Wildlife filmmaker Kim Wolhuter doesn’t just observe and document his animal subjects — he walks, runs and lies down with them. This immersive approach gives him an unusually intimate perspective, resulting in the rare footage that has become the basis of his latest film “Man, Cheetah, Wild,” premiering on Discovery Channel on Oct. 3.
Following a cheetah mother and her cubs for the better part of two years in the Malilangwe Game Reserve in Southern Zimbabwe, Wolhuter “developed a relationship with them that is so intimate that they totally trust me, so that their behavior becomes totally natural, far more natural than if I was sitting in a Jeep.”
While Wolhuter couldn’t possibly keep up with a cheetah chasing prey, he was able to walk, jog and lie with the animals — barefoot — while they rested, and didn’t fear for his safety. “There’s never been a case where a wild cheetah has attacked people. Generally they’re afraid of people. They’re the most timid of the cats and they like to hide away. They would rather run away from something than confront it,” he says, asserting that man is more of a threat to them. “They’re losing a lot of habitat because of man. But their biggest threat is lions, then disease.”
Wolhuter, whose grandfather and father were game rangers in Kruger National Park, grew up around wildlife. “I studied range management and conservation and went into wildlife management for a few years before I became a filmmaker.” He and his wife, Taryn, and 11-year-old daughter Savannah live off the grid in a remote farmhouse on the game reserve, where they grow their own vegetables.
His goal as a documentarian is to create more awareness and appreciation for his subjects and to bolster that with live appearances and presentations. “We don’t want to preach to people. We want people to be entertained by the beauty of these animals and what they’re all about, and indirectly, if people love what they see and want to see more of it, then they’ll care and get involved.”
Wolhuter is already planning his next film, about hyenas. “To me, they’re the most fascinating predator, and highly intelligent. There are so many myths around them. People hate hyenas. They think they’re dirty, smelly, horrible, stupid, ugly, cowardly scavengers, and most of that is untrue,” he says, in part blaming their negative portrayal in “The Lion King” for that perception. Also, “In Africa, there’s huge superstition: people believe witches ride on the backs of hyenas and that if you touch a dead hyena you’re going to die. I want to break that down and get people to understand these fascinating animals.”