To enjoy the full Mail & Guardian online experience: please upgrade your browser
18 May 2008 09:08
David Budzinski, a Texan on his first visit to Africa, was riding in a four-wheel drive across the Kruger National Park in South Africa in September 2004. His group spotted a few lions and a herd of buffalo near a watering hole, but it wasn’t long before the lions charged the herd, singling out a buffalo calf, which they overwhelmed by the water’s edge.
What followed has become the stuff of internet legend and will form the core of a dramatic wildlife documentary, Battle at Kruger, which will be screened by the National Geographic channel in Britain on Sunday night.
As Budzinski watched the drama unfold through his video-camera viewfinder, the lions brought down the baby buffalo, tumbling into the waterhole.
Just as they dragged it from the water to kill it, a crocodile leapt up and snapped the calf’s hind quarters in its jaws.
Budzinski, a supply manager for oil giant Chevron in Houston, Texas, was about to turn off his camera—“I didn’t want to see a bloody mess,” he said later—but persisted, capturing one of the most striking wildlife encounters ever recorded by an amateur, or professional, photographer. The lions—after struggling with the crocodile for possession of the calf, tearing at its head and legs—eventually won out and the calf was dragged on to dry land. At this point, the buffalo herd began returning in force to reclaim the calf.
One large male charged the lions, flicking one over his shoulder, and the rest of the herd moved in closer and closer until the lions were all chased off. Amazingly, the little calf that had been the subject of a tug-of-war between the crocodile and the pride of lions then stood up rather shakily, and trotted off to join the herd.
Frank Watts, the safari guide, later compared the experience to a meteorite striking Earth. “They probably hit Earth quite regularly, but nobody sees them, and no one photographs them. And I don’t know of anybody who’s ever seen anything like this before.”
After returning home, Budzinski tried, unsuccessfully, to sell his eight-minute video of the battle at Kruger to the National Geographic and Animal Planet channels, but was turned down. We don’t take submissions from amateurs, he was told.
So Budzinski’s video gathered dust until, last year, he agreed it could be shown on YouTube. Within days, it was being watched around the planet, drawing more than 30-million viewings and becoming one of the most popular videos in YouTube history.
It was then that the buyers came calling. Last year the National Geographic channel, which had sniffily rejected Budzinski’s handiwork, agreed to purchase the video’s television rights.
“We look at YouTube, too, just like everybody else,” said Michael Cascio, senior vice-president for special programming at the National Geographic channel. The end result, Caught on Safari: Battle at Kruger is believed to be the first hour-long documentary to be inspired by a YouTube clip.
In fact, the producers say they found it easy to fill an hour talking about the footage. The documentary dissects the primal behaviour of the animals and answers a question that aspiring filmmakers have asked: How did he get that shot? “It’s a feel-good story,” Budzinski admitted. “It’s like watching a Disney story.”
To make the programme, National Geographic producers took Budzinski back to Kruger National Park to film the scenes needed for the television version: the group riding in the Jeep, the tour guide pointing toward the watering hole, the cameraman zooming in. But the documentary ends with the real action: the original YouTube clip.
Enhanced by professionals, the television video is clearly superior to the blurry and heavily compressed version available online. In the documentary Richard Goss, a wildlife filmmaker for National Geographic, admits he would have loved to have been there with a high-definition camera. But, he adds, “any film sequence that is as revealing and as spectacular as that, I just admire, whoever it’s shot by”.
Cascio called the documentary “complementary” to online video. “We were able to add depth and context,” he said. Wildlife experts analyse the methodology of the lions’ attack, discuss the herd behaviour of buffalo and predict whether the buffalo calf will survive the attack.
While some YouTube viewers were fascinated by the behaviour of the animals, others marvelled at Budzinski’s ability to train his wife’s small Canon camcorder steadily on the action. He was equally surprised: he had little experience with the camera and said later he was very lucky that day—though not as lucky as the buffalo calf.—guardian.co.uk Â
Create Account | Lost Your Password?