Seeking the Andean Cat

The Andean cat (Leopardus jacobita) is the most threatened cat in the Americas and is  found in South America mainly in the high Andes of Peru and Bolivia, north of Chile and northern Argentina. There have been only 10 recorded sightings of these secretive cats in 25 years which means researchers, along with the general public, know very little about them. The rarer the cat the harder they are to study and protect, but the nonprofit organization the Andean Cat Alliance (Alianza Gato Andino, or “AGA”) is hoping to change that.

Members of the AGA have released the first ever Andean cat documentary in hopes of raising awareness, locally and globally, for this extremely threatened species. “Seeking the Andean Cat is a multidisciplinary network of volunteers consisting of conservationists, communication experts and wildlife advocates. It is time that people around the world get a look into the secretive world — and the survival difficulties — of this beautiful cat from the Andes Mountains.”

“After 15 years of searching, conservationists found the perfect place to film this very elusive cat in the Andes Mountains. The Andean cat is the only cat listed as Endangered in the Americas by the IUCN with less than 1400 mature individual adults throughout its range.

Once you have watched the documentary please go to the Ladera Sur page and  vote for the film by scrolling down to the bottom and picking Seeking the Andean Cat. Voting remains open for the next two weeks!

To find out more about these unique wild cats and the important conservation work being done to protect them, be sure to follow Seeking the Andean Cat on Facebook and Instagram.

Sofa Premiere: The Return of the Wildcat

If you are looking for more cat content while self-isolating at home, make sure to schedule time on Friday April 17 to learn about one of Europe’s most elusive and endangered wild felines, all from the comfort of your own couch.

The Return of the Wildcat will be free to watch for 24hrs on Vimeo and all you need is a good internet connection. The film is in German, but English subtitles are available by clicking the CC button on the bottom right hand corner of the Vimeo player. Good news, the film can be watched world wide and will air at 7 pm (CEST) which is 1 pm (EST) or 10 am (PST).

“In this 40-minutes-documentary the ecologist and filmmaker David Cebulla is on a quest to find one of Germany‘s shyest and most endangered species: the European wildcat. During a scientific pre-study, by chance, he made the first record of a wildcat in an area near his hometown Jena. Thereupon he dedicates a whole year to get the genetic evidence and a really splendid film recording of a free-living wildcat.”

Director and film maker David Cebulla took some time to answer a few questions about his work and the documentary which will be his first ever ‘sofa’ premiere.

Please tell me about your background and how you got into film making

I used to be a musician and got into film making after releasing my first album when I, among other things, produced a video clip for one of the songs. This was in 2014. Since then I have had different jobs on a variety of film projects. I started as a set runner on productions for German television, worked as set manager, production manager and first assistant director. For about two years I did artist and social media management for Andreas Kieling who is one of the most famous and most popular nature film makers in Germany. I also did my own films and ordered projects, but the most important step was my debut film “Hidden Beauty – The Orchids of the Saale Valley”.

Why do you primarily focus on nature and science content?

My passion for nature goes back to childhood so it was always an important part of my life. Often this was in the form of orienteering or climbing, but to me the experience of nature has always been as equally as important as seeking knowledge. I decided to study biology at university and specialized in ecology during my master’s degree. In addition to film making I am also a scientist, as I love to work in nature and to capture its beauty. I remember a moment when I was working on “Hidden Beauty” filming a time laps of the Milky Way and it was just me at night in nature. I had to clap my hands occasionally to keep the wild boars away and I thought – “This is exactly what I want to do!” I am glad that I found this way to combine scientific research and nature film making.

What first got you interested in making a documentary on the European wildcat?

I had the opportunity to combine my passion for science and film making when I did a study on wildlife as part of my master’s degree. I started monitoring with a single and very simple trail camera. By chance I made the first record of a European wildcat for my area of investigation.

Why is it important for you to make this film now?

It is common knowledge that we are living in a time of huge environmental problems. We have to face the impact we are having on the planet – environmental pollution, human-made climate change, the isolation of habitats because of road networks and agriculture. What better way is there to create awareness than to show the very things that are endangered and worth protecting? This film is a visual appeal for the conservation of nature and species. It was my special interest to show great and stunning captures of nature. We need to act. And we need to do it now.

Did you work with any specific organizations or individuals?

This film is based on monitoring I conducted myself. I interviewed experts that I worked with and they are also part of the film. I interviewed Silvester Tamás, from the NGO NABU (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union), who managed a wildcat monitoring project in my area in previous years. I also collaborated with Matthias Krüger, head taxidermist at the Jena Phyletic Museum, who has great knowledge on the dead ‘found’ wildcats the Museum received in the past decades.

What did you learn about the European wildcat while making the documentary?

