The Phantom Cat (2011) Movie Script

NARRATOR: One of the world's
most expansive wetlands
can't dampen this man's
driving obsession...
...his ten-year quest
to catch a jaguar... on film.
Now, after many attempts,
wildlife filmmaker
Christian Baumeister
has returned to try again
more determined than ever,
to witness this reclusive
cat making a kill.

The Pantanal - jaguar country
spreading like a veil
across the borders of Brazil,
Bolivia and Paraguay.
Filmmakers come here hoping
to catch the cats in action
and leave lucky to have spied
any jaguars at all.
German cinematographer
Christian Baumeister will press
his luck even further...
and try to capture
the phantom cat as
few have ever witnessed it.
CHRISTIAN: Filming wild jaguars
is extremely difficult.
They are very,
very elusive animals
and they are really well hidden
in the vegetation.
NARRATOR: Pantanal,
Portuguese for big swamp,
pretty much describes it.
The size of New York State,
for half the year
80% of it is underwater.

The variety of animals that
depend on the seasonal deluge
makes the area one of the most
important freshwater systems
on the planet.
And one of the world's highest
densities of jaguars lives here.
They hunt from the riverbanks,
where their prey gathers,
especially in the dry season.
only chance to film jaguars,
wild jaguars, is
on the riverside.
That's the reason why
we are going up and down
these long rivers here
in the Pantanal for days
and even weeks trying
to find jaguars.
NARRATOR: Christian has filmed
South American wildlife
for more than ten years.
But the elusive cat has always
slipped his gaze.
Today, he's acting on
a tip from a local.
CHRISTIAN (off-screen):
I saw tracks of jaguars,
but I never saw a jaguar.
But now finally we found the
spot where we think that we can
work with the jaguars.
NARRATOR: En route,
he finds caimans,
the jaguar's occasional prey
and another Pantanal
top predator.
Their limited ability
to change color,like chameleons,
hasn't done much good.
Caimans were hunted almost
to extinction in the 1980s.
Strict conservation laws
have replenished their ranks
and they are no
longer threatened.
Where the low-slung caiman
depends on stealth,
the leggy wood stork
resorts to dirty tricks.
It uses its foot
to stir up fish,
then unfurls a wing to throw a
sinister shadow on the water.
Suspicious fish flee the dark
shape and head straight into
the hungry bird's mouth.
Over the years, the Pantanal
has given Christian
plenty of natural
history to film.
Everything, it seems,
except jaguars.
Until today.

CHRISTIAN (off-screen): That
was a very special moment,
seeing my first jaguar.
It's such a powerful
animal, beautiful and...
suddenly they appear on the
river edge and you look at him
and he looks at you
and there is some kind of
interaction going on.
And it's really exciting
and it's one of the most intimate moments
I've experienced
with wild animals.

Spotting a jaguar is one step,
but filming it in action
is a completely different story.
Many, many times they just
sleep in the shadows and then,
after an hour or two, they
simply disappear into the forest
and you have to wait
another few days
before you see your next jaguar.
NARRATOR: Christian isn't
the only one on the lookout
for jaguars.
The Western Hemisphere's largest
feline plays cat-and-mouse
with the world's largest
rodent - the Capybara,
about the size of
a German Shepherd.
Each year, females have
litters of up to eight pups.
The slow and vulnerable babies
have no sense of danger
and depend entirely on
the vigilance of the adults
for about the first year.
The grownups work together,
keeping an eye on
each other's young.
Whether the babies
know it or not,
someone's always got their back.
The moment one of the
group detects a jaguar,
it sounds the alarm.
(grunting sound)
Unlike the capybaras,
Christian can't expect
the jaguar to come to him.
But the encounter has
given him an idea.
CHRISTIAN (off-screen):
After that glimpse of my very first jaguar
I know how to better my
chances of seeing it again.
But I'll still need
luck on my side,
since only about
four jaguars live here
in an area the size
of Manhattan.
And even when they're nearby,
they're hard to spot.
NARRATOR: The jaguar's striking
pattern seems conspicuous
but only when the cat's
out of context.
The brilliant rosettes
mimic the dappled light
of the leafy forest.
CHRISTIAN: Jaguars have a
close to perfect camouflage.
So it is really
hard to find them.
So you have to go up and
down many times on the river
to just find one.
Not an easy job at all.
Sometimes you pass
in front of a jaguar
just a few meters
and you don't see it.
You really only have
a chance if they move.
NARRATOR: With only one
jaguar occupying a territory
that can spread
up to 30 square kilometres,
the chances of a
sighting seem almost nil.
CHRISTIAN (off-screen): Perhaps
the best way to catch up with
a jaguar is to think like one...
and that means
tracking its next meal.
case, a caiman.
(distant bird sounds)
Central and South America's
answer to the alligator,
the caiman has evolved
over millions of years
and honed its predatory skills.
It's close-set eyes see straight
ahead and at a distance.
So coming at it from behind
might be the best bet.
Jaguars can't sprint far, so
catching a caiman takes stealth.
And when that fails...

