Gordon Buchanan on rescuing four wild lynx for his heartwarming new BBC2 two-parter Snow Cats and Me…
Nothing says Christmas like snow, some cute animals and a heartwarming rescue. Last year wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan became ‘mum’ to some orphaned baby grizzly bears, but for his latest wildlife mission, he’s back in Russia helping to rescue four lynx that have been kept as part of the fur and pet trades.
In his latest BBC2 documentary series Snow Cats and Me, Gordon’s aim is to return the lynx to the wild, something that’s never been done before. But it doesn’t go entirely to plan, as Gordon, 47, reveals in our exclusive interview…
How did this inspirational project come about?
Gordon Buchanan: “I’m fascinated by lynx and I’ve spent a lot of time with big cats in different parts of the world, so when I heard about a scientist, Dr Victor Lukarevsky, and his ambition to do lynx rehabilitation I was really keen to join him and film the process. I really enjoyed working in Russia last time, so it was nice to go back, but I was really surprised that there’s still such a demand for furs in Russia, as well as keeping these wild cats as pets.”
We see you help rescue two of the lynx, Koshka and Miass, from a fur farm. What was that like?
GB: “They were in these horrific conditions and I knew that by getting them out of there it was going to vastly improve things for them. The quality of the food they were getting wasn’t great and they didn’t have any room to move around, so both of them were showing signs of muscle wastage. I was looking at them through the bars and you could see the resignation in their faces.”
What about the other two that had been kept as pets?
GB: “That was a different challenge. For the male, Bryansk, it was all about trying to ignite his wild instincts. Because he’d been living as a pet in an apartment, at first he didn’t even recognise a natural water source. He didn’t see that as something he could drink because he’d been used to drinking out of a bowl. He’d also been fed minced meat, so the first time he was given a hunk of meat that he’d have to rip apart he didn’t recognise it as food!”
It seems like a mammoth task. Did you ever worry you wouldn’t be able to achieve it?
GB: “I did. I just didn’t know at the beginning if it would be possible to release them back into the wild, especially with Koshka and Miass because of their physical condition. They didn’t look like wild cats when I first met them, so initially it was about making sure that they were healthy, they were getting a good diet, they could exercise and build a lot of that muscle they’d lost.
“So, yes, being released into the wild was always the ultimate aim, but I always kept that in the back of my mind. You’ll have to wait and see what happens, but the whole year worked out slightly differently from what I imagined!”
All the cats recovered physically, but did their natural instincts return, too?
GB: “Yes they did, which was wonderful. Cat instincts are really strong and even the majority of domestic cats are only one step away from being in the wild. Their predatory instinct can’t be underestimated. Koshka even had kittens and her maternal instinct kicked in, too. Actually I almost had kittens when she had kittens! It was a real surprise because we thought that physically she wasn’t in breeding condition.”
What were some of the highlights of filming?
GB: “I just loved catching glimpses of the lynx because they’re exceptionally beautiful. But I particularly loved being able to film the kittens and watch the natural behaviour of a lynx caring for her young. Lynx are one of the most secretive animals in the wild, probably one of the least seen wild cats on the planet, so the whole experience was a real privilege!”
Interview by Hannah Davies
Snow Cats and Me is on BBC2, Sunday 29th December at 8pm