Kim Wolhuter on Living with Cheetahs

Celebrities, Celebrity Q&A, Featured Article, TV Shows
on October 30, 2013

What can you tell me about Kim Wolhuter from “Man, Cheetah, Wild”?
—Eric Plunkett, Boston, Massachusetts

Kim Wolhuter, who was born and raised in Skukuza in the Kruger National Park, in South Africa, comes by his love of the wild from both his grandfather and father, who were rangers. After graduating from school, he completed his two-year compulsory national service, which he fulfilled in the South African mounted infantry, fighting guerrilla warfare on the then-South West African/Angola border.

He was then free to enter the wildlife arena — he has a degree in Grassland Science — managing a game farm in Botswana. He later served as Senior Warden of Mlawula Nature Reserve in Swaziland, prior to fortuitously meeting filmmaker Richard Goss, who suggested they work together. A career filming wildlife was something that Wolhuter had never considered and one he took to immediately.

After working with Goss for six years, Wolhuter, 54, went out on his own, creating Wildhooters Production Company, which documents southern African wildlife.

“Man, Cheetah, Wild” for the Discovery channel is his most recent project. Unlike other natural history cameramen, Wolhuter doesn’t film from a Jeep or a hideaway. He films on foot. For this special, he walks with cheetahs, he hunts with cheetahs, and he sleeps with cheetahs.

“I’ve spent so much time with them, they’ve gotten to know me and I’ve gotten to know them,” he says. “There’s never actually been a case where cheetah have killed a person. So of all the predators — the lions, leopards, wild dogs, hyenas — the cheetah are the most timid. They would rather run away from something than confront it, even though, yes, they do bring down antelope and things. But those animals are running away from them. I don’t run away from them. I present myself in a respectful manner, but also in a confident manner, and they respect that.”

As part of blending with the cheetah, Wolhuter, who does admit that he could not work in the same manner with lions as they are much more dangerous predators, doesn’t wear shoes when he is in the bush. One reason is to be in tune with the cheetah, but another is it allows him to hark back to an earlier time and live with the creatures like ancient man did.

“By having shoes on, you miss a lot,” he says. “These are all soft-footed animals, the predators, so they’re standing on a lot of thorns and rough ground. [If you are wearing shoes,] you don’t feel that. And the temperature. On really hot days, obviously, the cheetah are resting in the shade. But sometimes they move quite quickly from shade to shade, and when I’m barefoot, I realize why. The ground is 150 degrees or more.”

Wolhuter, who resides in Zimbabwe, is married with an 11-year-old daughter Savannah.