Nat Geo's Big Cat Week: When should researchers intervene in the natural order?

Yahoo Contributor Network

While filming segments for Nat Geo's Big Cat Week, producer/director Tony Gerber said he worked hard to make the camera disappear in his footage. In this way, he could portray leopards and other big cats in honest and truthful ways.

Gerber's statements, as well as the entire popular Nat Geo series, do raise questions about man's interference with nature. Are there times, for instance, when a photographer could or should intervene on behalf of their animal subjects? Does research do more harm than good?

Man and leopard in harmony

In "Leopard Queen," John Varty offers a glimpse into his 17-year relationship with a wild leopard he named Manana. In South Africa, Varty's cameras follow the leopardess as she strives to protect her cubs from other leopards. Manana even mates with two separate males, enduring the painful process to ensure that neither father will attack her offspring.

As a young filmmaker, Varty debated about interfering with his subjects. After watching one big cat suffer and die from sarcoptic mange, Varty intervenes when he sees the mite-borne disease in Manana and her cubs. Realizing he has the power to save their lives, he and the crew shoot the leopards with medicinal darts.

Varty admits that it is highly unusual for a leopard to accept his human presence. Is this simply natural evolution for humans and leopards, or can it be called interference with the natural order?

Lions disappearing from Kenya

Big Cat Week offers a healthy dose of frightening statistics. During "Lion Warriors," viewers learn that lions may disappear completely from Kenya by 2030. Each year, Maasai warriors in the region hunt and kill the predators to prevent attacks on their cattle. These hunts cause more than 100 lions to disappear each year.

Authorities continue to offer the Maasai compensation from the Predator Reimbursement Fund, but the hunters must promise to stop the killing in order to get paid. As "Lion Warriors" reveals, that's easier said than done.

Interfering for the sake of research

"American Cougar" delves into the mystery surrounding this particular big cat's lack of kittens. Boone Smith, a fourth generation trapper with over 150 research-captures to his credit, helps locate and tag cougars for a study. The tagging process involves drugging the animals so radio collars can be placed around their necks.

Smith's efforts bear fruit with F51, a female American cougar. The team tracks F51 as she goes through her daily routine in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Yet, it is hard to ignore how much a well-meaning team of scientists might disrupt the comings and goings of a wild creature like this one, and what effects might remain after the researchers have left.

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