Documentary filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert spent three years in the African “Garden of Eden” in Botswana filming “Eye of the Leopard” for National Geographic (2006). The film traces the life of a female leopard that they name Legadema.
The early part of the film (narrated by Jeremy Irons) shows Legadema being raised by her single mother, who must leave her alone for short periods in a den for hunting trips. Legadema learns to hunt by trail and error. She hunts for squirrels and sometimes small monekeys. She learns that baboons (who are primates like monkeys) can become fierce enemies, partly because their intelligence and sophisticated social organization (capable of political struggles, just as is the case with chimpanzees) makes them able to work together, overcoming the larger size and strength of big cats.
Other animals in the environment include lions and hyenas. The filmmakers point out that intelligent animals (carnivores and primates) often are able to identify individual members of other species and have very definite sense of who they are. Higher mammals are sensitive living and sentient creatures, very self-aware and capable of solving problems, but they have “be here now” sense of living in the present, and communicate through non-verbal means. Remember a 1993 issue of Time with the cover question, “Do animals think?”
At one point, Legadema kills a small separated female baboon with a baby. Legadema suddenly feels a maternal instinct and treats the primate baby as if she were supposed to raise it, until she is chased away.
Gradually, Legadema’s relationship with her mother becomes more distant. The mother finally has more cubs, and Legadema must be cut loose to become an adult big cat.
The “values” of carnivores in the wild bear an interesting comparison to humans. With wildlife, the carnivores have the effect of removing the “weakest” members and keeping the population of grazing prey animals in balance with food supply. This does sound like natural selection and is not an acceptable value system in human civilization among humans themselves (even though wars get fought over this). The greatest enemy of the great cats in the wild is, of course, man. At the end of the film, there is a message about poaching for leopard fur. In the film, Legadema and her mother seem to accept the presence of individual humans in their environment as just members of another “species”.
Update: March 6, 2011: See Movies blog for this date for review of sequel, "The Last Lions", same director, from NatGeo.