Thursday, July 18 2019


Big Cat Obsession

Angela & Jonathan Scott
Known for their brave endeavour in executing the television series, the Big Cat Diary (lion, leopard and cheetah), Jonathan and Angela Scott have carved out a niche in the world of wildlife photography. They share their experiences and passion for the wild with Priyanka Chakrabarti.
Jonathan and Angela Scott, award-winning authors, wildlife photographers and conservationists, say they have devoted their lives in an attempt to conserve the most gifted creation of God. Jonathan is perhaps best known as the presenter of Big Cat Diary, one of the most popular and oft repeated wildlife series on television, which is broadcasted across the world on BBC and Animal Planet. The duo got married in 1992; since then, they have been working together collecting material for their books and travelling around the world as wildlife photographers. We catch up with the couple on a recent visit to India.
How would you describe the life of a wildlife photographer?
Long hours, painstaking planning and a keen understanding of your subjects’ behaviour; knowing what a lion or leopard is going to do next is the key to getting great pictures. It means getting up at 5 a.m. and staying out all day – sometimes sleeping in our car if that is what it takes to keep track.
When did you know that this was your chosen career path?
Both Angie and I have always loved wild animals and wild places. Angie was born in Tanzania, so dormice, squirrels, mongooses and monkeys became her friends when she was a child. When she was on school holidays, the whole family would go safari camping in the game parks. I was born on a farm, so the outdoors and wild creatures were part of my childhood too. But I knew I had to go to Africa to see the big cats and animals that I had read about and watched on TV. I studied zoology and then travelled from London to Johannesburg to live my dream of a life in the wilds of Africa.
Why big cats?
The leopard was always my favourite animal. I love the sense of mystery about the leopard – so beautiful, so elusive, so enigmatic and crafty. But when I fi rst came to Africa it was said that around 50,000 leopards were being killed each year for fur trade and fashion. So it took six years for me to write my fi rst book about leopards, The Leopard’s Tale (1985).
Besides the thrill and adventure, what about the risks of this profession?
You have to respect wild animals; the parks and reserves are not zoos and the animals are not tame, despite how close you can get to them at times. People sometimes get hurt or even killed by wild animals because they do not obey the laws of the jungle – if you don’t put wild animals under pressure and invade their private space then you will be fi ne in most situations.
In all these years, what are the top professional lessons you have learnt?
Do you homework on your subject, learn as much as you can about their behaviour and have a good local guide who has years of experience in the field.
How diffi cult is it to photograph dangerous animals?
Use a vehicle as a blind. In the Masai Mara in Kenya where we fi lm Big Cat Diary, the animals are very used to being approached by vehicles so you can get close. But we like to use long telephoto lenses so we can give the animals space to behave naturally. Respect your subject and never put pressure on a mother with young as you may force them to move and maybe risk the life of their young.
Have you been exposed to any risks so far in your career?
Angie and I have both had malaria, bilharzia and amoebic dysentery; it is all a part of living in wild places in Africa. Angie nearly sat on a puff adder, one of the most dangerous poisonous snakes in Africa when we were having a cup of tea under a nice shady tree in the Mara; and one day she came in to the bedroom and found a 16-foot python coiled up under our son’s cot when he was little and asleep.
What inspires and motivates you?
Our passion for wild places and wild creatures inspire us. We wish to help conserve them by spreading the word as to how fast they are disappearing, to educate the next generation about the joys of wildlife photography and the need to nurture this beautiful planet of ours, to help the tourist industry to conserve wild places, and to enrol governments in helping to fi nd a voice for wildlife as well as people. And to help local communities that live alongside wildlife areas to meet their own development needs like schools, dispensaries and clean water.
What has been the turning point in your career?
Making the right connections and travelling overland from London to Johannesburg in South Africa – 6,000 miles from north to south across the whole continent in 1974 in a Bedford truck. We slept out in the Sahara Desert, made our way through the tropical rainforest of Zaire; saw all those wild animals in Masai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania – my fi rst big cats! And making the decision to sell my onward ticket from Cape Town to Sydney in Australia and stay in Africa, which has been my home since that time. But probably the best thing I ever did was to marry my wife Angie in 1992.
Upcoming plans?
We love India and would love to produce a book on our travels here. We also hope to combine our interests in wildlife, tourism, travel and conservation by partnering with our friends here in India and to share what we have learned from our experiences.
Big Cat Obsession
Bison herd captured in action.
The magnificent lions of Africa.
Jonathan and Angel Scott pursuing what they do best.

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