Probably, how fascinating it is that they managed to survive. Although they used to be hunted, and were almost exterminated, we still have free living European wildcats today.

What do you hope your film will help accomplish for these cats?

This is a question with many answers. First, I hope to inform people about the European wildcat by contributing to environmental education on the topic. Hopefully viewers will consider what impact their own decisions may have on the wildcat – do I put my dog on a leash when walking it in a forest? Do I obey other rules when I am visiting a nature conservation area? Importantly the film will draw attention to the wildcat and show what problems they are facing and that they cannot be solved by any one individual. On another level the wildcat is a fascinating animal and, when we protect the wildcat we are protecting its potential habitats therefore also protecting the flora and fauna in those habitats as a whole.

What are your plans for the film after the premiere?

The premiere will start at 7 pm (CEST) which is 1 pm (EST) or 10 am (PST). It will only be available for 24 hours to watch for free either on our website or directly on Vimeo. Afterwards it will be on Vimeo On Demand for rent and purchase. Later this year we will also add it to Amazon Prime in Germany, the USA, the UK and Japan.

Anything else you would like to add?

I am looking forward to the premiere and appreciate anyone who is interested in watching and recommending the film!

For more updates on David’s work be sure to follow him on Instagram

Changing Hearts and Minds

Los Angeles’ famous feline resident and star of the documentary The Cat That Changed America has managed to captivate people on both a local and international level like no mountain lion before. Driven by instinct and perhaps fate, P-22 navigated deadly traffic and took up residence in Griffith Park where he remains surrounded by highways, urban sprawl and people. Essentially his ‘trapped’ existence has become a stark reminder of why there is an urgent need to ensure proper habitat connectivity for wildlife.

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P-22 makes a rare daylight appearance in Griffith Park. Instagram © Miguel Ordenana @ordenana4 August 2017

P-22 has become both legend and hero to a community now passionately working to ensure that all mountain lions in California have a future where they can exist and thrive. His story is an inspirational and compelling example of co-existence and, his documentary is set to change the hearts and minds of all those who see it.

After six months on the film circuit, Director Tony Lee is back to answer a few questions on the positive impact his film is having and the importance of its next screening.

The Cat That Changed America premiered earlier this year and has had various public screenings in and around L.A., what has the audience reception been like so far?

The audience reception has been tremendous and people have really embraced this film. The film has been shown at the Old Summer Cinema in Pasadena, the Green Screens festival in UCLA, and is due to be shown at the DTLA Film Festival at the end of September and the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York City in October. We have also had sponsored screenings in Ojai, Oak Park and the Natural History Museum of L.A. County. Everyone wants to find out more about P-22.

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The L.A. Premiere of The Cat That Changed America March 16th at the UCLA James Bridges Theater

The most recent screening of the film in Hollywood included a panel discussion, what are the benefits of having one coincide with a screening?

It really gives an interactive experience so people can watch the movie and then ask questions about P-22. They also have the chance to have their photograph taken with his cardboard cutout which is always popular. By attending the screening they have a chance to speak to the cast about the building of the wildlife crossing and also the widespread impact of rodenticides (rat poison) upon our wildlife.

In addition to raising awareness for the wildlife crossing, what else do you see the film accomplishing?

A big part of the film is the issue of rat poisons as P-22 himself was effected when he had eaten too many coyotes and raccoons, which had ingested rats that had eaten the poison. The poison works its way up the food chain and the audience is coming to realize that all things are connected, and that using these harmful chemicals has devastating consequences for animals.

Do you think your film has encouraged people to take the threat that rodenticides pose to wildlife more seriously?

Absolutely. I think people are shocked to discover the effects of poisoning on wildlife. There are audible gasps in the audience when they see P-22’s photograph as a result of rodent poisoning. People have been asking Poison Free Malibu, who feature in the film, what can be done to prevent the same thing from happening in their neighborhood, how can they get these really dangerous chemicals banned and, how can they put pressure on local authorities to ban the use of rodenticides. There have been positive changes as a direct result of the film.

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P-22 suffered from rodenticide poisoning but was treated and recovered

What has the international reception been like, and do you think people outside of North America will be able to find parallels to challenges they face with wildlife?

The international reception has been awesome. Both The Guardian and the Times of London have written about the film, despite the fact it has yet to premiere in the UK. The universal problem facing all wildlife is loss of habitat – connectivity is a big issue as motorways and freeways have cut swathes across our countryside. Big cats are in danger in particular from habitat fragmentation and, some like the cheetah are near extinction because of it.

The films next big screening is at the Downtown Los Angeles film festival, why is this particular screening so important?

