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The Cheetah and the Television Cheats
Ever wodered how makes of those BBC television wildlife programmes get the wild animals to be so co-operative? Did you ever think there might be a bit of cheating going on? No, of course not, that nice David Attenborough who personally supervises all BBC wildlife programmes (he does, honest,) would never allow producers to cheat. Prepare to be shocked as we bring you the story of one little cheetah and the television cheats.

The Cheetah and the Television Cheats
by Ian R Thorpe
2008-02-06
CREATIVE COMMONS: Attribute, non commercial, no derivs.
KEYWORDS: news, cat, reality, television, bbc, wildlife, vet, TV, audiences, human, humour, humor

Each winter for the past few years, usually around the turn of the year, the kind of people who think BBC wildlife shows are “wonderful (I’m mentioning no names but these would be the Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, Angry of Guildford and Bewildered of Cheltenham types and the kind people who begin their letters to Points of View with “Why oh why oh why”,) have had the cockles of their little hearts warmed by a show called Big Cat Diaries. None of your phone-in fiddles, psychological manipulation and misleading editing here you see, no PR spin or media hysteria. The Beeb just send out a team of dedicated animal lovers and film nature as it happens.

Unfortunately the problem with filming life as it happens is that in the absence of easily bribeable humans, nothing much happens most of the time and then when it does, its the very last thing the programme makers wanted to happen.

“Oh, oh look, how exciting, there is a Lion and he looks as if he’s, yes he is sleeping. And there is another, a female and she is sleeping too. This is so exciting. Here comes a young male! He looks as if he, yes he is, he’s lying down and now he is lick...what a wonderful demonstration of how supple the spines of these creatures are.”

Two weeks in the life of an average big cat produces about two seconds of the kind of action bloated, hangover TV audiences want to see in the week between Christmas and New Year.

Not really riveting stuff.

In Big Cat diaries the problem is solved by judicious editing which though it produces a watchable show gives out a false impression that nature, far from being red in tooth and claw is in fact all very jolly and cuddly.

Foremost among the Big Cats in the affections of viewers, mostly down to sympathetic editing, is Honey the Cheetah a courageous and feisty female so cute she could almost have been a Disney character.

Year in, year out the audience empathised with the plucky predator as she raised and defended her litter, routing fearsome enemies that looked at her cubs and though not “awwww” but “lunch.” How the audience cheered as brave Honey drove off much larger animals including a geriatric Lion and several Hyenas. Big Cat Diaries brought the savannah right into suburban living rooms.

By the time this years series was shown, just a few weeks ago, the goodwill of those viewers was wasted. The program schedulers though it unwise to tell viewers Honey was already dead. Unwise from a ratings point of view maybe, or simply too embarrassing.

So how did she meet her demise? Was She lacerated by a lion, rammed by a Rhino, pulverised by a Pachiderm, Impaled by an Impala, butted by a Buffalo or obliterated by an Ostrich?

It was none of these. Honey had taken a wound in a skirmish with another animal and the Big Cat Diaries team’s vet, with the next series in mind decided rather that let nature take its course he ought to take a look. (So much for authenticity.) This required Honey to be tranquillised as she was a wild animal with very effective claws. The technique involves firing a dart loaded with a drug into a muscle mass, usually the thigh. The vet, driven by concern for Honey’s wellbeing, shot the dart into her stomach, close to a kidney and the drug poisoned poor Cheetah.

Now you know all you need to about the authenticity of BBC wildlife shows.

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