The reader of my blog might have noticed I am specially found of the polar bear cub Ranzo in the Wildlife Park Ranua Zoo. I try to visit Ranua Zoo several times a year to check out arctic animals. During a visit there in winter time you will notice many of the animals are more active than what they are in summer time, when they mostly are sleeping in the sun. (This is not of course the fact about brown bears, because they are having their hibernation period.)
The Wildlife Park Ranua Zoo is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and that caused them to arrange a voting for the most popular animal of the park during the 30 year period. The winner was Väinö the lynx. Cause of the huge interest the ice bear cub Ranzo has caused the last two years, you could think he would win the vote, but Väinö the lynx has apparently made a greater impact on visitors. The competition was tight, with polar bear Ranzo coming a close second.
So who was Väinö the lynx? Väinö the lynx appeared in the Finnish film “Tommy and the Wildcat”, know to the Finnish people as “Poika ja ilves”. The film was cast in Ranua and in Korouoma canyon in the year 1998 and was very popular to the audience and received many prices also in international Film Festivals. Director of the film is Raimo O Niemi.
Väinö the lynx was born in 1996 and died in May 1998 in an accident as he tried to climb a fence and fell down. He was used to people from the age of a little cub. Väinö was brought to the Wildlife Park Ranua Zoo as he had been abandoned by his mother and he was adopted by the park keepers and they begun to feed him with a nursing bottle. He used to spend time in the ticket office of Ranua Zoo and visitors could often see him sleeping on a shelf there, as they entered the park.
During the autumn shooting, Väinö remained the only wildcat on the set, but for the winter scenes they began looking for “stand – by” wildcats for Väinö’s stunts at an early stage. Fortunately, a pair of twin wildcats, Isa and Bella, were born at Parken Zoo in Sweden in summer 1997. They shared the same fate as Väinö and were abandoned by their mother. Animal trainer Elisabet Jonsson, who had a wide range of experience in training animals, reared the wildcats. She had, for instance, trained tigers, leopards and other wildcats. Hence, we hired Elisabet to train Isa and Bella for Väinö’s winter stunt scenes.
The film “Tommy and the Wildcat” tells about how 12-year-old Tommy reluctantly moves with his father from the big city to a small Lapp village – the childhood home of his mother, who has recently died. The village is close to the northernmost wildlife reserve in the world, where Tommy’s father will be working on a project to release a captive lynx into the wild. The boy gradually falls under the spell of his new surroundings, and discovers that his mother was involved in protecting the local lynx, and, when his father’s project fails, and the lynx is about to be sold, he decides to set it free himself. A dramatic series of events ensues, and Tommy, through his brave actions, regains the trust and respect of his family and the village.
During the shooting of the film the film team soon learnt that they were not dealing with “Lassie” or “Rintintin” in front of the camera. Anyone who has any knowledge of cats knows that you cannot order them around.
Konsta Hietanen played the main part in the film. Väinö and Konsta got along famously from the start. Konsta soon learnt to trust that Väinö didn’t regard him as a potential snack. However, Konsta was reminded that you can never fully trust a wild animal.
For the shooting, Väinö had to become accustomed to noise and a lot of people around him, not to mention riding in a car – or on a snow mobile! The director’s order for silence during the shooting was diligently obeyed: since the wildcat was usually able to concentrate for only about half an hour at a time, the film crew had to be particularly efficient when the wildcat was in a cooperative mood. The crew was kept to a minimum while shooting the wildcat, because Väinö always had to sniff everyone around him to learn that they were friendly.
The first thing to keep in mind was that you can’t give orders to a wildcat or force it to do what people want, but through games and playing you could achieve what was desired. Most probably the film’s wildcats had a great time during the shooting of the film: they got to play all kinds of games, the people around them were calm and the wildcats received lots and lots of attention – which is, after all, what all cats thrive on. One might even write in the end titles of the film that “The wildcats appearing in Tommy and the Wildcat had heaps of fun.” In first, the most difficult thing was to make the wildcats look dangerous or aggressive. Under no circumstances did we want to arouse the wildcats’ wilder instincts.
The producer Hannu Tuomainen tells that as the film had been completed they could proudly state that the scenes with animals in them were for real, they have not been created with computer animations.
Specially one scene, “Chicken the Brave” was challenging. They made use of Väinö’s apparent interest towards the larger fowl in the wildlife park when the wildcat’s interest in acting flopped. The scene was a source of amazement for Väinö. However, Väinö’s hunting skills remained dormant: while filming in the studio Väinö and the chicken suddenly disappeared while everyone’s attention was elsewhere. Our first thought was that Väinö had eaten “Chicken the Brave”. However, after a while, they were found behind a cupboard sitting side by side. They were just taking a break and having a “chat”.
Finally, some facts about the animal lynx:
Lynx (Lynx lynx)
- Classification: mammals
- Division: predators
- Species: cats
- Length: 70 – 140 cm, tail 15 – 25 cm
- Weight: 8 – 26 kg, male larger than female
- Life expectancy: 14 – 17 years
- Under Threat: rare species, to be monitored
- Population in Finland: about 750