Big Cat Diary

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Big Cat Diary
Big Cat Diary logo
Big Cat Diary logo
Also known as Big Cat Week (2004-2006)
Big Cat Live (2008)
Genre Nature documentary
Presented by Jonathan Scott
Simon King
Saba Douglas-Hamilton (2002–2007)
Jackson Looseyia (2008)
Kate Silverton (2008)
Composer(s) David Poore
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 76 (including specials)
Producer(s) Keith Scholey
Robin Hellier
Location(s) Kenya
Running time 30 minutes
Production company(s) BBC Natural History Unit
Original channel BBC One
Picture format SD: 576i (4:3 and 16:9)
Audio format Stereo
Original run 11 September 1996 (1996-09-11) – 24 December 2008 (2008-12-24)
External links

Big Cat Diary, also known as Big Cat Week or Big Cat Live, is a long-running nature documentary series on BBC television which follows the lives of African big cats in Kenya's Maasai Mara. The first series, broadcast on BBC One in 1996, was developed and jointly produced by Keith Scholey, who would go on to become Head of the BBC's Natural History Unit.[1] Eight further series have followed, most recently Big Cat Live, a live broadcast from the Mara in 2008.

The original presenters, Jonathan Scott and Simon King, were joined by Saba Douglas-Hamilton from 2002 onwards. Kate Silverton and Jackson Looseyia were added to the presenting team for Big Cat Live.


The BBC Natural History Unit originally wanted to film in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, but when this proved too expensive, they switched to Kenya.[citation needed] Filming is timed to coincide with the arrival of the annual wildebeest migration in the Mara, which is when the most predators gather to take advantage of abundant prey.

Each series has followed the daily lives of a lion pride, a cheetah family and a leopard family. The crew, which can number up to 60 people,[2] use specially modified 4WD vehicles to travel around the Mara, tracking, spotting and filming the cats. The presenters also travel in the vehicles, addressing the camera as the action unfolds in front of them. They use names and develop personalities for particular cats to draw the audience into a relationship with them, creating empathy for the characters. The similarity to soap operas has led to Big Cat Diary being called "the original wildlife soap opera".[2]

Originally intended to be a one-off series, Big Cat Diary proved so popular that a further eight series have been broadcast to date, plus occasional specials. Recent series have drawn audiences of over 7 million viewers to BBC One,[3] and spawned a number of other programmes using the same 'Wildlife Diary' format, including Elephant Diaries (2005–2008), Chimp Week (2006), Big Bear Week (2006) and Orangutan Diary (2007–2009). For the first few series, the episodes were broadcast weekly, but since 2004, they have been shown on consecutive nights over the course of a single week. The 2004, 2005 and 2006 series were called Big Cat Week. Since 2005, the Big Cat Diary website has carried additional video footage from the field and in 2006, a spin-off series called Big Cat Uncut was broadcast on BBC Three immediately after the BBC One episodes.

On 5 October 2008, the series returned to British television screens as Big Cat Live, the BBC Natural History Unit's most ambitious live international broadcast. Host Kate Silverton and local Maasai guide Jackson Looseyia joined regular presenters King and Scott for two weeks of nightly live programmes on BBC One. Additional broadcast content included Little Big Cat on CBeebies and Big Cat Raw, a webcast hosted on BBC Online. An update programme with highlights was shown at Christmas 2008.[4]

The BBC have yet to announce whether the series will be recommissioned.

The cats[edit]

The lion prides[edit]

  • The Marsh Pride

They have been one of the most successful groups to be filmed for Big Cat Diary. The longest-standing member of the pride to be featured on the show was Khali, who was eight years old when Big Cat Diary started in 1996. As of 19 January 2010, the surviving cubs of the 1998 buffalo attack are now the oldest lionesses in the pride. These are White-Eye and the blonde sisters, Bibi and Lispy (Bibi was kicked out of the pride in 2003 and was featured on the first series of Big Cat Week as she struggled to raise her two cubs without the support of the pride, though she was later accepted back into the main marsh pride). There are also the Three Graces, Joy, Charm and Beauty, three young females who have broken away from the main pride and formed a "satellite pride". The pride has had a succession of male leaders, including Blondie, Scruffy and Scar, Simba, Notch, Romeo and Clawed. The current leaders of the pride are four males known as the four musketeers named Scarface, Sikio, Morani, and Hunter. Jackson Looseyia reported in a blog entry that Red had died.

