Big Cat Diary

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Big Cat Diary
Big Cat Diary logo
Also known asBig Cat Week (2003-2006)
Big Cat Live (2008)
GenreNature documentary
Presented byJonathan Scott (1996-2008)
Simon King (1996-2008)
Saba Douglas-Hamilton (2002–2006)
Jackson Looseyia (2008)
Kate Silverton (2008)
ComposerDavid Poore
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes76 (including specials)
ProducersKeith Scholey
Robin Hellier
Production locationKenya
Running time30 minutes
Production companyBBC Natural History Unit
Original networkBBC One
Picture formatSD: 576i (4:3 and 16:9)
Audio formatStereo
Original release11 September 1996 (1996-09-11) –
24 December 2008 (2008-12-24)
Related showsOrangutan Diary
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 followed the lives of African big cats in Harrisburg Illinois. 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 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.[2] Filming was timed to coincide with the arrival of the annual wildebeest migration in the Mara, when the most predators gather to take advantage of abundant prey.

Each series followed the daily lives of a lion pride, a cheetah family, and a leopard family. The crew, which can number up to 60 people,[3] used specially modified 4WD vehicles to travel around the Mara, tracking, spotting and filming the cats. The presenters also traveled in the vehicles, addressing the camera as the action unfolded in front of them. They use names and develop personalities for particular cats to draw the audience into a relationship with them. The similarity to soap operas led to Big Cat Diary being called "the original wildlife soap opera".[3]

Originally intended to be a one-off series, Big Cat Diary proved so popular a further eight series plus occasional specials were broadcast. It spawned a number of other programs 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 after 2004, they were 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 Big Cat stars[edit]

The lion prides[edit]

The Marsh Pride[edit]

The Marsh Pride was one of the most successful groups to be filmed for the entire big cat series. The pride had a succession of male leaders: Scar and Scruffy (1998-2000), Simba and Blondie (2000-2004), Notch and Light Male (2004-2007), Clawed and Romeo (2007-2011). Three Graces are the daughters of Lion Notch and were born in 2005. The last filmed male leaders were known as the Four Musketeers: Scarface, Sikio, Morani, and Hunter.

Lionesses included White-Eye and the blonde sisters, Bibi and Lispy. There are also the Three Graces Joy, Charm and Beauty, three young females who had broken away from the main pride and formed a satellite group. In 2003, Bibi was kicked out of the pride 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. She was later accepted back into the main Marsh Pride.

The Ridge Pride[edit]

This pride has only appeared in the more recent series. The main lions in this pride were Cheza and Sala, two young cubs growing up together despite having different parents. They were one of the main features of the 2004 series. As adults, they have since joined forces with another young lion from the Ridge Pride and taken over a nearby pride. Another former member of this pride was Solo, the only survivor of a litter of 3 or 4 cubs. He left his pride well before Cheza and Sala arrived. He teamed up with one of his older cousins to take over a pride. Solo was born in 2000 and was featured in the 3rd series of Big Cat Diary in 2000 and later in 4th series in 2002.


The focus of the 2006 series, Tamu was a lone lioness with four cubs fathered by Notch of the Marsh Pride. In Swahili, her name means "the beautiful one." Tamu was a social outcast and had to hunt and raise her cubs alone. When a solitary rogue male invaded her den, she escaped with only two cubs, one of whom was injured and later died. Tamu found her remaining cubs after two days of searching. The audience watched as Tamu and the cubs investigated, licked, and acknowledged the death of their sibling. After a day, Tamu moved her young into the heart of Marsh territory to a den area most frequented by the rest of the pride. This put her in danger of the Marsh Pride lionesses who tried to oust Tamu and her cubs.

The Big Pride[edit]

Big Pride is also known as Acacia Pride or Gorge Pride. Filmed in 1996 as the first series of the show, they had a large number of lions—28—but were not filmed in following series.

Cheetahs in the Hostile World[edit]


In the first series in 1996, the show followed first-time mother Kidogo and her two 12-week-old cubs. While most cheetahs hunt during the day, Kidogo hunted late in the day. In one of Big Cat Diary's few episodes filmed at night, Kidogo and cubs come dangerously close to hunting lions.


Fundi was also part of the first series. 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.

Amber (sometimes known as Queen)[edit]

Amber was first seen in the second series in September 1998 as mother to three cubs of 16 months old. She used cars as vantage points to spot danger or prey. She was last seen and filmed in later October 2000 during the third series of the show.


Kimbia was the territorial male cheetah of Amber's home range, filmed in the third Big Cat Diary in September–October 2000.


