The fourth annual “Big Cat Week” premiered on Nat Geo Wild on Nov. 29, 2013, beginning a week of programming highlighting the majesty, power and speed of the biggest cats in nature. While the big cats are predators in the wild, their numbers are dwindling due to factors such as human encroachment and illegal poaching. The programs featuring cheetahs, cougars and lions are capped off by popular comedian and animal activist Betty White who gets close to the big cats at the Los Angeles and San Diego zoos in “Betty White Goes Wild” on Dec. 3.
The televised event kicked off with “Man vs. Cheetah,” a race that pitted the fastest human professional athletes against the world’s most extraordinary big cat species, the cheetah. Tennessee Titans’ Chris Johnson, the NFL’s fastest running back, and Chicago Bears’ Devin Hesterm the super-agile wide receiver and kick returner competed in a race against the cheetahs. Both athletes took part in an extraordinary one-on-one race with a cheetah at Busch Gardens Tampa’s Cheetah Run attraction.
Cheetahs can run at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour, while man’s top speed is about 30 miles an hour. In order to give the pro-athletes a fighting chance, the producers had to build in advantages for the men, such as frequent turns to slow the cheetahs down.
Busch Gardens Tampa trainers prepared the cheetahs for the race by using training techniques to help familiarize the cats with new experiences, such as running next to a trainer separated by an 11-foot wall, and cameras high above the habitat. A month before race day, the trainers began working with the cheetahs conducting sprints using the same motorized lure system they were already using to stimulate the cats’ natural instinct to chase.
“Man vs. Cheetah” was followed by “Super Cat,” showing the amazing features and awe-inspiring capablities of the ultimate feline. The Super Cat recipe is described as follows:
Take Kobe Bryant’s ability to jump, add Michelle Kwan’s grace and beauty, then mix well with Stephen Hawking’s problem-solving genius — and you’ve got the recipe for Super Cat. We’ve combined the most amazing features of big cats to showcase the most awe-inspiring capabilities ever seen in action. Watch this ultimate feline live all nine lives as its superpowers of strength, endurance and stealth are put to the test.
Nat Geo Wild premieres new episodes of “Big Cat Week” including “Killer Queen,” about a lioness protecting her cubs (Nov. 30 at 9 p.m. ET/PT); “Cougar v. Wolf, the fight for dominance in the Rocky Mountains (Nov. 30 at 10 p.m. ET/PT); “Game of Lions,” a film by National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert (Dec. 1 at 10 p.m. ET/PT); and “Betty White Goes Wild” (Dec. 3 at 9 p.m. ET/PT).