Disney Nature's African Cats", in theaters April 22, features many extraordinary animals and their children growing up on the African savanna. The movie follows lions Mara, Layla, Fang, and Kali, and Sita, a cheetah, and her cubs. The movie tells us about the struggles growing up as a animal on the savanna and the similarities that connect us all, animal or human. For every ticket sold in opening week, Disney will donate a portion of the profit to the African Wildlife Fund (AWF) in order to help save the savannas.
I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. M. A. Sanjayan, a conservationist and African cats enthusiast to learn more about the movie, and how he begun his career. Sanjayan is the lead conservationist for the Nature Conservancy. He was born in Sri Lanka, but moved to Africa when he was five, Sanjayan has been around animals his whole life. He told me about his house in Africa, which was built on stilts, and sometimes had animals going under it! Sanjayan said, "My school was a dirt hut, with no doors and no windows and a mud floor. Just spaces. Sometimes monkeys would swing through my classroom."
He talked about his childhood fascination with animals, and said that to be a conservationist, you have to keep that childhood fascination through adulthood, and said, "I remained a kid at heart, even as I grew up." On the savanna where Sanjayan grew up and now works, he spends most of his time talking to local tribes and seeing how they feel about the animals that surround them. Most of these communities are nomadic people who raise cattle, and Sanjayan believes that by working in the savannas, it is possible to find the ideal balance between nature and people.
Sanjayan's job is like an "explorer", because he gets to travel all around the world, see all sorts of animals, and talk to all kinds of different people. Being a conservationist can be a frustrating job as well. Sanjayan said, "You can go days without seeing the animals you have been looking for," and continued, "it is sometimes hard to come up with a clear message about why nature is important. Once people are adults, they have lost the wonder they had as children."
In the movie "African Cats", you can see these incredible animals and learn about their lives, just like conservationists would. Sanjayan has had the opportunity to see parts of the movie, and told me about why this movie is different than most documentaries. "The movie has absolutely breathtaking photography," Sanjayan said. He knows the Masai Mara, the area in Kenya in which the movie was filmed. He said the movie features things like lions fiercely attacking crocodiles and the mothers nurturing their cheetah cubs. The movie also shows four adult male lions all together in the wild, something that Sanjayan has never seen before. The movie exhibits the similarities that connect us all, lion or human. Sanjayan said, " The story is really about kids growing up. It doesn't matter if they are human kids, or lion cubs, their stories are the same."
As a conservationist, Sanjayan has some tips for kids who want to save the planet. For this Earth Day, Sanjayan says to go on a picnic with your family. He said," Kids get told too often to go plant a tree, when the little things, like appreciating nature are what really counts." He also said to go see "African Cats" , so the money will be donated to the African Wildlife Fund.
To learn more about Dr. Sanjayan and The Nature Conservancy, go to www.nature.org or www.disney.com/africancats to learn more about how you can help "Save The Savannas."