees, leopards love heights, africa, zambia, south luangwa, salt pan, graceful cats, wildlife photography

©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Kataba the one-eyed legend – Puku Ridge South Luangwa NP, Zambia

Leopards, big cats in trees, leopards love heights, africa, zambia, south luangwa, salt pan, graceful cats, wildlife photography

©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Kataba sleeping with a full belly – Puku Ridge South Luangwa NP, Zambia

While leopards are able to climb some very tall trees you might be surprised to know that at least one had made it all the way to the top of Africa’s highest mountain to take in a view that perhaps no other has. In 1926 on Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, a frozen leopard carcass was found along the volcanoes crater rim by Pastor Richard Reusch, a Missionary for the Lutheran Church. The Pastor was supposedly the first to discover the leopard which would later inspire, and be immortalized in, Hemingway’s book The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The Pastor made sure to get proof of his find and cut off an ear as souvenir on a subsequent climb the following year, afterwards the leopards remains were reported to have mysteriously disappeared. No reason was given as to why the leopard would have been that high, approximately 18,500 feet (or 5638.8 meters), close to the western summit at a place that would be christened Leopard point, but Pastor Reusch had hypothesized that the cat had been chasing a goat since he also found the remains of one not far from where the leopard lay. Since there were no remains and no radiocarbon dating, the leopards age along with length of time it remained locked in the once famous snows of Kilimanjaro will also remain a mystery.

Interestingly, there is a reference that notes the first report of a leopard carcass on Kilimanjaro was in 1889 by a German Geologist and Geographer named Hans Meyer who had seen one not far from where Reusch would later spot his. Among some of the theories included the possibility that the leopard could have come from the Kilimanjaro Mountain  Forest Reserve and took a wrong turn, or that the leopard was pursued up to high elevations by local hunters as Meyer had seen a hunting camp nearby. Officially though, nothing has ever been confirmed and to this day there has been no explanation for either Meyer’s or Reusch’s leopard.

Leopard, big cats, Tanzania, Kilimanjaro,

Kilimanjaro stands 5,895 meters high, the leopard was found at about 5638.8 meters – Image – John Reader/Science Photo Library via Earth Touch News

It does seems that leopards had an affinity for the mountains and in 1997 another leopard carcass was discovered on Africa’s second highest mountain, near Tyndall Glacier, Mount Kenya. In this case there were remains, although very decomposed, which turned out to be enough for radiocarbon dating placing the animal at about 900 years old.

There are opportunities to see wildlife during the early stages of a Kilimanjaro climb at lower elevations, but those still hoping to spot a leopard on higher slopes shouldn’t hold their breath. The high altitudes that are reached during climbs are not ones that most wild animals can survive at and if there are any, most will do their best to steer clear of humans.

If you are set on a chance to glimpse a leopard in high places it is probably best to keep your eyes on the trees and maybe, you will be lucky enough to have one of these beautiful cats reveal themselves and all their spotted splendor.

Never Forget a Face

Lions in East Africa may soon be some of the most recognized Lions around with the recent implementation of Lion Facial Recognition technology.

Lions, Africa , Kenya, Lions in Kenya, Lion Facial Recognition technology, Lion Guradians, Lion Identification Network of Collaborators, Wildlife researchers, tracking lions, distinctive faces, identifiying lions by faces, conservation, save lions, endangered species, understanding lion behavior

Each Lion has distinct identifying features

Lion Guardians a conservation organization working to find and implement long-term solutions for people and lions to coexist across Kenya and Tanzania, recently launched the Lion Identification Network of Collaborators (LINC). The database of Lion profiles were built with the first facial-recognition software specifically designed to analyze the faces of big cats and distinguish them from one another.

Lions, Africa , Kenya, Lions in Kenya, Lion Facial Recognition technology, Lion Guradians, Lion Identification Network of Collaborators, Wildlife researchers, tracking lions, distinctive faces, identifiying lions by faces, conservation, save lions, endangered species, understanding lion behavior, Kenya-based Lion Guardians

LINC software scans facial features for patterns that can match an image to an individual.