It will reach the heart of the financial district and downtown L.A., where many Angelenos live and work. They may have heard of P-22, but are probably unaware of his amazing story and how he crossed two major freeways to reach Griffith Park. We welcome donors to help sponsor the wildlife crossing through the campaign group Save LA Cougars. The film will be shown at the Regal Live Cinema in Downtown L.A. on Friday September 29th and you can buy tickets through the DTLA Film Festival website.

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Click to see an animation map of P-22’s journey

Now that you have told P-22’s story do you think you will make any more films about mountain lions?

It depends on the story as P-22 is a hard act to follow, but mountain lions are incredible animals and I’m sure there are many stories out there to tell.

Finally, is there anything you can tell us about what will you be working on next?

I’m currently executive producer for the BBC on a new natural history series which will air next year.

Tickets for the DTLA Film Festival screening are now available for purchase. If you would like to support the wildlife crossing directly by making a donation please visit Save LA Cougars.

The Cat That Changed America

P-22 the most famous mountain lion in the world is a both a celebrity and messenger. So far he has managed to: survive the deadly traffic of Los Angeles; stealthily navigate the cities massive urban sprawl taking up residence in an area that represents 3% of a normal size home range for a mountain lion; and, recover from a potentially life-threatening case of rodenticide poisoning. For the most part P-22 has overcome the odds, but his story is a cautionary tale with an important message – one that is explored in the upcoming documentary film The Cat that Changed America.

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The film focuses on P-22, the challenges mountain lions are facing in California and the plan to build the world’s largest wildlife crossing which will help connect mountain lions, and other wildlife, to spaces better suited for them. There is an urgency to get the crossing built as mountain lions are running out of time in California – they are threatened by urban sprawl, inbreeding, vehicles, rat poison and ultimately extinction. If they do not get the help they need now they will most certainly be gone in 50 years

P-22 has helped to create a movement that is shifting our view of mountain lions and, with effort on our part to learn to co-exist with this important keystone species, his story can be a catalyst to help change America and the rest of the world.

In anticipation of the films release I recently spoke to Director Tony Lee about The Cat that Changed America and the role he hopes it will play in helping P-22 and other mountain lions in California.

When you first became aware of P-22, and the crisis facing mountain lions and wildlife in LA, what inspired you to tell his story?

I was struck by how passionate and eloquent the campaigners for the wildlife crossing are, especially Beth Pratt, the California Director for the National Wildlife Federation, and Miguel Ordenana of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. It was actually Miguel who was the first person I spoke to about the story, which is appropriate as he captured the first photograph of P-22 in one of his camera traps in Griffith Park.

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The making of The Cat that Changed America – Behind the scenes stills provided by Tony Lee

Why do you think it is important to make this film now?

I think the film is very timely, as the National Wildlife Federation and the Save LA Cougars campaign are aiming to raise $10 million by the end of 2017 to fund the development of the wildlife crossing, with the long-term goal of completing the crossing in 2021. They need to raise a total over $55 million for this. My film is part of this much larger campaign to raise funds and raise awareness.

How do you see P-22 and his story changing the way Americans, and the world, view mountain lions and their role in a healthy ecosystem?

I chose the title “The Cat that Changed America”, because P-22 has moved the dial in our thinking about where urban wildlife can thrive, especially wildlife as big as a mountain lion. P-22 is living in the middle of the second largest city in the United States, and one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the world. If wildlife is to co-exist alongside us, we also need to change our thinking about what are acceptable places for wildlife to live. We also have a choice of becoming responsible and considerate neighbors, which means changing our consumer lifestyle, thinking about the impact on the countryside and not using rat poisons.

In a feature for the Natural History Network you wrote that this was “an intricate and sensitive story”, as well as a challenging one. What makes P-22’s story different from other wildlife conversation films you have made?

I feel a huge responsibility to tell the story well, and use my knowledge and experience as a filmmaker. Together with Alex Rapaport my cinematographer based in LA, we aimed to tell the story through cinematic language and emotional appeal. This story is different from other conservation films I have made, because it is part of a bigger campaign, and I feel the urgency and the responsibility that comes with that.

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Director Tony Lee with Cinematographer Lance Jeffery

You also mentioned that the 1 hour film was completed in about 3 months. What were some of your biggest challenges making a film about one of the most elusive and shy cats in the world, in such a short time frame?

As a wildlife filmmaker, I know that filming mountain lions, and especially P-22 within the time frame would be nigh impossible. They are called ghost cats for good reason as they are incredibly elusive. So I concentrated on filming the characters connected with the wildlife crossing and studying P-22. For actual mountain lion footage, I relied on existing film captured by Miguel Ordenana and Matthew Whitmire who were part of the Griffith Park Connectivity study, as well as the National Park Service, who had footage and photographs of P-22.

