Feline diaries: Sandesh Kadur's Felis Creations presents lesser-known tales of Wildcats of India
Big cats like tigers and lions have always been in the spotlight and widely documented on film.
However, the new series Wildcats of India, produced by award-winning cameraman Sandesh Kadur and Bengaluru-based Felis Creations for National Geographic, shifts the focus to lesser-known smaller felines like the Fishing cats and Jungle cats.
Sandesh, who is also the director of photography of this two-part series, tells us why highlighting these smaller creatures is important, and how challenging it was to film them.
How different is the storyline of Wildcats?
While there have been several documentaries about tigers, leopards, lions and snow leopards, very few attempts have been made to bring to life the smaller wild cats, like the Pallas’ cat or the Fishing cat. India is home to 15 species of wildcats and yet, we hear only of the ‘Big Cats’.
This series, especially the ‘Masters of Disguise’ episode is one of the first documentaries that intimately documents the lives of India’s small cats.
After two years of working on this show, I realise why few producers have ever made a film on the smaller cats — they are incredibly difficult to find and film in the wild!
How did you zero in on the Jungle cats that co-exist with the Bengal fox family?
While we had decided to film Jungle cats, we couldn’t predict which of our teams or sources on the field would find an interesting story. I got a call to tell me there were Jungle cats on the Deccan plateau — a den with four cubs! We had been waiting for a moment like this.
While my goal was to capture the family of Jungle cats, the fact that a family of Bengal foxes were sharing the area with them was astonishing. It was a perfect cat and dog story. A beautiful story of co-existence. There was also a den of jackals in the same patch of rocks.
How complicated were the shoots, and what lenses did you use?
Considering how elusive some of the wild cats are we relied a lot on camera traps — basically, a scientific tool to help capture animals on camera without being there.
This one piece of kit has helped us capture never-seen-before intimate shots of Clouded Leopards in the wild.
We were shooting from hides wherever permitted, and from safari vehicles as well. Our safari vehicles were almost functioning as on-field studios.
We primarily filmed on the RED Helium 8K camera with a Canon CN20X50 Ultra-telephoto Zoom lens (a 50-1500 mm lens). We also used the Panasonic VaricamLT and the Panaso-nicAU-EVA1.
We were able to film some scenes, for example, the Fishing cat sequence, entirely in IR (infra-red).
Unlike white light, IR lights cause little to no disturbance to the animals. In fact, most animals can hardly detect the IR lights, we can’t even see them.
How different are the Fishing cats and Jungle cats when compared to the bigger wild cats and domestic cats of the city?
Their obvious size differences and living conditions is what sets them apart. The Pallas’ Cat, a pudgy, Garfield-like cat living at 15,000 ft in the Himalayas, needs to be well adapted to the extreme living conditions of the mountains.
Consequently, it has the thickest fur of any feline species and short ears — perfect adaptations to living in the high mountains.
The Fishing cats have a double layer of fur and the ability to swim underwater — adaptations to their wetland habitat.
Jungle cats, probably one of the more widespread species, can live in a variety of habitats.
Of course, domestic cats are a perfect mix of their wild cousins, they are small and yet incredibly bold.
Considering that the Fishing cat is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List, how critical was it to make this documentary?
The Fishing cat is one of the least documented wild cats. Despite being one of the most elusive, it can also come in conflict with humans often.
It is not only the habitat of the fishing cat that is constantly under threat, all wild cats in India feel the pressure of our burgeoning population and unplanned land use.
So, these wildcats have also adapted to their new environment, leading to sometimes complicated situations.
This is why it is critical to document these cats to not only help raise awareness but to also bring people together to work towards a common solution for their conservation.
It’s hard to want to conserve animals that you never actually get to see.
Tonight, 9 pm. On Nat Geo Wild.
— Ayesha Tabassum