Traditional GPS collars tend to be more expensive and pose major challenges like having to replace the batteries every couple of years which can only be done while the animal is sedated. LINC will allow easier monitoring of the Lions locations and activity which will assist both conservation organizations and other wildlife researchers. It will also be less stressful for the animals as they won’t have to be captured and collard.

Lions, Africa , Kenya, Lions in Kenya, Lion Facial Recognition technology, Lion Guradians, Lion Identification Network of Collaborators, Wildlife researchers, tracking lions, distinctive faces, identifiying lions by faces, conservation, save lions, endangered species, understanding lion behavior, Kenya-based Lion Guardians

LINC will aid in a better understanding of Lion population dynamics caused by human expansion.

Unlike Leopards, Cheetahs or Tigers who all have distinct identifying spots or stripes used to identify them, adult Lions lack these recognizable coat markings making facial recognition a viable method for tracking them and help to ensure researchers never forget a face.

Lions, Africa , Kenya, Lions in Kenya, Lion Facial Recognition technology, Lion Guradians, Lion Identification Network of Collaborators, Wildlife researchers, tracking lions, distinctive faces, identifiying lions by faces, conservation, save lions, endangered species, understanding lion behavior, Kenya-based Lion Guardians

Facial recognition technology has already been used with other wildlife including helping to track India’s Bengal Tigers.

Lion Guardians launched the project in June of this year and the hopes is to have approximately 1,000 Lions added to the database within the next few months. The more images they have added to LINC the better the software will be and it will become easier to identify individual cats. Conservationists will keep track of the Lions course of travel from one area to another using the information to better understand where they find mates, water and prey.

The Father Of Lions

Today is the 25th anniversary of the death of George Adamson, also know as Baba ya Simba, the Father of Lions. George along with his wife Joy provided my introduction to African Lions when I was a child and reading Joy’s books, starting with Born Free, would change my life forever. The moment I read about Elsa the Lioness I wanted to visit Africa to see Lions, a dream that I have had a privilege of living a few times over the years.

The passion for these big cats has never ceased, although it is now channeled into bringing awareness to the fact that Lions are on the verge of extinction, and that we must act fast to save them. Times have changed much since George’s day and I wonder how he would feel to see his beloved cats so close to the edge.

Georgre Adamson, Elsa the Lioness, Born Free, Save Lions, Africa, endangered, ban trophy hunting, canned Hunting, conservation, wildlife, big cats, Kenya, Meru, Kora

George Adamson and Elsa

On 20 August 1989 George Adamson was murdered in Kenya, East Africa, by Somalian bandits when he went to the rescue of his assistant and a young European tourist in the Kora National Park.”

For a lovely tribute to George please visit Ace Bourke’s Blog. Ace Bourke along with his friend John Rendall had purchased a lion cub who they called Christian in the late 60’s at Harrods in London, a year later they brought Christian to Kenya where George Adamson rehabilitated the young Lion back to the wild.

Throwback Thursday – My First Leopard

I have been fortunate to visit Kenya a few times over the years and have been thinking of going back again. All this thinking brought back memories of all the amazing wildlife I have been privileged to see there, especially the Big Cats. Lions, Serval…and the elusive Leopard. It was on my second trip to Kenya that I was blessed with seeing this beautiful cat for the first time.

Leopards, Kenya, big cats, travel, tourism, conservation, wildlife

My first Leopard – Masai Mara

She was a well known female who had been raising her one male cub, who was quit large and gorgeous himself. We were lucky enough to spot her out and about, while her cub stayed safely among the bushes.

Masi Mara - Kenya - Supu's cub 1Curious but lacking the confidence of his mom, he stayed safely inside his den of trees watching us until she returned. Once the female disappeared behind the canopy of green we left, Leopards to their solitude and me with an amazing memory…one of the many reasons Why I Love Kenya.