A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

The Perfect Cat – on Nat Geo Wild

A mother leopard with her young. Painted Leopard. NGC Wild
“The Unlikely Leopard” premieres on Sunday July 15th on Nat Geo WILD

You don’t realize until the very end of this gorgeous TV movie that filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert have not only captured your heart but also drawn you into their work to save what they call “the perfect cat.”

Of course, all cats are perfect – the jaguars of Central America, the snow leopards of Asia, the tigers of India, the cheetahs and lions of Africa. But this family of leopards in Botswana’s Okavango Delta succeeds in capturing everything that’s perfect about big cats.

The movie focuses on a mother and her son. We meet young Dikeledi (so named by the filmmakers for the four teardrop spots under each eye) when he’s just 11 weeks old and irresistible, not only to us but more importantly to his mom. She’s all mother: provider, teacher, protector and friend.

When she’s out looking for food, the movie manages to avoid all of the tasteless “when-animals-attack” type of video. And while we’re told that young Dikeledi’s chances of making it to adulthood are only one in four, there are none of those typical attempts to keep you in suspense about whether he’ll make it or not. (Of course he will.)

The Jouberts prefer to go poetic, and their narrator, actor Jeremy Irons, is more than happy to oblige, stretching every word, lingering lovingly on the final syllable of every sentence-c-c-e in his very English voic-c-c-e. And yes, the poetry can get a little purple at times – “cloaked in the finery of forests and rivers … vision that can pierce the foliage … a spirit in their dreams … her hunt is a meditation.” But it’s OK; after all, the film itself is a meditation, so it all comes together.

Leopards in a tree. Painted Leopard. NGC Wild

Dikeledi himself is over-the-top cute. Clumsy, big-eyed, playful, clambering up a tree to go eye-to-eye with a family of giraffes, and then struggling with his oversized paws when it’s time to come back down. To turn him into a better tree climber, his mom soon decides to put dinner way up in the branches. But the youngster always seems happier closer to earth, and in the later scenes, when she finally tells the lazy teenager that it’s time to leave the nest, we see him truly coming of age and making his new home in the tall grass of nearby swamplands, where there’s plenty of cover and good food.

Dad makes a brief appearance when nature calls and mom is ready to be in the family way once more. Then he disappears back to his life’s work – patrolling the enormous range these leopards need in order to survive.

The survival of the leopards, and indeed of all the big cats, is in jeopardy. And Nat Geo WILD is in partnership with Panthera, which works to protect them wherever they can. According to Panthera, leopard numbers have shrunk from 750,000 to as few as 50,000 over the past 50 years. 

Enjoy the show, and then you can help by supporting the work of Panthera.