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AFRICAN CATS

Capturing The Emotional Journeys
Deep within the arid continent of Africa is a hidden paradise, a home for the greatest number of wild animals on our planet. Here, the African cats still rule, and their dedication to their families is unyielding. But taking care of the young and protecting their loved ones is not easy. The world around them is an unsympathetic, one with challenging conditions and eager competitors. Raw power rules the day.

LOCATING "AFRICAN CATS”

The Republic of Kenya stretches across the equator in East Africa and is bordered by Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan. Its southeastern border lies along the Indian Ocean. The country has a population of approximately 40 million and is named for Mount Kenya, Africa's second-highest mountain, traditionally regarded as a sacred place.

The country was an important military base for Britain during both world wars; Kenya gained its independence in 1963 and declared itself a republic one year later. The county's capital and by far its largest city is Nairobi, which has a population of nearly 3 million. Kenya's present-day economy is based on a very successful tourism industry, agriculture and a growing industrial and manufacturing sector.

The Great Rift Valley is a vast geological feature that stretches more than 3,700 miles from northern Syria to the mouth of the Zambezi River in Mozambique. The Masai Mara, which is in the southwest region of Kenya, is located on the edge of the southern Rift Valley. The cat families of "African Cats” make their homes in the Masai Mara National Reserve, located on the border of Tanzania, approximately 125 miles from the capital city of Nairobi.

SEE "AFRICAN CATS,” SAVE THE SAVANNA

Disneynature will collaborate with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) on a program to celebrate the release of "African Cats.” During the film's opening week (April 22-28), a portion of the proceeds from that week's ticket sales will be donated to the organization through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund to ensure the future of lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras, giraffes and a host of other animals in the vibrant African savanna. The AWF will be working to protect the Amboseli Wildlife Corridor, a passage between the Amboseli, Tsavo West and Chyulu National Parks that is frequently used by a variety of wildlife. To learn more, visit www.disney.com/africancats.

"It's like being at the beginning of the world,” says Disneynature President Jean-François Camilleri. "You get the feeling that things haven't changed here for millions of years. It's really a paradise and there is nowhere else like it for seeing wildlife: In just a few hours, you can see a huge number of different animals and get very close to them.”

Covering an area of roughly 580 square miles, the Mara, which means "spotted” or "mottled” in the Masai language, adjoins the much larger Serengeti and, in its sheer concentration and diversity of wildlife, is one of the most remarkable natural habitats on Earth. The reserve is home to a dizzying array of species, and as many as a million migrating animals pass through the park each year.

"The Masai Mara is a protected area,” says Director Keith Scholey, "but the population of Africa is increasing very quickly, which will put huge pressures on wildlife areas across the country. It's going to take a huge amount of will and effort if we want to be sure these places survive for future generations.

"It would be great if people saw the film and thought about these issues,” continues Scholey. "But the goal of the film is to engage people with these remarkable creatures, to understand their lives and feel enveloped in their world. If you make an emotional connection, then you are going to think, ‘This is a world we have to save.'”

With its rolling plains and scattered trees, the vast grasslands of the Mara accord with the popular safari image and play host to huge herds of grazing animals—wildebeests, zebras and gazelles among them—and the predators that feed on them. The Mara River, a mix of deep pools and often treacherous rapids, is home to wallowing hippos and to crocodiles that lie in wait for crossing animals. Seasonal wetlands provide lush grass nearly year-round and attract buffalo as well as elephants and other grazers. Small bands of forest along the banks of the Mara and Talek rivers provide perfect cover for elephants, buffalo, small antelope, several species of monkeys and literally hundreds of different kinds of birds. Isolated fig trees and sausage trees that are dotted throughout the park provide shade for many different animals and fruit and leaves that are food for elephants, giraffes and various monkeys.

The Mara is one of the few remaining places in Africa where the three big African cats—lions, cheetahs and leopards—live in large numbers and in close proximity. In the heart of this place lives the River Pride, a dominant group of lions that roam the hills south of the Mara River. A second group of male lions—a powerful father and his four sons—rule the area north of the river. The River Pride is threatened by these lions from the north who are awaiting the perfect opportunity to move in. Tucked within the open grasslands between the clans of lions is a mother cheetah and her babies.

Capturing riveting images of animals few people ever get to see up close, filmmakers spent many months following the real-life drama and emotion of the Mara. "It really is like no other place in Africa,” says Scholey, "no other place on Earth, really. You land at the airstrip and drive 20 minutes to camp, and you will likely see all the African animals you ever dreamt of—herds of wildebeest, zebra, elephants, giraffes, lions and the elusive cheetah. It's much more difficult anywhere else.”

WHO'S WHO IN "AFRICAN CATS” Cast of Cats Includes Mothers, Daughters, Fathers and Brothers

"African Cats” is about the bonds of family. Despite the challenges of life on the savanna, the mothers and daughters, fathers and brothers all find a way to come together. The drama and emotion evoked is aptly characteristic of what audiences look for on the big screen. "A great movie needs great characters,” says Director Keith Scholey, "and African cats are vivid and memorable characters who lead incredibly dramatic lives: They really are nature's movie stars in waiting. So here we had the chance to make what's effectively a real-life ‘Lion King' and a film with just as much emotion and humor and excitement as anything Hollywood can offer.”

But "casting” a film like "African Cats” is a bigger challenge than Hollywood ever faces, because these filmmakers have no control over the stories—or their characters. Based on extensive knowledge about the area, the animals and the challenges that surround them, filmmakers must anticipate which animals will be most compelling. "We wanted to follow the most dramatic stories,” says Director Alastair Fothergill. "Choosing which animals to feature was probably the very hardest decision we had to make, because once we decided on a particular animal, we'd have to stick with her all the way through filming. Selecting a cheetah, for example, involved choosing a cheetah who was mature enough and feisty enough to have a good chance of raising her cubs to adulthood.”

Adds Scholey, "And for the lions, we looked for a pride that was on the edge in some way, a pride where a story would emerge. We found that in the River Pride.”

THE LINEUP

MARA is a curious 6-month-old lion cub who is devoted to her mom, Layla. Mara prefers to spend her days

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