Honey the Cheetah

February 28th, 2008

How could I fail to hear about the fall out from the Honey the cheetah saga as published in the Mail on Sunday recently. Seemed to me as if it was more about someone wanting to have a go at the BBC than anything else which was a pity as there were some real issues there – yes, Honey did die as a result of being darted by a vet, but nobody was trying to mislead the public by not broaching the issue when the latest series of Big Cat went on air. That series was filmed in Sept 2006 and, based on the past, would normally have been aired a few months later. But the series did not find a slot until much later than anyone anticipated – over a year later in fact, not least because the traditional slot for the Diaries of 7.00pm on BBC1 has since been taken by the One Show. Honey died on 17 Feb 2007 – her three surviving male cubs are fit and healthy according to the latest information and living on the other side of the river to where they were born in the Mara Triangle/Conservancy. It is impossible to keep the audience abreast of all the
developments that take place in the lives of the big cats we feature on the television series. It is out of our hands as to how incidents such as the one relating to Honey are handled by the BBC – but all of us involved with Big Cat Diary/Week pride ourselves on the integrity of the series. With regard to intervention in the lives of the wild animals, none of us are allowed to intervene regardless of how emotional the situation might be – but that is because we are visitors and members of the general public not the Reserve authorities who exercise their discretion in deciding whether to intervene or not. Cheetahs are endangered species and as such are sometimes treated as special cases. But in general the authorities prefer to let nature take its course. However, hundreds of thousands of people visit the Mara each year and there are cases when a Vet is called to treat an animal for injuries inflicted by predators of by humans to save unnecessary suffering – nobody wants to see an animal carrying a horrific injury for days or weeks at at time if something can be done about it, and a Vet is now based permanently in the Mara to be relatively close at hand courtesy of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. I know that people were very concerned about the Honey incident: reports were filed by eye witnesses and a number of people took the matter up with the relevant authorities. We are all hoping that Big Cat Diary/Week will be back on air later this year – but if it isnt it wont be because we are hiding anything!!

7 comments on “Honey the Cheetah

  1. Maraman says:

    I didn’t see the article in the Mail on Sunday but it also appeared in the Daily Mail and someone from another forum pointed it out to me at the time. Certainly the Daily Mail version was typical of the usual “shock, horror, probe” style of reporting by this group of newspapers. I use the term newspaper loosely. Frankly, Jonathan, I think this was a poorly constructed article written on a low news day.

    I well remember the reaction on the BBC Science & Nature website forum when your voice-over announced at the end of the 2006 series that Toto hadn’t made it. Some of the posts were vitriolic about the way the programme portrayed Toto and it then turned out he’d died. “How dare they play with our emotions like this” and “They shouldn’t spend licence money in this way” were some of the milder ones. So, if you keep people informed, you get criticised and if you don’t the same thing happens. When will people realise that a TV programme is entertainment. It’s not a political party concealing a scam.

    The whole thrust of the Mail article was that the BBC mislead its viewers. Rubbish. The programme makers are bound to want to build things up for the next series and why should they reveal what has happened months after they leave the Mara? These programmes are sold worldwide. Should they also announce that Notch was subsequently deposed and that the new males taking over killed the new cubs in the pride? Or that Tamu lost another cub? Of course not. The circumstances surrounding the incident involving Honey’s death were unforgiveable but if the BBC had announced this it could not comment on the detail because it wasn’t there. The detail does vary depending on who you speak to in Kenya. The whole thing was politically sensitive within Kenya and the BBC aren’t going to involve themselves in that.

    In my view it was the Mail that was guilty of misleading with the strapline that said:


    Honey and her cubs: The cheetah has been ‘cut open and skinned’ leaving her cubs orphaned

    I don’t know if the Sunday version carried this as well as the daily one, but it read to me as though the cubs were orphaned because Honey was cut open and skinned.

    What it didn’t point out was that the cubs were doing fine and that has mainly been down to the local game wardens. A pity the article didn’t mention something positive coming out of it. The cubs were only about 10 months old when poor Honey was killed and the wardens kept a close watch on them, sometimes catching food for them. I’m convinced they wouldn’t have survived without their intervention or interference (whichever word you want).


