How does a typical (if such a thing exists) day look for you?
As mentioned above, I’m busy filming hyenas and since they are nocturnal animals I have to adapt to their way of life. This means, leaving camp at around 4pm and getting back somewhere between 8 – 10am the next day. My first port of call is usually the hyena den, to see who’s around and then I take it from there. (I’m actually typing this after midnight while waiting at an eland carcass.) Besides those hours, there is no routine, it all depends on what’s happening.
How do you choose your subjects?
They choose me. I never wanted to do a film on cheetahs, especially in the thick bush of the Malilangwe Game Reserve. How could I ever compete with the cheetah films coming out of the open plains of east Africa? However, the cheetah presented themselves and off I went. Amazingly enough, I was able to film cheetah in a way that has never been seen before.
The sad truth is that the general public only wants predators and therefore most of my films have been about predators. I, however, would love to work on the less charismatic, but often more interesting animals.
Curious wild cheetah cubs climb on Kim
It has been said that your ability to connect with and read animals is unparalleled. How do you become such an intimate part of your subjects lives?
By talking to them. Like all relationships, communication is key.
It is a slow process, but I just try and be as natural as possible. There really isn’t anything special that I do, except understanding all the important bits of body language, eye contact, approach, posture, etc. Other than that, confidence is key. That confidence must come from the heart, not the head because they will very quickly pick up if you are even the slightest bit hesitant.
The most important thing is to know how to react when you’re in trouble and how to get out of it.
(I’ll let you know when I’ve written the book about it…)
Do you carry weapons with you while out in the field?
To be able to bond with the animals the way I do, it’s crucial that I don’t carry a weapon. When carrying a weapon, one has a false sense confidence and you tend to push the boundaries. If the animal charges, you shoot it. What right does one have to do that?
You will also never be able to develop an intimate relationship with the animal if you carry a weapon with you. They sense your arrogance. I like to approach them one on one, then it’s real. They pick it up and you get to develop the most amazing relationships.
How long does it usually take you to complete a documentary?
I invest a lot into them. Usually 18 months to 2 years. I have to bond with them. Once I’ve done that they don’t worry about my presence and go about their lives as per usual. This gives me the opportunity to document their lives in the most natural way.
At arms length – Image by Kim Wolhuter
Being out in the bush so often you must be exposed to a wide range of scenarios. What would you say is the most gripping to date?
- At this very moment, every morning and evening when I see the Quelea flocks coming and leaving their roost. I’m stunned at the pure magnitude of their numbers. I love the way they fly in these huge flocks, changing direction as one. It really is an amazing spectacle.
- A lioness had a very small cub, only about a week old. It was hardly mobile and its eyes were still closed. It was calling and calling. A leopard appeared on the scene and instead of killing it she started grooming the cub. As if one of her own, licking its backside, rolling it over and grooming it. Beautiful to watch.
- Sadly most of the gripping stories revolve around animals killing each other. Until recently, the most gruesome thing I’ve witnessed and filmed was 2 male lions killing the lioness mentioned above. The most chilling shot was when the one male picked her up like any carcass, by the neck, her head hanging limp as he dragged her off. (They didn’t eat her.)
- However, only last week I witnessed something even more chilling. A big female hyena chasing a 6-month old cub, which tried to take refuge in a pan. The hyena ran in and killed it only meters away from me!
Kim’s close encounter with a Black Rhino.
Tough days don’t pass anyone by, how do you get through the bad days?
I like to keep fit by exercising often. It’s amazing how that helps you cope with just about anything. Having a bad time, go for a run. Feeling sick or down, go for a run. I went to the doctor the other day, something I usually shy away from. But my neck was giving me problems and it started spreading across to my shoulders. After the doctor sorted that out he did a general check up. My heart rate was 44. He said “Jy gaan of vrek of jy’s baie fiks”.
You are out in the field a lot and obviously can’t carry too much gear around. What would you say is your essential go to gear?
Simple answer, travel in your car. I usually work from a vehicle, but then again I do walk whenever I can. I mainly shoot video, sadly stills have to take a backseat, and therefore I always carry my video camera with me.
How do you achieve a life of filmmaking, predominantly technology driven, in the bushveld?
I’m no techy and I don’t understand a lot of the stuff. Luckily all you need is power and not too much of it. The real challenge is more trying to keep abreast with technology. You buy the latest camera today and within a year it’s out dated.
The upcoming challenge is not camera equipment, but the fast changing formats in which to deliver our product. We have to compete against the huge amount of user generated content out there. To make a living as a filmmaker we have to make sure all our videos go viral not just the one that each person gets in their lifetime.
Kim captures footage of a resilient paraplegic hyena that walks on two legs
If nature could ask humanity one question, what do you think it would be?
“We can adapt and survive, can you? Don’t you realise your greed will eventually kill humanity? You need us just as much as we need you. Destroy us and you too will die.”
There is no wilderness left in the world and we shouldn’t pretend there is, or try to save it as such. We have to live alongside the animals. Unless man is a part of the system it cannot be saved. Animals have to adapt to man’s intrusion into their world and they have. You have to only look at wildlife photographic tourism, the animals have gotten used to vehicles and adapted to them and with them. Cheetah jump on cars in east Africa to get a vantage point. Lions stalk alongside cars. Animals can adapt, we must do the same if we want to have a world of wildlife to satisfy our souls.