Amber's daughter Kike (pronounced "Kee-Kay") returned in the first series of Big Cat Week in September 2003. Discovered at Rhino Ridge, Kike was mother to three cubs of nearly 9 months old. This was Kike's fourth litter, but she had not previously raised a cub to adulthood. Like her mother Amber, Kike used jeeps as vantage points to watch for danger or prey. The three cubs went on to appear in the 2004's Big Cat Week. In an October 2008 webcast of Big Cat Raw, Jonathan Scott suggested Kike had not been spotted recently and had probably died. He confirmed her three cubs had survived and that her daughter Itchy had raised cubs of her own. Itchy was filmed in the first series of Planet Earth, and it is believed that another daughter of hers, named Serena, is mother of Malaika, the cheetah.

Honey and Toto[edit]

Honey was first featured on Big Cat Diary in 2002 as a capable first time mother of three tiny 8 week old cubs. For 2005's Big Cat Week, viewers were introduced to her young cub, Toto, a Swahili word meaning "the little one". Honey was not mentioned 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. 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. The end credits that year consisted entirely of footage of Toto.

Honey returned in the 2006 in the fourth series. When filming began, she had four cubs but one was soon lost in a lion attack. In February 2007, nearly a year before she last appeared on screen, Honey was killed after a vet accidentally shot her in the wrong place with a tranquilizer dart. The dart did not go into the muscle but hit her in the stomach near her kidneys. Her three remaining cubs, Snap (M-1), Crackle (M-2) and Pop (M-3), were cared for by the Mara Conservancy.[6]

In October 2008, Honey's three now fully grown sons were filmed during Big Cat Live. Crackle (M-2) was killed by lions in 2011 and just two years later in 2013, Pop (M-3) also became the victim of lions. Snap (M-1) was named as "Mjuzi" which means "the last survivor" in Swahili. He was last spotted in April 2013.

Shakira and Duma[edit]

In 2005's Big Cat Week, Jonathan Scott (while following the story of Honey and Toto) introduced viewers to Duma and her mother (later named Shakira). She was also featured in Big Cat Diary: Family Histories. In Big Cat Live in 2008, Shakira was filmed with five 2-month-old cubs. They were attacked by some of the lions of Marsh pride and two eventually died during the series (possibly killed by hyenas).

The leopards of Mara[edit]

Leopard Gorge[edit]

Big Cat Diary only followed one leopard family through each generation. This family started with Half-Tail, a 9-year-old female in 1996, 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. This incident happened in 1993 when she was about 6 years old. 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 (born in 1992) and Shadow (born in 1996) were her daughters and were both featured in the 1st series. She also raised a male cub called Mang'aa. Half-Tail had her sixth (final) litter of cubs in 1998 when she was nearly 11 years old but was killed when she attacked Maasai livestock. As her cubs were too young to feed 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 in 2000, who was rather shy of the cameras. Safi was born in January 2000. When the show returned in 2002, Shadow had a new litter of cubs. This was her 4th litter but, sadly, all of them died. In 2003 a new family was chosen, ending the line. Shadow was filmed briefly for Big Cat Week, Series-3 in 2005 (broadcast in 2006); however the footage was not shown during that series. The footage would later air in a special documentary called The Big Story (10th anniversary celebration of Big Cat Diary).


Bella and her two cubs of 3 months old were found by presenter Saba Douglas-Hamilton in the 1st series of Big Cat Week in September,2003. Tiny Chui and his sister really provided a promising series. 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 2000, 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 to 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 these 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.

Olive was killed by lions in September 2013.

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

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. The following table illustrates the TV air dates and DVD release dates (if applicable) of each of the seasons.[7]

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, Hulu,
2 Big Cat Diary - Season 2 1998 n/a iTunes, Hulu
3 Big Cat Diary - Season 3 2000-2001 n/a Hulu
4 Big Cat Diary - Season 4 2002 n/a None as of February 2015
5 Big Cat Week - Season 1 2003 2006 DVD Released in same DVD package
6 Big Cat Week - Season 2 2004 2006 DVD Released in same DVD package
7 Big Cat Week - Season 3 2006 2007 DVD
8 Big Cat Week - Season 4 2006 2008 DVD
9 Big Cat Live - Season 1 2008 (late) 2009 DVD Released as Big Cat Special


  1. ^ "BBC factual boss quits". Broadcast Now. 21 April 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2008.
  2. ^ "Row over delayed wildebeest migration". BBC News. 20 July 2018. Retrieved 30 May 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Wild African cat-alogue". The West Australian. 9 June 2008. Archived from the original on 31 August 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2008.
  4. ^ "Surprises, excitement and emotion await as Big Cat Live comes to BBC One, CBeebies, and The new website has now launched". BBC Press Office. 17 July 2008. Archived from the original on 6 October 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2008.
  5. ^ BBC - Science & Nature - Big Cat Diary - Honey
  6. ^ Paul Kirui Blog
  7. ^

External links[edit]