CHRISTIAN (off-screen):
I'm lucky
the jaguar continues
watching out for prey.

(bird sounds)
its wild splendour,
in truth the Pantanal
is 95% privately owned,
mainly by ranchers.
They raise more
than four millionhead of cattle here.
A rancher can't keep
an eye on every cow.
Cattle, with no defense
other than size,
make up one of the jaguar's
biggest food sources.
Last night, this cow
survived an attack;
the wounds need disinfecting.
NARRATOR: Calves are
even more vulnerable.
A jaguar mauled this one's face.
Lucky it missed its throat.
Even though the wounded
cattle will heal,
the ranchers still suffer.
(speaking in native language)
Jaguars claim about four percent
of the livestock each year
more than the ranchers
are willing to sacrifice.
So some of them take action.
MAN (off-screen): Whoo!

NARRATOR: Even thoughit's 20 times larger
thanthe Florida Everglades,
it seems the Pantanal just
isn't big enough for both
the ranchers and
the native cats.
And that concerns Christian.
CHRISTIAN: I am worried
about the jaguars future
I feel for the
cattle and the ranchers,
but most of all I feel
for the beautiful cats.
(water splashing)
NARRATOR: He's not alone.
This man has devoted his
career to reconciling jaguars,
humans and commercial interests.
Biologist Fernando Azevedo
has studied jaguars
for more than a decade.
He and his team managed to fit
ten of them with radio collars
to learn about their
behaviour in the wild.
Today they track the
signal of an old male.
He leads them towards
his familiar haunt;
but this time the
situation's not so familiar.
(bird sounds)
(wild birds)
A second, untagged jaguar
comes out of the shadows.
She's in the mood for mating.
The territories of male and
female jaguars barely overlap
and Christian is one of the
few to film a pair mating.
If it weren't for the male's
radio tag and pure serendipity
he would have
never witnessed this.
The pair will mate several
times over the next hours.
In a few days
they'll part company
and the female will raise
the cubs alone.
CHRISTIAN (off-screen): Far
too soon they disappear again.
But this was great,
the first time I have actually
filmed some behaviour.
NARRATOR: As Christian follows
the jaguar along the banks,
he spies another of the river's
top predators, giant otters.
Even caimans steer clear of
them, though a jaguar might,
on rare occasions, hunt them.
They can grow to
almost two metresand will devour
over four kilos of fish and
crustaceans every day.
Social animals, theyusually form family
groups of an adult pair
and as many as ten pups.
The group plays, eats, grooms,
and sets up house together,
clearing a comfortable spot
and then building anunderground den.
They give it that homey smell
by rubbing their anal
gland into the mud.
That should make any potential
trespasser think twice.
By now they've worked
up an appetite,
and so they head to their
favourite eating spot.
At the trunk of a tree an
uninvited guest joins the group.
A Great Kiskadee.
It hovers nearby to steal scraps
from the otters'
hard earned catch.
For now, there's
enough to go around.
But when another one joins,
the otters lose patience.