  • The Ridge Pride

This pride has only appeared in the more recent series. The main lions in this pride are Cheza and Sala. These two are young cubs that are growing up together despite having different parents. They were one of the main features of the 2005 series. As adults, they have since joined forces with another young lion from the Ridge pride and have taken over a nearby pride. Another former member of this pride was Solo, the only survivor of a litter consisting of 3 or 4 cubs. He left his pride well before the arrival of Cheza and Sala to team up with one of his older cousins to take over a pride.

  • Tamu and her four cubs

The focus of the 2007 series was Tamu, a lone lioness with four cubs fathered by Notch of the Marsh Pride. Tamu was a social outcast and had to hunt and raise her cubs alone without the benefits of both pride protection and help rearing her four cubs. Alone, she faced daily hostility from both Marsh Pride lionesses, male subadults, and most deadly adult male rogue lions roaming marsh territory. Her biggest test occurred when a solitary rogue male invaded her den in order to kill her cubs, which forces females into early estrus so that the rogue male can then mate and impregnate her with his own offspring. This attack, though defended by Tamu left one cub fatally injured and the rest scattered amongst the bush. Tamu was only able to collect two cubs immediately following the aftermath ( one being the injured cub who ultimately died), escaping with them to a distant new den space, forcing her to abandon the remaining two cubs without knowing their fate or location. Tamu, once establishing a new den site for the one injured and one healthy cub, then persisted in her instinct to find her lost two cubs, and was forced to leave the two survivors at the new site to return to the site of the attack and search for the missing. After multiple searches over the next two and a half days, Tamu's searching was successful, and the missing two cubs were reunited with the other sole surviving sibling to the new den site where the fourth deceased cub ultimately perished. The cause of death was a fatal wound inflicted by the rogue male, and the audience watched as Tamu and the cubs investigated, licked, and acknowledged the death of their sibling. After a day Tamu made the decision to move her young into the heart of marsh territory to a den area most frequented by the rest of the pride, in spite of the danger proposed in such close proximity to the Marsh Pride lionesses who ultimately attempted to oust Tamu and her cubs in attempted attacks upon her. The rationale for this decision is that although she is endangered by this decision, her cubs would be spared by Notch, the pride male who fathered the cubs.


  • Kidogo and cubs

In the first series, the show followed first-time mother Kidogo and her adventures trying to protect her two 12-week-old cubs. While most cheetahs focus their hunting during the day, Kidogo was noted for waking up and hunting late in the day. In one of Big Cat Diary's few episodes filmed at night, Kidogo and cubs are watched as they come dangerously close to hunting lions. One of the most dramatic events in this series was when one of the cubs got its leg caught in a tree for several agonizing minutes. She eventually freed herself with no apparent damage to the limb.

  • Fundi and cubs

Fundi was also part of the first series and continued for many years onwards. Fundi hunted regularly in thick acacia trees to keep her two adolescent cubs well-fed, unusual for cheetahs who usually hunt on open plains. Fundi means "craftsman" in Swahili. Just after Simon noticed that the male cub was limping, the crew lost Fundi and cubs for a while.

  • Amber (sometimes known as Queen)

Amber was first seen as mother to three small cheetah cubs, one later named Kike (pronounced Kee-Kay; in Swahili it means "female" and is a diminutive of "mke", which means "wife"). She had a distinctive notch in her right ear. Amber was one of the first cheetahs to jump onto the jeeps and use them as vantage points to spot danger or prey. She was last seen and filmed in 1999.

  • Kimbia

Kimbia was the territorial male cheetah in 2000.

  • Kike and her three cubs

Amber's daughter Kike returned in the first Big Cat Week in 2004. Discovered at Rhino Ridge, Kike was mother to three small cubs. This was Kike's fourth litter, but she hadn't previously raised even a single cub successfully. Like her mother Amber had done, Kike used the jeeps as vantage points to watch for danger or prey and even occasionally as toilets. The three cubs went on to appear in the 2005 Big Cat Week. In an October 2008 webcast for Big Cat Live, Jonathan Scott explained that given Kike's age and the fact that she had not been spotted recently, she had probably died. He confirmed that her three cubs have survived and that her daughter Itchy has raised cubs of her own.

