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Big Cats review – creatures great and small in search of lunch

big cats
Small but deadly … the black-footed cat. Photograph: BBC/NHU/Paul Williams

World’s most lethal cat? That’s got to be the tiger, hasn’t it? Or lion? Or maybe a cheetah, because one of them is always going to catch you.

No, according to Big Cats, the world’s most lethal is in fact the black-footed cat (Felis nigripes) of southern Africa. Which is odd, because it is tiny, smaller than a domestic moggy. Odd that it’s lethal; odd also that it features in Big Cats.

Its lethalness comes from its strike rate, the highest of all, 60%, which is probably better than Romelu Lukaku’s.

It might not get you, but it is likely to get a rodent, or a locust if it’s very hungry. Or even a bird. It does this by getting down low, priming itself, then – Bam! – launching itself into the air like one of those toys that you push down and then they spring up into the air. Brilliant, tracked and captured here at night using all the latest tech.

A bobcat is bigger, but still not what I would call a big cat (perhaps this series should have been called Wild Cats?). Kind of terrier-sized, although I doubt it would like to be compared to a dog. And less lethal, strike-rate wise, certainly this one in California.

She comes careering down the beach, legs flying all over the place, not stealthy at all. By the time she reaches the water’s edge, her intended tea, a gull, is well and truly airborne, out of reach and laughing.

No wonder the bobcat missed, she is blind in one eye. That means she can’t judge distances, doesn’t it, if it works the same as it does for us (it’s why my mum has given up driving). She - the bobcat, not Mum - starts so high up the beach, too much warning. Get closer, then go …. And then she only goes and gets one, almost two in one go. Who’s laughing now?

She should come to the British seaside, where the seagulls are fatter and come with chips, which are already inside them. Flappy, screechy, live chip butties, mmm.

Down the Pacific coast a way (the one-eyed Bobcat doesn’t know how far, she can’t judge distances, remember), another cat is after a meal. This one is a reasonable size, big even: a jaguar, pronounced hagwar because this is Costa Rica. A pregnant female, captured eerily with a night-vision camera; she fancies turtle for tea.

Nooo! Gulls, I’m fine with; rodents, locusts certainly. But a lovely olive-green ridley turtle on the beach to lay her eggs at full moon: that’s not right, is it?

Surely the turtle’s one-inch thick armour will save her; she’ll just retreat into her shell ... Except that the jaguar, has the strongest jaws of any cat, for its size; she is basically a walking nutcracker, or turtle crusher, and – crunch! – this one is lunch … well, a midnight feast.

A glimmer of good news in this horror story: the turtle was on her way back to the sea; she had already laid her eggs. Whether it was another mother’s compassion on the part of the cat, foresight and wisdom (more turtles for her cub to eat later), or - most probably - just luck, it is at least some consolation.

What’s it all about, the narrative of the episode; what connects these cats? Er … they’ve all adapted to the challenges of life in different environments, from the deserts of Africa to Asian swamps. And been filmed using the latest technology, with a silky voiceover – more of a purr-over, actually – from Bertie Carvel. That’s it, really. It’s really just about going “wow” and “ah”, and “puss puss puss”. They are cats: that’s the main thing. Some of them big, others less so, all brilliant.

My favourite is Pallas’s cat (Otocolobus manul), which can flatten itself to the ground to look like a rock, in order to get closer to its prey (gerbils, fine with that). These ones – another mum and her kittens - live in Mongolia, a landscape that in this age of creeping urban sprawl is reassuring: thousands of miles of not very much at all. I was hoping this might feature in the “how-we-did-it” diary section at the end, and it does. We see producer Paul and camera operator Sue, in their yurt …

A yurt! What the hell is this, publicly funded glamping? Like Glasto on the posh, wake us up for Dizzee Rascal.

Actually, being Mongolian, it’s probably a ger, and that is the appropriate accommodation for these parts. And it is quite extreme; there’s a freak storm and stuff gets blown away, including their toilet tent. The cats have disappeared as well, until they eventually find them, on a rocky outcrop, the kittens practising chasing a vole. Tom and Jerry, on the steppes. Begrudgingly, well done then.

This article titled "Big Cats review – creatures great and small in search of lunch" was written by Sam Wollaston, for The Guardian on Friday 19 January 2018 09.00am

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