As the jaguar slips
deeper into the swamp,
Christian and his team
must switch to horses
and slog into the more
remote places.
It's his only chance of
getting what he's come for.
last decades I don't think
there's been any wildlife filmmaker who
has succeeded in filming
wild jaguar at all or,
let's say filming behaviour
of wild jaguars.
I don't mean getting a
shot of a sleeping jaguar
or a jaguar sitting
on the river edge,
but really following
their life-cycle.
that is extremely difficult.
NARRATOR: Today the jaguar
seems particularly active.
Nearby, a tapir
keeps its guard up.
It doesn't want to meet
the jaguar for lunch.
The big cat isn't giving
it a second look...
...opting to play in
the water instead.
The tapir, a distant
relative of the horse,
might be able to out-swim the
jaguar, but why take chances?
Best to steer clear
in the first place.
As Christian follows the jaguar
deeper into the Pantanal,
he gets treated to
an insider's look
at some of the other residents,
including this coati family.
Bands of females and
juveniles roam the forests,
tolerating males only
during the mating season.
The little ones
probably don't even realize
the danger lurking below...
This youngster is too
preoccupied trying to conquer
an unripe avocado...
one misstep away from disaster.
As long as they stay in
the trees, they'll be safe.
The Jaguar can climb, but could
never catch the agile coatis.

It's now the end of August
and Christian is more
determined than ever
and a little more desperate.
CHRISTIAN (off-screen): If I
don't capture a hunt within
the next couple of weeks
the rain will set in
and I will have to wait
at least seven months
before I can give it
another try.
NARRATOR: By late November
the Pantanal will transform
from savannah to marshland.
For now, huge flocks ofjabirus,
among the largestbirds on the planet,
gather around the few remaining
ponds to gobble up
frogs, fish and small reptiles.
The gangly, about
one-and-a-half-meter-tall storks
could take as long as
seven weeks to buildtheir huge nests,
so they often repair
and reuse old ones.
Jabirus are devoted partners
and may come together
for more than one
breeding season.
As the August sun beats down,
this male treats his
mate to a shower.
The female will lay
two to four eggs.

By dusk, the birds have settled
in to safely await the dawn.
CHRISTIAN: Although dusk normally
means the end of my filming day,
I love the evening mood
in the Pantanal.
NARRATOR: But Christian knows
this calm is deceptive,
because at dusk and dawn
the jaguar hunts cattle,
fueling the hatred
of the ranchers.

Jaguars hunt to live, and
cattle are convenience foods
attacked when other
prey isn't available.
On a cattle ranch,
Fernando Azevedo and his team
find this armadillo carcass,
shelled like a peanut.
FERNANDO: The way the flesh
was taken out of the animal
is typical of a jaguar attack.
After three years of studying
jaguars food habits,
we found that jaguars
use one third of cattle
and two thirds of wild animals.
NARRATOR: The biologists
believe that, given a choice,
jaguars would prefer wild
game to a side of beef.
If ranchers conserve the habitat
of the cat's natural prey,
cattle kills will go down.
(inaudible chatter)
NARRATOR: In his laboratory,
Fernando and his team
have carefully catalogued
the remains of jaguar kills -
everything from rabbits and
raccoons to this caiman skull,
which bears the crushing
evidence of a jaguar'shuge jaws.
In the Pantanal only the jaguar
can inflict damage like this.
(inaudible chatter)
FERNANDO: This is a
jaguar skull and it's a very
powerful structure made of
long and very powerful canines.
And also the maxillary bone
which is made of canals
where the muscles go to help
build this massive bite.
NARRATOR: No wonder farmers
fear for their livestock.
But Fernando and his team
have come up with simple ways
to reduce the conflict
between cat and cow.
They've discovered that jaguars
are less likely to attack
if the cattle stand
more than 200 metresfrom the forest,
leaving the cats no place
to stage a sneak attack.
And if the ranchersdon't hunt
the jaguar'snatural prey on their land,
some can cut
their losses
to less than half
a percent a year.
The solution saves
cows, and jaguars.
NARRATOR: Food motivates
jaguars; so does sex.
A few days have passed since
Christian saw the rutting pair,
but he'll take advantage of the
season by trying a highly risky
experiment to lure
the carnal cats.
(jaguar call)
Because they occupy
huge territories,
female cats can't
be subtle about announcing
their receptiveness
to the males.
(jaguar call)
Their love song sounds
something like this....
(jaguar call)
an old trick used by the hunters
here in the Pantanal.
It imitates the call
of the female jaguar
and attract the males.
But you have to be very careful,
because if the males are around
they can be really aggressive
during the mating season.
(jaguar call)
NARRATOR: Proving that point
a few miles down river
Christian finds a male jaguar
probably injured in a fight
with a male rival.
He's not the only one
having a bad day.
This dead caiman
also lost a fight
At least the vultures are happy
to enjoy a balance meal.
American black vultures
sometimes hunt and killsmall animals.
But not when they can
tear into a big carcass.
(distant bird sounds)
If the jaguar hasn't broken
any bones, he'll soon be fine.
The otter takes advantage
of the cat's helplessness
and braves a solo swim.
Like house cats, jaguars nibble
grass from time to time
It helps them regurgitate
undigestible bones andclumps of fur.