  • Honey and her cubs, including Toto

Honey first featured on Big Cat Diary in 2002, where she was struggling to raise three young cubs, even to the point of seeing off a male lion to keep them safe. For 2006's Big Cat Week, viewers were introduced to her young cub, Toto, a Swahili word meaning "little one". Honey was not credited on screen as Toto's mother because this was not known until after the series was filmed.[5] When he was first filmed, it was estimated that Toto was only 6–8 weeks old, making him the youngest cheetah cub ever to be filmed on Big Cat Diary. Keeping Toto alive seemed to be a constant battle for his mother: he survived close encounters with baboons, lions, and other dangers. It is estimated that only 25% of cheetah cubs make it to maturity.

In the final episode of the series, Toto went missing overnight after a storm, and was not found. It was reported a few days later that Honey was found living alone. Nobody knows what exactly happened, but Toto had not survived. The end credits that year consisted entirely of footage of Toto.

Honey returned in the 2007–2008 series. When filming began, she had four cubs, but one, a female, was soon lost in a lion attack. The cub was last seen alive feasting when Jonathan Scott noted that Honey was being risky by letting her cubs feed for so long. The cub was found the next day by Honey, dead, in a thicket of grass.

In February 2007, nearly an entire year before her final appearance on screen, Honey was killed after a vet accidentally shot her in the wrong place with a tranquilizing dart. The dart did not go into the muscle but hit her in the stomach near her kidneys. Oblivious to his mistake, the vet went on to treat Honey's cub while she was left out in the scorching afternoon sun.[6]

In April 2008, Honey's three remaining cubs, all males, were still doing well. After her death, the Mara Conservancy had to provide food for them for several months. However, they were now fully grown and capable of hunting together and have become self-sufficient. It is believed they have even taken down an adult topi.[7] They have also been seen hunting zebra, a risky prey species for cheetah due to their kicking hooves.[8]

In October 2008, the three now fully grown sons of Honey were filmed during Big Cat Live. They had all formed a strong bond and are actively seeking to mate with females. Unfortunately, this led to them having a confrontation with Shakira and her cubs.

  • Shakira and her cubs

In 2006's Big Cat Week, Jonathan Scott (while following the story of Honey and Toto) introduced viewers to Duma and her mother (later named Shakira). In a special Big Cat Diary broadcast after the series, Scott told the story of Duma in more detail, revealing the moment she left her mother to become independent.

For Big Cat Live in 2008, Scott again followed the story of Shakira. This time however, Shakira had five baby cubs. Two cubs died during the series (possibly killed by hyenas). So far, the three remaining cubs, all of which are female, have survived. The cubs have been called Moja, Mbili and Tatu, meaning "one", "two" and "three" in Swahili.

The leopards[edit]

  • Half-Tail and Shadow

Big Cat Diary only followed one leopard family through each generation. This family started with Half-Tail, one of the most famous big cats who appeared on the show for quite a few years. She was named Half-Tail after a clash with baboons or lions in which she lost half her tail. She is the only leopard in the show who was not shown killing any large prey on screen. Half-Tail only ever managed to raise three cubs. Beauty and Shadow were her daughters and were both featured in the series. She also raised a male cub called Mang'aa. Half-Tail had her sixth and final litter of cubs in 1998 but was killed when she attacked Masai livestock. As her cubs were too young to fend for themselves they died shortly afterwards. Shadow was to be the next leopard they followed and she went on to have a cub herself called Safi, who was rather shy of the cameras. When the show returned in 2004, a new family was chosen, ending the line. Shadow was filmed briefly for Big Cat Week series three (broadcast in 2006), however the footage was not shown during that series. The footage would later air in a special documentary.

  • Bella and family

Bella and her son Chui appeared on the show together for three years. They first appeared in 2004, when Bella was mum to two small three-month-old cubs, Chui and his sister. Months after filming ended, Chui's sister vanished. It later became clear she was dead, probably killed by lions. In 2005, the public and crew said goodbye to Chui and saw what should have been the final shots of them together, as he would leave Bella's side and protection sometime after filming. In October 2006, it was announced on their website that Chui had now been chased away by the resident male and Bella was now mating again. Chui has now been reported to have moved to a new territory downriver, where he was seen mating with a new female in Bella's adjacent territory. In Big Cat Live, viewers were introduced to Olive. Olive is Bella's daughter from 2001, before Chui was born. Olive has three cubs, one male, eight-month-old Kali and two females, Ayah and Binti, independent from their mother. Bella, Olive, Ayah, Binti and Kali were nicknamed the "Jackson Five" after new presenter Jackson Looseyia, who was following their progress. The names Olive, Kali, Binti and Ayah were given these leopards by Paul Kirui, veteran safari guide and a spotter for the leopard filming crew since 2006. The "Jackson Five" is intriguing because three generations of the normally solitary cats are living together.

