There is a connection to big cats that runs deep within us. Throughout the history of Mankind, we have looked upon them with awe, wonder, reverence and respect. Worshipped by the ancients, witnessed as gods – symbols of power so mighty they commanded the construction of our most impressive monuments – big cats arguably mean more to humanity than any other animal.
Yet as we lose touch with our history, our relationship with big cats sits at a critical point, and we risk reducing them to a shell of their former symbolic significance.
DETHRONED is a story of rediscovery, following photojournalist Aaron Gekoski across our planet in an attempt to uncover where we have parted ways with the big cats and what could happen if we continue to allow these great creatures to be traded, commodified and enslaved, to serve the purposes of humanity.
We begin in the jungles of Peru, one of the last great bastions of South America’s biggest cat, the jaguar. Despite the apparent protection afforded to an animal considered mystical by indigenous populations, outside the boundaries of the national parks, jaguars are far from safe.
It is revealed to Aaron that a thriving local trade in jaguar furs and fangs has been increasing in the last few decades, driven by a demand from outside the country. Where exactly the demand comes from isn’t clear, but heeding a shamanic warning, Aaron steps forth out into the world to seek the truth.
What follows is a story through time and space, crossing continents to come face to face with lions, tigers, and leopards. Aaron infiltrates a group of Pakistani aristocracy who, influenced by the lure of social media fame, have begun buying up big cats to keep as house pets. He treks the foothills of the Himalayas on the hunt for a man-eating leopard, exposes a tiger petting zoo and circus ring in Thailand, and has his life threatened in the Golden Triangle attempting to document the multi-million-dollar trade in big cats for traditional medicine. In South Africa, he heads deep into the dark heart of the lion breeding industry, before witnessing hope for the future as he meets a reformed-poacher-turned-wildlife-ranger, with an ability to walk in the footsteps of wild lions.
DETHRONED asks us to not only consider our own relationship with big cats, but also to contemplate what becomes of humanity if we continue to destroy all that is sacred.
A co-production of Terra Mater Studios and Four Corners Film & Photography in association with Four Paws