Page last updated at 10:53 GMT, Saturday, 4 October 2008 11:53 UK

Big cat kill caught on BBC webcam

By Hugh Wilson

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A webcam catches a lion in the act of taking down its prey

The BBC's Natural History Unit cameras are in Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve for a week of live programmes - and already they have seen some astonishing sights.

On Friday, one of the cameras set up to stream live pictures to the expedition's website 24 hours a day captured the moment a lion took down its prey.

Big Cat Live (BBC)

It was a remarkable sequence, and one of the few times such an event has been seen on a live webcam.

It augurs well for the Big Cat Live series which returns to UK TV screens on Sunday. Not that there haven't been some predictable technical hiccups in getting the camera network up and running.

A generator that has spent six weeks on the high seas is still on the high seas, at least as far as anyone knows. But four live video streams are now online, along with a split-screen view.

Shakira (BBC)
Shakira and her cubs could be the story that really hooks people

You can catch all the action - which has so far included lions stalking zebra, playful hyena young, a sleeping hippo and even a bat-eared fox - by going to the Big Cat Live website.

It is all, in part, thanks to some pretty ingenious technical innovation.

Wonderful footage of a hyena den, for example, is coming from autonomous Land Rover camera units - assembled on site - which are driven into prime positions and, to avoid disturbing the animals, pretty much abandoned to the dust, heat and rain of the Mara.

Creating the Land Rover cam was one of many challenges facing the Big Cat team on the ground, but for producer Colin Jackson, it's a worthwhile investment of time and technology.

"That's one of the most exciting things this year: the idea that viewers in the UK will be able to watch live film of the animals night and day," he says.

"That will be a unique experience." Big Cat Live promises quite a few of those.

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The kit needed to follow the lives of Africa's big cats, 24 hours a day

Jackson says the footage brought in by camera teams is "already far exceeding expectations".

Thermal image of a lion (BBC)
Thermal cameras bring a new view to night-time activity

The film of night-time activity, in particular, is a revelation.

"It's all there," he says. "Life and death, lion hunts, unique behaviour only seen at night.

"We're using a thermal camera that can see even further than infra-red. We're seeing the invisible."

The cameras have already picked out the usual cast of Big Cat characters

The Marsh lions are in rude good health, led by two males in their prime.

Landrover (BBC)
Land Rovers have been parked up and left near the cats

Bella the leopard, meanwhile, will be familiar to fans of previous Big Cat Diaries. The pride's territory is also the fragile home to a female cheetah (nicknamed Shakira) and her five cubs, and presenter Jonathan Scott thinks their struggle to survive may grip viewers most of all.

"That story is going to give viewers the most incredible sense of the Mara - and why we love to be here," he says.

Big Cat Live on BBC One will be broadcast every evening for the next week, starting on Sunday at 1810 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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