On 2 September 2009, Looseyia posted on his blog a picture of Olive carrying a cub in her mouth. She has a new litter of cubs. Looseyia stated it would appear to be two cubs. Kali has been chased away by Olive. Bella has since died.

Mara Triangle Conservancy has recently spotted Chui in Mara . He moved to Mara about 6 years ago and he is 10 yrs old now.

International broadcasters[edit]

Related series[edit]

The BBC Natural History Unit has used the diary format popularised by Big Cat Diary for a number of related series. They include:

Elephant Diaries[edit]

Elephant Diaries went behind the scenes at a sanctuary for orphaned African bush elephants run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Michaela Strachan and Jonathan Scott presented both series, which were broadcast in 2005 and 2008.

Orangutan Diary[edit]

Two series of Orangutan Diary were aired; the first was shown in April 2007. It was filmed at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation and showed the lives of rescued orangutans. A second series was shown in 2009, consisting of six one-hour shows. Both series were presented by Michaela Strachan and Steve Leonard.

Big Bear Week[edit]

Presenters followed the three species of bear native to North America for this one-off series. Jonathan Scott followed brown bears in Alaska, Saba Douglas-Hamilton observed polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba and Jeff Turner tracked American black bears in British Columbia. They were all situated in different parts of Canada. Big Bear Week was broadcast in the summer of 2006 on BBC One, soon after the third series of Big Cat Week.

Chimp Week[edit]

Filmed over eight years, Chimp Week followed the lives of two family groups of chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. It was narrated by Jonathan Scott and broadcast in January 2006.


Currently available on Region 2 DVD are the 2004, 2005 and 2006 series of Big Cat Week (packaged as series 1 to 3, with series 1 and 2 being packaged together), the 2007 series of Big Cat Diary (packaged as series 4 of Big Cat Week) and highlights from Big Cat Live (packaged as Big Cat Special). There is also a trilogy of books written by Jonathan and Angela Scott, with each focusing on the stories concerning the lions, cheetahs and leopards of the 'Big Cat Diary' format of the show.

In 2012, Seasons 1 and 2 of the original Big Cat Diary show was made available to download on iTunes and Amazon's Instant Video services. These episodes are DVD quality or better, however no DVD or any other physical media are available for these two seasons. Additionally, Seasons 3 and 4 of the original Big Cat Diary series are not available at all as of August 2012.

The name and format of the show has changed several times throughout the life of the Big Cat show. The following table illustrates the TV air dates and DVD release dates (if applicable) of each of the seasons.[9]

Overall Season Season Name Season Year - TV air Season Year - DVD Release Availability Notes
1 Big Cat Diary - Season 1 1996-1997 n/a iTunes and Amazon Instant Video Available on Instant Netflix
2 Big Cat Diary - Season 2 1998 n/a iTunes and Amazon Instant Video Available on Instant Netflix
3 Big Cat Diary - Season 3 2000-2001 n/a None as of August 2012 Available on Instant Netflix
4 Big Cat Diary - Season 4 2002 n/a None as of August 2012 Available on Instant Netflix
5 Big Cat Week - Season 1 2004 2006 DVD (Available at Amazon and other retailers) Available on Instant NetflixReleased in same DVD package
6 Big Cat Week - Season 2 2005 2006 DVD (Available at Amazon and other retailers) Available on Instant NetflixReleased in same DVD package
7 Big Cat Week - Season 3 2006 2007 DVD (Available at Amazon and other retailers) Available on Instant Netflix
8 Big Cat Week - Season 4 2007-2008 2008 DVD (Available at Amazon and other retailers)
9 Big Cat Live - Season 1 2008 (late) 2009 DVD (Available at Amazon and other retailers) Released as Big Cat Special


External links[edit]