In this extract from his autobiography, The Big Cat Man, Jonathan Scott – presenter of Animal Planet’s Big Cat Tales, airing on Sundays from the 10th March – describes the moment he got more than he bargained for when filming one of Africa’s most elegant predators.
The cheetah crouched and then in one glorious movement leapt on to the bonnet of my safari vehicle. It was September 2003 and the first season of Big Cat Week was underway in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. The programme’s predecessor Big Cat Diary had been running since 1996; now we were back on BBC1 with more great animal characters to share with our audience of over six million people.
All three of our big cats were performing like never before: Bella the leopard was accompanied by two adorable cubs of just three months old, while the Marsh Pride of lions were up to all their old antics with a bunch of boisterous cubs of their own. But there was no doubting who the star of this year’s show was going to be. Kike the cheetah sat confidently on the roof of my vehicle, her long ringed tail dangling languorously through the roof hatch centimetres from my face as I explained to the audience that there was only one wild cheetah in our area who treated vehicles as if they were termite mounds – Kike.
When Kike jumped on to Jonathan’s car she turned him in to a wildlife celebrity with her antics © Jonathan Scott
When I glanced up again I saw to my horror that Kike had turned so that her bottom was poised directly above my open roof hatch. Not only that, but she was straining her hindquarters in a way that could mean only one thing. Cheetahs routinely use termite mounds as an aerial perch from which to survey the surrounding plains for prey or for predators that might be lurking in the grass.
They also use them as places to deposit strong-smelling messages for other cheetahs that might pass this way in the form of urine – and, yes, faeces. I grabbed a toilet roll from the dashboard and managed to catch the first of the incredibly smelly droppings as they rained down on my head, but I missed the one that ended up in the canvas seat cover housing my telephoto lenses. Cameraman Toby Strong could barely contain himself as he struggled to keep the video camera steady and of course the audience loved it. From that moment I became ‘the bloke the cheetah crapped on’.
It was a small price to pay for having carved out a life for myself in Africa, the sort of life that most people can only dream of, as an author, photographer and television presenter, sharing my passions with my wife Angie – a world away from the reality of a child growing up on a farm in England.
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