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Savage Kingdom 4: Behind The Scenes

The Okavango Delta is a place of contrasts. Every year, its parched sands are transformed by the nourishing floodwaters that trickle in from over a thousand kilometres away. Waters quench the desperate land and life blossoms in this desert oasis. In its heartbeat lies Mombo. Surrounded by deep water, this refuge traps huge populations of some of the most incredible and endangered animals left on our planet. But for its residents, it is the purgatory that lies between heaven and hell: a place where peace never lasts for long. To them, the water that surrounds them is both a lifeline, a barrier and a shield. But one year, it disappeared entirely. In 2019, Botswana suffered one of the worst droughts in decades and, it was under these conditions that Savage Kingdom 4 was born.


Dogs, leopards, lions and hyenas are the protagonists of SK4. NHFU/Hannah Gormley.


Rising water first brought warring factions together, before it dried out entirely. The natural barriers that had kept Mombo’s residents trapped for so long were gone, and as the Delta turned to dust, mighty herds of powerful prey were forced to crowd to the last remaining water sources. Mombo’s adaptable predators were quick to seize this opportunity, but such bounties come at a cost. As rivals crossed the parched river beds, season 4’s new characters arrived and their competing armies battled for the most lucrative lands in a crusade for supremacy and survival. Dominance shifted, established hierarchies crumbled, and nature’s own Game of Thrones ensued on Mombo’s bloody battlefield.


Deploying a range of the latest technology, the crew was on the ground to capture all of the action. NHFU/Liz Johnston.


Savage Kingdom 4 tells the story of these unprecedented times through the eyes of four reigning Queens as they face a new dawn of terror. We meet Tsebe, the ruler of her pride who is forced to relinquish her crown, erupting in a battle to father her new dynasty that culminates with the arrival of her cubs. We experience orphaned leopard cub Motsidi’s heartbreak over the loss of her mother’s territory to Phefo and her own offspring. We revel in Mogolo’s victory, the matriarch of Mombo’s wild dog pack, as she retires to pass on her crown to her chosen successor and we feel Khutlo’s determination to survive his brutal upbringing and his mother’s desperation for him to succeed.


From sunrise to sunset. the crew were on the ground to capture the action. NHFU/Liz Johnston.


It is the combination of the crew’s relationship with these characters, their wildlife expertise, and the NHFU's world-class gear that was the key to Savage Kingdom 4’s success. Filmed entirely in 6K, the multi-camera crews used their unprecedented access to propel the audience into the heat of the action, while the addition of long lenses meant filming could still be conducted with distance and respect. Action scenes are peppered with 6-axis gyro stabilised Shotover footage, mounted low over the front of the film trucks to allow the audience to see the savannah and its nervous prey from the eyes of the character, and drone and helicopter footage from above give scale to the enormity and desolation of the drought.


The G1 Shotover in action. NHFU/Liz Johnston.


The Savage Kingdom dynasty was born in 2016, redefining the firmly established genre of wildlife filmmaking. Drawing parallels to the wildly popular “Game of Thrones”, this character-driven drama follows the biographies of the Okavango’s Kings and Queens as they rise and fall from the throne. Over its four-year history, our crew lived out in the bush, tracking characters from sunrise to sunset. The mutual respect that developed between camera-operator and subject meant they were on the ground to capture every moment of unpredictable action. Most importantly, their commitment meant they were privy to the most intimate of behaviours, to capture and share each character’s unique personality with the audience, for it is only through the perspective of an individual that you can understand the desperation, fear, love and lust that lives on the front lines of warfare.


Blog written by Hannah Gormley