The vast Pantanal has two
seasons: rainy and dry.
Even during the dry season the
soggy terrain challenges those
who try to cross.
But wet socks are the
least of Christian's worries.
He has to remember
that he's an intruder
in a wild and
hazardous landscape.
CHRISTIAN: It's extremely
dangerous filming jaguars.
As wildlife filmmakers
we are completely exposed.
We very often have to walk
through dense vegetation.
If you are around
animals for a long time,
you get used to them and can
under-estimate their power.
They are hunters
and killing machines;
they are potentially
very, very dangerous.
So it is quite risky
to do what we do.
NARRATOR: Many locals, or
pantaneiros, fear jaguars.
Though the big cats seldom
attack humans, it has happened.
come face to face with a jaguar
and it shows signs that
it wants to attack,
that's a very
dangerous situation.
In case you run you
are completely lost.
Because it's a cat with
powerful instincts
and it will run behind you
and will attack.
NARRATOR: As September passes
the rainy season will begin
putting this place under water.
But for now, the capybaras
enjoy chewing the scenery.
A caracara joins them.
To this bird, a capybara
makes a handy snack bar.
It takes its pick of ticks,
maggots and larvae
nestled in the capybara's fur.
(bird sounds)
But the capybara getssomething
even more valuablethan skin care....
The bird's vigilance might
help save the rodent's life.
Because one day
the jaguar will come!

Christian is counting on it.
He constantly searches
for jaguar tracks nearthe capybara family
and today
he's not disappointed.
Hm... that's amazing.
That's very fresh jaguar tracks.
We have been passing by this
little beach ten minutes ago
and there was nothing
to see on the beach.
And now we have his tracks here.
So probably the jaguar
is still around.
So we have to be a
little bit careful,
because it can be dangerous.
NARRATOR: Much more
so for the capybaras.
It seems everyone
wants these rodents.
Jaguars like to eat them
and humans hunt themfor their pelts.
Normally they tend to hide,
but this capybara family
has ventured into the open...
and into trouble.
(bird sounds)
(bird screeching)
(bird screeching)
The cat slinks closer,
downwind so the rodents
don't pick up his scent.
But the capybaras are on to him.
(vegetation crunching)
Despite the alarm calls, the
jaguar persists undeterred...
...and a little
one pays the price.
CHRISTIAN (off-screen): I am
happy that at last I got a kill.
But when I film such a scene,
I always feel for the victim
as well as for the hunter.
I know, as a filmmaker
you should only watch
and never interfere with
the events of nature.

