Page last updated at 17:30 GMT, Saturday, 11 October 2008 18:30 UK

Mara cats roar big on the web

By Hugh Wilson

Zebras and cheetahs battle it out

There have been many surprises on Big Cat Live, from Shakira the cheetah facing down a male lion, to Shakira's cub facing down a fully-grown male cheetah.

But for the crew, one of the greatest revelations of this year's show has been the success of Big Cat on the web.

Big Cat Live (BBC)

Some of the most memorable scenes from the Masai Mara Reserve have been captured on the webcams - seven in all - that have been feeding live pictures continuously to the Big Cat Live website.

They have shown us nocturnal lion hunts, the first hesitant steps into the wide world of hyena and jackal cubs, and thermal footage showing a zebra seemingly attack a zebra foal in the heat of a cheetah attack.

The absence of cars and cameramen has ensured that the behaviour recorded has been entirely natural.

"Look at what is happening on the webcam now," says presenter and Mara native, Jackson Looseyia.

Marsh pride (BBC)
The social interactions in the Marsh pride have been fascinating

"We are seeing unusual behaviour - if there was a car there, or people walking there, these (jackal) cubs would be gone."

But the webcams are only one part of the Big Cat online experience. According to presenter Jonathan Scott, the team is "loving" Big Cat Raw, a web exclusive that follows the live television show on BBC One, and allows presenters to answer viewer's questions posted online.

"One of the great things is that it draws much more information out of us than we could possibly give on the live show," he says. "It's giving added value." The Big Cat Live message boards are also teeming with activity (nearly 5,000 posts on over 1,200 threads at time of writing).

Hyena cubs caught on webcam

Web producer Simon Mackie says that it feels like an almost continuous conversation with a dedicated Big Cat community.

"You pick up something on webcam, and within a few minutes there's a post on the message board about it, saying 'wow, did I just see some tiny hyena cubs' or whatever. People are waking up and posting for the latest news on Shakira's cubs, or even just to witness an African sunrise. They're really involved."

He admits that the continuous feed has thrown up dilemmas, like how much blood and gore can tastefully be shown at teatime. But the immediacy of the web has also thrown up unforeseen opportunities.

"Something like Jackson's Sound Safari is a great example," he says. "There were no plans for that. We just decided to hook Jackson up with a microphone and let him comment on the web feed. People love it."

The final episode of Big Cat Live on BBC One will be broadcast on Sunday at 1815 BST; but the webcams operate all day and all night, and the Big Cat team is sending text message updates to the website throughout the day.

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