Big cat wrangler and host of National Geographic's 2016 Big Cat Week Boone Smith.
Big cat wrangler and host of National Geographic's 2016 Big Cat Week Boone Smith. Evelyn Hockstein

Paw-fect big cat battle on the telly

WATERMELON seems an unusual treat for a big cat, but Boone Smith discovered they're a cheetah's favourite snack.

The wildlife wrangler is the face of National Geographic's sixth annual Big Cat Week.

He discovered the cheetah's sweet tooth while filming his latest documentary, Big Cat Games, for Nat Geo at Busch Gardens Theme Park in Florida.

"The cats all have these caretakers who are phenomenal and fuss over them," he tells APN.

"All cats have an individual side to them; there are some personalities there and the handlers knew the cheetahs would do anything for watermelon."

As a biologist, Boone has spent the past 20 years catching and collaring cougars, jaguars, mountain lions and pumas in North and South America.

He has also worked with snow leopards in Afghanistan and is currently in Alaska tracking and tagging the elusive lynx.

"I've been so fortunate to work with so many of the big cats," he says.

"One species that I haven't seen in the wild is the Siberian tiger. They're the biggest cat on the planet and it's a species that's intriguing because there may be as few as 400 left in the world."

In Big Cat Games, Boone compares the abilities of cheetahs, tigers and lions in a series of challenges testing their power, adaptability and intelligence.

"I wanted to do something that wasn't a hard-core expedition, in a controlled setting where we could get up close and personal.

"These are the big iconic species and they really represent the different places of the world where they live.

"We had some guesses (about the outcome); some were right, some were wrong. I think we really showcase the adaptability of these animals and (even though they're in captivity) their natural instincts are all still there."

Big Cat Games airs tonight at 8.30pm Qld, 9.30pm NSW on Nat Geo Wild.



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