Acclaimed wildlife filmmaker and photographer Kim Wolhuter is the third generation of game ranger in his family. Based at Mashatu for the past 14 months, he has been filming a documentary on hyenas and causing a worldwide media frenzy when he received a ‘facial’ from an overly friendly cheetah! Claire Roadley caught up with him in the bush
Tell us a bit more about the man behind the lens?
As a boy I always wanted to be in the bush and having finished school all I wanted to do was to go and live with the Bushmen. I was always extremely shy and the bush was a place for me to be myself without any pressure from society.
What’s your conservation background?
I couldn’t find a holiday job for my first university holiday. I contacted Ted Reilly and said I would work for free. I ended up spending all my holidays there gaining the most invaluable practical bush experience from a man whose bush knowledge is on a par with the bushmen. Having completed my BSc degree in Grassland Science, I managed Santhata Ranch to the east of Mashatu for 3 years. That was 30 years ago. I then took up the position of Warden of Mlawula Nature Reserve in Swaziland where I spent a couple of years.
Why did you switch from game ranger to filmmaker?
I had never thought of wildlife filmmaking as a career. I was in the wildlife field as a wildlife warden following in my father and grandfather’s footsteps. The great filmmaker, Richard Goss, contacted me and asked if I’d like to go filmmaking. I agreed and ended up filming with Richard for 6 years before I took the leap on my own.
What’s your current project at Mashatu?
I’m filming an amazing hyaena family. Hyaenas unfairly get such bad press. It’s a serious mission to trying to change people’s perceptions of them. One way I believe I can do this is for people to see me interacting with them in the most natural way and to discover how amazingly affectionate hyaenas can be.
What are some of the best places your filming has taken you?
I’ve been lucky enough to experience some incredible places but when I came back to Mashatu Game Reserve after 30 years, I realised what I’d been missing. I’d been filming in thick African bush for 26 years and it had become the norm for me. But here, the undulating terrain, the huge open plains, the diversity of habitats and the relaxed nature of the animals is very special.
Have you had any special wildlife moments?
I had a wonderful moment with a cheetah in Zimbabwe. I hadn’t been working with them for over a year and out walking one day, I saw a cheetah. She didn’t acknowledged my approach and as I got closer, I sat down. Then she got up, came to me, and started licking my face! It was probably the most special wild interaction that has ever happened to me.
Can you tell us about your future plans?
I plan to carry on developing these special relationships with wild animals and from a scientific point of view, trying to understand what this all means. Because of these relationships I get to see animal behaviour so up close and personal and see things that a scientist will never see sitting in a vehicle. Hopefully my relationship with these wild animals inspires people to want to do more to save our natural world and more importantly to save habitat.
Have you had many heart-stopping moments?
Having a lioness charge at me when I was about 25 was pretty terrifying!
Who has been the biggest inspiration/influence in your career?
There is no doubt that my grandfather and my father were a great inspiration. My holidays in Swaziland with Ted Reilly moulded me into who I am today and, 40 years on, he still continues to inspire me with his knowledge.
Located in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve of Botswana bordering South Africa and known as the land of giants, Mashatu is a photographers dream. With spectacular landscapes and vistas, vast spaces and prolific wildlife, it’s renowned for its predators and elephant herds. Mashatu is all about adventure beyond the game drive with horse-back safaris, cycling safaris and walks in the wild. Accommodation is at Mashatu Main Camp or Tented Camp.