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California Director for the National Wildlife Federation Beth Pratt-Bergstrom

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Wildlife Biologist Miguel Ordenana in Griffith Park

You interviewed researchers, experts and citizens for the film – what about P-22’s supporters has stood out most?

There are so many wonderful quotes and passionate stories in the film; some of the stand outs for me include Miguel’s description of finding the P-22 photograph for the first time, which he likens to discovering ‘Big Foot’. Beth also describes her life changing experience when being shown around Griffith Park by Jeff Sikich and realizing that urban wildlife as big as a mountain lion can live right in the middle of LA. Sherry Ferber’s description on hearing that a mountain lion had been killed on the 101 freeway near her home in Liberty Canyon and how that cemented her bond with these cats, and Poison Free Malibu’s plea to stop using anticoagulant rodenticides as we are poisoning the Earth as well as each other.

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National Park Service wildlife biologist Jeff Sikich

The Cat That Changed America has been accepted at the World International Film Festival in Los Angeles and New York. Are there plans to enter it at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival where the conservation focus will be on the big cats?

Yes I absolutely plan to submit it to the 2017 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. I actually won the Special Jury Award at Jackson Hole in 2015 (for ‘The Secret Life of Your House’, about animals which live in our homes). The award partly inspired me to make this film about P-22. I’ve already approached the Festival board with panel suggestions for their Wild Cats symposium, with the focus being on connectivity and habitat fragmentation facing wild cats.

How important is it for a wildlife film like this to be seen at film festivals?

I think it’s vital to raise awareness to anyone who is interested in wildlife, and especially to those who are unaware or not so interested. P-22 is a celebrity, but many Los Angelenos and people around the world are still unaware of the serious issues facing mountain lions and how they are suffering from fragmentation, habitat loss and the threat of anticoagulant rodenticides.

Besides the film festival circuit where else will the documentary be available for viewing?

I’m currently talking to distributors and channels about broadcasting after the film festivals. I’m hoping that the popularity created by the festivals will stir broadcaster interest as it has done so with other environmental films such as ‘Blackfish’ and ‘Racing Extinction’.

Was there anything that you learned about mountain lions during the process of making the film that has left you in a position to be a better advocate for the species?

Yes, I didn’t know that male mountain lions need very large home ranges – around 200 square miles – they need to be connected to open spaces, otherwise they will fight to the death over territory. It’s our responsibility as Los Angelenos and considerate neighbors to ensure they have enough space to thrive, otherwise they suffer from the effects of inbreeding and intraspecific killing.

P-22’s celebrity seems to be doing for mountain lions what Elsa the lioness of Born Free did for African lions. How do you see your documentary fitting into a new movement towards helping save North America’s lion?

I like to think that bringing my 25 years experience as a wildlife and conservation filmmaker will help P-22’s cause and help raise funds for the wildlife crossing. In fact I feel so strongly about this film, it’s the first time I have used my own money to solely finance a feature, because I felt so passionate about getting it made. I’m sure that people will want to watch it, but I also see it as a donation I’ve made to the Save LA Cougars campaign in the way I know how to contribute as a filmmaker. Conservation films have been notoriously difficult to get funded, but I think we are entering a golden age for documentaries, and I’m excited to be part of that movement.

Do you think that P-22’s story will help change attitudes towards mountain lions and how they are viewed and ‘managed’ outside California?

Absolutely. P-22 has been described as a conservation hero and ambassador, and in fact, I’ll be putting him forward in that category at Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival in 2017. A conservation hero doesn’t necessarily have to be a person like E.O. Wilson or David Attenborough, it can be an animal too, and P-22 is the best poster child for urban wildlife and issues of connectivity.

What is the main message about mountain lions in LA, and in general, that you want people to take away from the film?

If we are to coexist with nature, we radically have to change our lifestyle and our way of thinking, and become part of nature, even if we are living in one of the densest urban areas on Earth. Species are disappearing at an alarming rate; we are Nature’s gatekeepers, the responsibility of the planet at this moment in time rests solely in our hands, and P-22’s story and the wildlife crossing truly shows that charity begins at home, right on our doorstep.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Be sure to visit the films website The Cat that Changed America and share – If there is any story that can help sway people’s interest in helping conserve North America’s lion it’s this one.

If you would like to support the wildlife crossing by making a monetary donation please visit Save LA Cougars

About Producer and Director Tony Lee: Tony is an award-winning filmmaker, television producer and author. Tony has worked in California for 2 years for National Geographic Television and in New York City for Animal Planet. Over his 25 year career, he has produced and directed many programmes in the science and natural history strand for a range of broadcasters. He spends his time between California and England, and has a special interest in big cats.