New three-part miniseries takes look at ‘Super Cats’ on PBS
The new three-part miniseries “Super Cats” premieres Wednesday on PBS.
Actor F. Murray Abraham narrates the series that visits 16 countries, highlighting 31 of the 40 species of wildcats.
Series producer Gavin Boyland said there’s always been a sense of fascination with big cats — along with a healthy dose of fear.
“There’s a sort of fear and fascination in equal measure,” Boyland said at a press event for the series, “and the reason why that is, a long time ago, humans would have been hunted by the bigger cats, and there’s also been that sense of danger that we appreciate in them. It’s why they’re such cultural icons. You think about songs like ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ how much big cats are used in avatars.”
The majority of the show was filmed in the wild.
“I think one thing we found very early on in making the series is that cats in the wild, each individual is actually that, very individual,” he said. “We could see distinct behavioral traits in a particular animal if we were following it over a few weeks.”
Boyland went on to explain, “We did a sequence in Namibia where we followed a mother leopard called Honey, and the crew got to know Honey very intimately over a three-week period of following her, and they got to recognize particular behavioral traits, particular ways she moved through the forest. It’s very clear cats in the wild still are individual, just as our domestic cats are.”
The big cats viewers know the best are lions, tigers and leopards. But while watching this series viewers will learn about most of the 40 species of wildcats roaming various locations around the world.
When asked what the scariest moment of making the film was for him, Boyland said, “I filmed a sequence about leopards in Mumbai. Mumbai is one of the biggest cities in India, and in the middle of it, there’s a national park, which is the densest population of leopards on the planet. Leopards are a big cat. They do take people occasionally, but we wanted to talk about a project there that was giving a lot of education in how people can live side-by-side with the leopards, but to film that sequence, we were on the ground at night on foot trying to film these leopards, and we would be literally following tracks trying to get close to them. It’s quite an interesting sensation being on foot trying to stalk a leopard.”
While most of us are familiar with the big cats, there are many small cats that are examined in the series.
“We actually have a lovely sequence where we filmed the rusty-spotted cat. The rusty-spotted cat is the smallest in the entire family, and we were very lucky to find a young male that had just left his mother and was starting to explore the forest on his own. And that sequence is all about curiosity in the cats. It really is a trait that’s very true about the animals. Cats have incredible senses. They have an amazing sense of smell, amazing hearing, amazing eyesight. And all those senses combined means they’re always fascinated in their surroundings.”
Lions, tigers, pumas, leopards and all the other cats are wild creatures. Boyland said his crew was tasked with observing what happens naturally without interference.
“As natural history filmmakers, we never interfere with what happens naturally,” he said. “It can be hard sometimes, but that’s a very strict rule that we’ve always had. So we’re very much there to observe what happens in nature. The thing with cats is they’re predators. They have to kill in order to eat. So in the series, we film lots of predations. But at times, we decided not necessarily to use those shots in the final film because, you know, it can be quite shocking to see that footage. So we are sensitive to that when we edit the programs.”
It’s important to keep that aspect of the cats in mind while watching the film. Some viewers might be too sensitive to view these predatory actions.
Boyland also pointed out that new technologies in cameras (low light and thermal cameras) have provided filmmakers more opportunities to make films like this. Without the new technologies, habitats would be disturbed. Now, the wild animals do not necessarily know they are being filmed or that people are in the area. Smile, you’re on candid camera!