  2. kim_egger says:

    I cannot and will not believe that anyone associated with Big Cat Diary would deceive the fans of the show. I grieve the loss of Honey, a cheetah I only know through BCD and am so happy that her legacy , the cubs have survived and are doing well. I remember her first appearance and loved her because of the love Jonathan had for her. Wild animals are under siege. Wild animals die everyday for bushmeat. I am certain that if the vet could have saved her life they would have.
    Cheetahs have such a fragile existence and I wish instead of the false righteous indignation people would do everything that they can to encourage protection for the cheetah. Support Cheetah Conservation Fund, travel to the wildlife refuges to encourage further protections not only for the wildlife, but for the what is left of the wild itself. I can only believe if we continue to procrastinate we are going to lose all the predators and pay dearly for it. We have to become responsible stewards of this planet and not accuse innocent people who are doing everything they can to let us know about these creatures of covering up something for financial gain.
    The tragedy of Honey’s premature life is that she is simply an animal who we care about while ignoring the plight of all the other animals who are dying everyday.
    Jonathan, Angie, I know how much you love the cats of the Mara and have absolutely no doubt of your integrity. I can’t believe I am the only fan who feels this way. Take care.

  3. FIONADOONAN says:

    I agree, there is no way the Big Cat Diary people would deceive us fans. Thanks to BCD you show us footage we would never see. I am very sorry to hear Honey died and I am sure the vet did everything possible to help her. I am planning on adopting a cheetah to try and help protect these amazing animals. One wee man that has a very special place in my heart is Toto, Jonanthan and Angie, honestly I would sit watching BCD in tears at how cute he was, I have even dedicated a special section for him on my animal website too. I will do a section for Honey too. Anyway I look forward to the next series of BCD
    Ps fantastic website, amazing photos and blogs. I hope to one day in the furture travel to Africa with my fiancee and do one of your tours/workshops with you 🙂

  4. Hi Bob – thanks for the support – the newspaper article was pretty transparent in its intentions – which was to have a go at the BBC on the credibility/honesty count – but they were so quick in sensing an opportunity to have spread the dirt that they tied themselves in knots with inaccuracies and inconsitencies that undermined their case. The upside is that as we saw for ourselves last week – Honey’s three boys are looking stunning right now – fit and healthy and a force to reckoned with in the Mara – 3 males are a handful for any other male cheetahs they might come across. I am hoping to have the opportunity during Big Cat Diary Live to talk about the whole Honey saga – it has all kinds of ramifications and there are some fascinating issues to debate.

  5. Hi Kim – really appreciate the support and your words – yes, cheetahs have a tough enough time just surviving without all the newspaper hype. It is exciting times for us in the Mara right now – three mother cheetahs in the Musiara/Governors Camp area and Intrepids/Ol Kiombo area (the same area that Honey’s 3 boys are now patrolling!! The three cheetah mums have litters of 6 and another 6 and 4 – so we are hoping we can follow at least part of their story for Big Cat Diary Live in the next 4 weeks. Stay tuned for more updates….

  6. Hi Fiona – good to hear from you and thanks for the support – yes, Toto was such a character – so brave and trusting and he really caught everyone’s attention. Sad that people felt we were milking the situation – if they had been witness to events I think they would have changed their minds – it was real out there – and the fact that half of Britain (sorry to exaggerate!) seemed to be caught up with Toto’s story has to say something positive about our realtionship with animals and the powere of programmes like BCD to both entertain and inform the public about our wild places. Hope you enjoy the new series 5 to 12 October. It promises to be a huge event and hopefully we will get lots of publicity and the audience will have a ball and then we will get to do it all again in 2009.

  7. sonyamae says:

    I also agree with Kim. Because of the love you show through your shows Big Cat Diary which i watch religiously, I have too fallen in love with Honey and Toto and was really devasted to learn of her fate. We love them through your shows, and through the love that you show to them. I love when the cheetah segments come on because you show some much ethusiam. I know she died 3 years ago, but as i was doing research on her and toto, i learned of her fate and cried for hours. I know sounds stupid, but i have loved her from the very beginning and that is soully due to the wonderful job you and your wife do..if it wasnt for you and the Big Cat Diary we wouldnt have known such a beautiful creature. God bless you and the stuff you do.

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