A while ago we were fortunate enough and slightly over excited, to meet the maverick wildlife filmmaker that so often graces our screens – Kim Wolhuter. The mind and face of documentaries like Man, Cheetah, Wild on the Discovery Channel to name just one. We immediately grasped the opportunity to get to know Kim better, who jokingly shared with us that he got to where he is today “by car”. However, his journey holds so much more than that and his family history and success in the industry indicates that he is right where he should be.
League of Legends
The name Harry Wolhuter resounds the story of a national legend who was lucky enough to survive an attack from two fully grown male lions while working as the first ranger in the Kruger National Park. He was pulled off his horse and being dragged by the shoulder when he was fortunate enough to get a hold of his sheath knife and mortally stab one of the males. Harry credited his survival to his faithful dog, Bull, who’s insistent barking distracted the second lion, granting him the opportunity to climb up a nearby tree until help arrived.
Kim feels fortunate that his grandfather and father Henry Wolhuter, who was a Senior Ranger in the Kruger, paved the way for him.
Running for the Bushes
Sadly Kim’s father did not have much influence on his life, as he passed away when Kim was only 5 years old. He continues to share that as a child, running into the bush was his way of escaping his fears. “I was extremely shy and couldn’t deal with people”, because of this, he wanted to go and live with the Bushmen after finishing school. His mother, however, forced him to get a degree first for which he is thankful today. He picked up most of his bush knowledge from Ted Reilly, while helping him out during university holidays. He finds himself hugely indebted to Ted as “Besides for my mother, I must give him credit for who I am today”.
Kim Wolhuter – Maverick Wildlife Filmmaker
Off to work
After completing his BSc Degree in Grassland Science, he landed his very first job managing a game farm in the Tuli Block, in Botswana. From there he moved on to become the Warden of Mlawula Nature Reserve in Swaziland where his filmmaking journey took off. “Richard Goss, a filmmaker, contacted me asking if I’d be interested in joining him in making wildlife documentaries”, after some persistent convincing from Ross, Kim finally agreed. He continued working for Richard for 6 years before starting his own company, which he’s been running for the past 28 years.
Besides being extremely proud of raising his two lovely girls, with their mother’s help of course, and winning several Emmy Awards, there is another accomplishment that Kim proudly carries with him.
“Many years ago I was asked if I could take this young girl, Olivia McMurray, out filming with me. She was only 14 years old and terminally ill. Her body was not producing red blood cells, every 3 weeks she had to have a full blood transfusion. She was a keen photographer and loved wildlife. She’d never been away from home before and came to spend several days with me in the bush. I told her to bring along some of her photographs (we were still shooting slides in those days) so I could advise her before we went out. I put Olivia on the back of the vehicle, gave her my camera gear and off we went. I’d be filming and would look back to see how Olivia was doing, to see her clicking away and looking so natural and in control of the camera. I had her slides processed after her trip and was so blown away by them that I told her to enter the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. She entered, and won her age category (14 – 17 year old). There is nothing that makes me more proud than having been able to give her this opportunity. Amazingly enough Olivia is now 25 and soon to be a qualified veterinarian, living her life to the fullest”.
Sleek Sunrise – Image by Kim Wolhuter
“I find if I wear anything on my feet, it either has the hyenas a little concerned or it becomes something they just have to chew. I’d rather have them lick my toes.”
Walking around barefoot helps Kim to feel in tune with his environment – “Not only do I get to understand what the soft-footed animals are dealing with but as the substrate I’m walking on changes, I become aware of it…” He also believes that wearing shoes is a cultural norm and given the opportunity, most people prefer to walk around barefoot. As for running barefoot, he says that if you have read the book “Born to Run” you wouldn’t be running in shoes either.
Getting to know Kim and following his work it is not hard to pick up that he has a great admiration for hyenas. When asked why, he said “I suppose it is because there is no animal like them. They stand alone, not only in their character, intelligence and anatomy, but they also stand so far from people’s hearts. A myth that is so strong and so wrong”.
Given their high intellect, they learn from each other quickly, allowing Kim to develop an extremely intimate relationship with the entire clan, usually a difficult thing to master with so many members. He is determined to “change all the negative perceptions about them”.
Me Too – Image by Kim Wolhuter
King of Beasts
Kim believes that people have wrongfully placed lions as the King of Beasts. One of the reasons being that they kill anything, including cubs and other predators, simply because they can. Lions have the lowest cub survival rate of all predators and their intelligence lacks greatly when compared to hyenas, whose is on par with primates. “Don’t get me wrong, I do still think lions are impressive. To watch them taking on large prey… they really do have something going for them, but they still haven’t quite touched my heart.”
If not lions, what animal in your opinon would be the rightful heir to the throne?
“I don’t believe there really is one, they all live in some sort of harmony. Maybe the elephant? But then that would be a Queen.”
The purpose behind it all
When shooting a documentary, Kim aims to captivate the audience while creating awareness and educating people. Hoping that by doing this it will inspire people “to act and be responsible for saving our wild areas”. He takes it one step further and uses Social Media to share his daily experiences with people as he doesn’t believe that he “can be out there and keep it all to myself”.
Follow Kim on:
Goals for the Future
Kim plans to continue with his documentaries while researching the human/animal interactions. He states that “it’s an interesting space and I believe something we’ve totally lost touch with”. Integrating science into his work is also on the blueprint of Kim’s plan for future endeavours.
Gripping! – Image by Kim Wolhuter
Are all men intended to live in Harmony with nature?
Kim explains that during our hunter-gatherer days we used to interact with animals. Then we became ‘superior’ and started to distance ourselves exponentially further away from nature. “Now superiority is not just killing the wildlife and wild areas, but it’s killing humanity because we need these wild places to rejuvenate our souls”.
Kim’s intimate relationship with nature and its inhabitants is inspiring to say the least. I would like to thank Kim for taking the time to answer our many questions. We trust that he will continue to connect the hearts of people to the soul of nature.
In Part 2 we talk to Kim about what goes into making an Award winning Wildlife Documentary