Page last updated at 22:55 GMT, Sunday, 28 September 2008 23:55 UK

Night-time cats in BBC's sights

By Hugh Wilson

Big Cat Live, lion (BBC)
Cameras will track the cats day and night

Cameras from the BBC's Natural History Unit are heading back out to Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve to observe Africa's biggest predators.

Given that the first Big Cat Diaries was broadcast in 1996, you could be forgiven for thinking that we know pretty much all there is to know about the reserve's lions and cheetahs.

Not so. In fact, this series of Big Cat Live hopes to uncover a side of life in the Mara that has rarely, if ever, been seen.

This year, the show will be broadcast live for the first time; and also for the first time, live filming will go on through the night.

"We're hoping to reveal the nocturnal habits of the big cats as well as the stuff that happens during the day," says producer Colin Jackson. "As for precisely what will happen... we have no idea, but what we do know is that every year the cats surprise us."

It should make for some exhilarating footage - lions and leopards, in particular, do most of their hunting at night. It also makes for an extraordinary technological challenge.

Big Cat Live (BBC)

"We're using brand new infra-red cameras to allow us to film at night without disturbing the cats," says Jackson. "These new cameras are the first truly widescreen infra-red cameras used in broadcast. And two months ago, they didn't exist.

"We'll also be using thermal-imaging cameras to detect hidden wildlife and a brand new image-intensifying 'starlight' camera developed from military tank gun-sight technology which can film with just the light of the stars."

The team is streaming live footage from the Mara to the show's website (, using the first remote location webcams to exploit the new BBC Embedded Media Player coded on location.

Big Cat Live, Simon King (BBC)
The project has been running since 1996

The internet will be a key component of Big Cat Live. Website users can expect almost instant updates, via text messages, images, audio or video, from the team in the field.

Logistically, all this kit makes the expedition a bit of a nightmare, as Jackson admits. "A generator of the type we need doesn't exist in Africa. One is currently on the high seas and we just hope it arrives in time!"

Aside from the generator, 20 tonnes of equipment (some just back from the Olympics) will help the Big Cat team - including new presenter Kate Silverton - give viewers the most complete Big Cat experience yet.

Field reports from the team's mobiles are already appearing on the Big Cat Live website. Big Cat Live on BBC One will be broadcast every evening, 5-12 October, starting at 1810 BST

Big Cat Live, Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve (BBC)

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