For nearly 10,000 years, humankind has been engaged in a complex relationship with cats. During this period, they have been domesticated, worshipped, feared, bred, and traded across every part of the world.
They are featured in the history of many nations, are subject to legend, and have been captured by artisans through the ages. Nowadays, cats are in our favourite movies and comic books: from Simba and Cat Woman, to Puss in Boots and Tony the Tiger.
But of all 38 species of cats, it’s the largest that hold the most symbolism. Big cats are independent and regal. They represent strength and resilience, as we strive for the heart of a lion, the eye of a jaguar and prowess of a jaguar. But is our fascination with felines leading to their demise?
Despite our reverence for big cats, they are facing unparalleled threats from the illegal wildlife trade. They are being slain from the jungle for little more than their teeth or fur, or factory farmed for their bones. Others are kept as exotic pets – the ultimate fashion symbol – or captured, exported and then locked up in tourist traps.
Environmental photojournalist Aaron Gekoski is on a global mission to investigate our relationship with big cats. He will head into the heart of the Amazon to delve into Peru’s flourishing jaguar trade, spending time with shamans, hunters and dealers.
From the jungles, he will visit Africa’s savannahs, where lions and tigers are being factory farmed like chickens, before their bones and skins are exported for huge sums of money. Although lions are endemic to Africa, Aaron sees that in the Middle East, influencers are driving around with them in their Ferraris, all for social media clout. And finally, he heads to the epicentre of the big cat trade: Southeast Asia.
In the process of this intense and dangerous mission, he will not just meet big cat owners, but also delve into an underground network that is pushing populations to the brink. And he will spend time with local scientists and NGO’s who are working around the clock to protect them.
Beautifully shot, and thoughtfully produced by the team behind ‘Eyes of the Orangutan’, this film poses some existential questions and ultimately asks: what happens when we destroy all that is sacred?
A co-production of Terra Mater Studios and Four Corners Film & Photography in association with Four Paws