NARRATOR: All life inthe Pantanal
heeds thewater's ebb and flow.
In the dry season, fish crowd
into the shrinking ponds,
where thousands of
herons gather to feed.
Predators come here, too.
And so will Christian.
He's already filmed more
jaguar behaviour this trip
than he'd dared hope for,
but now he's after
the ultimate shot:
a jaguar killing a caiman.
It's a sight few have ever seen.
(leaves rustling)
The birds seek
safety in numbers,
well aware a caiman
lurks in these waters.
But the reptile has
found easier pickings.
Despite their toothy grins,
caimans can't bite their prey
into manageable bits.
Instead they tear it apart
with a vigorous shake.

No jaguar here, so
Christian moves on,
joined by Carolina Ribas,
a Brazilian otter specialist
who saw a jaguar the last
time she came to this place.
Still, it's a longshot
they'll see it again.
Jaguars move a lot.
They have huge territories.
So it is very difficult to
see the same individuals
at the same spot.
But after working with jaguars
for a couple of month now,
you start recognizing
individual animals.
And then you start understanding
how they move
and how they behave
and getting really
familiar with these cats.
NARRATOR: Today Christian
meets an old acquaintance...
He first saw this jaguar
several months ago.
The jaguar's presence
doesn't intimidate
this family of otters,
who refuse to sacrifice
their swim time.
They frolic just
a few metres away,
fully confident they
can out-swim him.
More important, the
big cat knows it too,
so he won't bother to try.
(distant birds)
The young otters will stay in
the protection of their parents
for about two years.
They'll learn to cautiously
share the river with the big cat
who seeks a better hunting
opportunity on the far bank.
(jaguar snorting)
(distant squawking)

NARRATOR: Christian fears
missing an opportunity.
He is running out of time.
extremely frustrating.
If you are out every day
and you don't see jaguars.
And you are looking for the
animals and you simply don't see
them or if you see them
they don't do anything.
You need a lot,
a lot of patience
working with these animals.
NARRATOR: But his patience
is about to pay off
in an unexpected way.
Christian spots
a Giant Anteater,
almost two metres long.
This species has disappeared
in many countries,
so is worth filming.
When attacked, the massive
will rear up on its hind legs,
balance on its tail,
and can kill a jaguar
with its deadly,
sharp-clawed embrace.
In October the
rainy season begins.
Hyacinth macaws
can live to be 50
so will see many a
change of season.
The rising water will claim
an area the size of Louisiana,
with each thunderstorm
swallowing a little more land.
(rain and thunder)
From November to March
up to 2000 millimetres
of rain will fall.
The caimans mate
during the dry season
and by March the hatchlings
take to the water.
Of the dozens of eggs each
caiman mother lays every year
only a few escape theclutches
of jaguars andother nest robbers.
NARRATOR: The delugefinally gives
the caimansroom to spread out
and the chances of filming
a jaguar hunting one
grows slimmer every day.
But Christian isn't giving up.
He returns to the territory of
the first jaguar he spotted.
He finds it again...
sneaking through the
dense vegetation.
Christian and the cat have the
same target in mind... a caiman!

(bird sounds)

(water swishing)
(jaguar snorting)
And just like that, it's over;
the jaguar's sharp
canines pin the caiman
and sever the nerves
in its neck.
(jaguar snorting)
The battle could have
easily gone the other way.
But this time the jaguar
wins and so does Christian.
(water swishing)
The cat hides the 60-kilo
carcass in the bushes,
to feed unnoticed.
Feline and filmmaker
have bagged their prey.
CHRISTIAN (off-screen): By
filming the big cat's kill,
I have accomplished my mission
what I had only dreamed of doing
capturing breathtaking
jaguar behaviour
few have ever witnessed.

NARRATOR: The jaguar's future
in this wilderness
lies in the hands ofthe ranchers
who equallydepend on the Pantanal.
There's hope they'll
learn to share it.
Before Christian leaves,
a jaguar mother gives hima final gift
a precious look
at her young cub...
growing strong in their
fragile, shifting world.

CHRISTIAN: One thing
is for sure:
I will one day
return to my jaguars
and hope to find them well.
(music plays through credits)
Captioned by
Cotter Media Group