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Even When A Leopard Cub Dies, These Filmmakers Don’t Turn The Cameras Off

One of the biggest lies you’ve ever been told is that Simba lives.

Without a parent, alone on the plains of Africa, a lion cub will almost certainly die before he can find an all-you-can-eat grub buffet. It’s not sad, it’s reality, and like Disney, most wildlife films spare viewers the gritty details if the cub in peril is cute, cuddly or popular on the stuffed animal circuit.

Not so for Brad Bestelink, the filmmaker behind a new miniseries from Nat Geo WILD called “Savage Kingdom.” Bestelink and his crew are based in northern Botswana, one of the world’s last remaining wild places where lions, leopards, hyenas and hippos roam free, kill each other and struggle to protect their own.

“They’re mothers, they’re fathers, they are families like you and I. They fight every day just to keep their offspring alive and to keep themselves and their entire families fed,” Bestelink told me during a visit to Chobe National Park, one of the shooting locations for the series.

“Savage Kingdom” is a different kind of wildlife film ― in nearly every episode, something cute dies. A leopard cub you watch grow up for 40 minutes is in the wrong place at the wrong time. A young lion gets mauled to death by his overeager family members. An unfortunate warthog piglet becomes a quick snack.