Snow leopard photographer mark smith joins hunt|shearluck||03/20/06 at 12:27:26|shearluck|xx|0||[quote]19 March 2006
EXCLUSIVE Top lensman's vow
By Heather Greenaway
A TOP wildlife cameraman pledged yesterday to capture Scotland's mysterious big cats on film.

Mark Smith, 44, who caught the elusive snow leopard on camera for hit BBC series Planet Earth, hopes to be the first person to grab conclusive video evidence of Scotland's elusive beasts.

There are more than 120 big cat sightings in Scotland every year and Mark, from Tayvallich, Argyll, is convinced they are out there.

He said: "There have been thousands of big cat sightings round Scotland but as yet there has been no conclusive film or video evidence.

"Although 90 per cent of the sightings are probably cases of mistaken identity, there is a good chance there are large cats living in the wild and keeping out of everyone's way.

"Capturing one of these cats on film would be quite a challenge for me and I have the determination to achieve it."

A report released this week by the British Big Cats Society revealed a record of more than 2100 sightings of pumas, panthers, lynxes and other cats in Britain in 2005, with 125 of those claimed to be in Scotland.

There have been various photographs and video of alleged big cats, including the mysterious Beast of Braemar revealed by the Sunday Mail in 2003, but no conclusive evidence.

Mark, who is married to artist Jane, 36, revealed his new target after returning Scotland from capturing stunning images for the BBC spectacular Planet Earth.

Filming the elusive snow leopard in the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan, Mark was just a few miles away from the Tora Bora caves, once a hideout of Osama bin Laden.

Before the cameraman and his team set off into the region, they were given a course by a former SAS commandos in how to cope in a kidnap situation.

Mark said: "It was all a bit alarming. The ex-SAS men taught us how to identify which k weapons were shooting at us so could avoid being killed." The footage of the snow 1 leopard's mountainside hunt was some of the spectacular ever shown when it was screened by the Beeb last week.

Mark had been trying to get into the area for almost a year to film the snow leopard but he had been prevented because British and US troops were hunting for the al Qaeda leader.

His wait ended in December 2004 when he was allowed into the mountains to film.

That patience and his acclaimed success in capturing elusive beasts gives him a very good shot at capturing Scotland's big cats on film.

In tonight's episode of Planet Earth, at 9pm on BBC1, Mark helps capture an astonishing confrontation between an otter and a crocodile - but only after six weeks of hard work, tracking and filming.


He should know, because he's an expert.||