The Last Lions

Synopsis: Fifty years ago there were close to half-a-million lions in Africa. Today there are around 20,000. To make matters worse, lions, unlike elephants, which are far more numerous, have virtually no protection under government mandate or through international accords. This is the jumping-off point for a disturbing, well-researched and beautifully made cri de coeur from husband and wife team Dereck and Beverly Joubert, award-winning filmmakers from Botswana who have been Explorers-in-Residence at National Geographic for more than four years. Pointing to poaching as a primary threat while noting the lion's pride of place on the list for eco-tourists-an industry that brings in 200 billion dollars per year worldwide-the Jouberts build a solid case for both the moral duty we have to protect lions (as well as other threatened "big cats," tigers among them) and the economic sense such protection would make. And when one takes into account the fact that big cats are at the very top of the food chai
Director(s): Dereck Joubert
Actors: Jeremy Irons
Production: National Geographic Entertainment
  2 wins.
Rotten Tomatoes:
88 min

The night skies

were once filled with stars.

Today our own lights

eclipse the darkness

and spread steadily each day.

Slowly, the dark places in

Africa become the last refuge

for one of our planet's

most iconic animals.

Fifty years ago

And today there may be

as few as 20,000.

And yet,

in these remote places,

some of the most dramatic

stories on Earth are played out.

They are harsh,

sometimes violent,

never malicious,

and always real.

This is a story

of some of the last

wild lions on Earth.

Here in a small pocket

of this darkness,

our story begins.

It is an old saga of life

lived by tooth and claw.

A lioness

in perfect condition.

It's unusual for a lioness

to be without a pride,

but she's not alone.

She has a mate -

her companion and protector,

and the father of her cubs.

The beginnings

of a new pride

for this unspoiled land

deep in Botswana.

Tonight the bush is uneasy.

The distant calls

they've been hearing

for some time

are getting closer.

It puts them on edge.


And they suddenly materialize.

Lions from the north,

forced here by the relentless

encroachment of man.

They're ready to risk everything

to win new territory.

Her male has

no choice but to fight.

It's a battle that could change

the bloodlines here forever.

The invaders with

a clear determination

to win and to stay.

When she finally

emerges from hiding,

her shoulder almost healed,

she is ready

to pick up her life.

She starts by trying

to find her mate.

Every sound makes her freeze.

Every breath of air

brings unfamiliar scents.

Until she finds him,

she is a fugitive

in her own land.

By now her mate

has had weeks to recover.

He should be

answering her calls.

His wounds are too severe.

His spirit

has gone out of him.

He has become old,

damaged, broken.

His reign is over.

There are new rulers now.

To survive here,

she will have to submit

to these new masters.

But until the newcomers

detect her presence,

she still has a choice.

The swirling air carries a hint

of her unfamiliar scent.

The hunt begins.

She decides to leave...

to leave immediately.

For she has a secret -

all that is left

from her old life...

A secret that

must be protected.

This will be her life now...

To secure

the survival of her cubs.

With the males behind her,

back-tracking is impossible.

The females

of the marauding pride,

blocking her escape

to the west.

The leader will remember

the violent night they last met

as vividly as she does.

The night she was left

battered and bitten,

bleeding to death...

But she, in turn,

left the largest of them

with one eye blinded for life.

It's a wound the silver-eyed

leader of the pride

will never forget.

They can smell her tracks.

The storm ignites the bush

and she is trapped.

Now she must choose:

north towards

the villages and people,

or south along the fireline

to an even more

daunting obstacle for her...

The swollen river.

In this part of Africa,

a mother is named

after her first-born

as its protector.

He was always just a little

smaller than the other two,

slower, prone to getting lost.

Today Ma di Tau,

Mother of lions,

earns her name

as protector of her young.

As the smallest,

he must get used to being

constantly bullied.

It will either build him up,

or wear him out.

Ma di Tau knows the pride

will be coming after her,

but what lies ahead

is terrifying.

Lions detest deep, open water.

It hides things

that seem unnatural to them.

But the options behind

are worse.

If she stays to fight, the male

lions will kill her cubs.

It's their instinct

to wipe the face of the Earth

clean of the old male's genes.

She must make her decision now.

The male cub

doesn't hesitate this time.

He knows to stay close.

His sister wades in

more cautiously.

But the third cub holds back,

scared of the water.

By the time the third cub

plucks up enough courage,

she's become an easy target...

both on the land

and in the water.

The males turn back

into their newly won territory,

satisfied that she and her cubs

have been expelled forever.

The silence is a condemnation.

Ma di Tau, the protector,

has failed for the first time

as a mother.

As she turns away, she is

turning her back on her past,

on the pride that was

so desperate to be rid of her.

And she steps forward

into an uncertain future

with her two surviving cubs:

the little male and his sister.

The battle for the territory

has been decided.

Ma di Tau and her cubs

have escaped

to an almost deserted

island in the swamp,

the only lions on this vast,

isolated wilderness called Duba,

in the middle

of the Okavango delta.

Here the land is plagued

by seasonal floods

and rivers that

weave through it.

If it is a refuge for them,

it will be a wet one.

A few weeks have passed.

Food has been scarce,

but there are still

no signs of other lions,

and they are starting

to feel safe at last.

The smaller cub has gained

a renewed confidence

by being one

of just two cubs now.

In his heart he is a hunter,

always ready to explore

the endless possibilities

that lie in wait for a cub

with a restless spirit.

For the young male,

it was a close call...

He may have thought he so nearly

notched up his first kill,

but that little hunter's heart

did skip a small beat today.

The cowardly withdrawal

by the elephant

confirms that there

will be another chance,

perhaps when he's a bit older.

Until today, she had only time

to focus on escape and survival,

but now she must

find a way to get her cubs

safely through their

first critical year,

until they can

fend for themselves.

And as a single mother,

this will take every ounce

of her energy and intelligence.

The fire and

march of human settlements

to the north have driven

other animal refugees

towards the island.

Duba is about to change.

These are some of Africa's

most aggressive animals.

Their sharp horns

and bone-crushing bodies

are perfect weapons,

and their massive numbers

give them confidence.

At the head of the herd is one

of the most fearsome of them:

a scar-faced bull

weighing almost a ton.

For the past few weeks

this has been her island.

The arrival of the buffalo

brings hope as possible prey...

but also fear.

These will be her

new enemies on the island.

Buffalo are not easy prey.

They dislike

the scent of lions,

and they don't

hesitate to attack.

For the cubs,

life so far has been

a litany of narrow escapes,

one long line of enemies

out to get them -

a strange way to start life

as king of the beasts.

With more and more

of the newcomers

flowing onto her island,

Ma di Tau and her cubs are

destined to run into them again.

The herd's pathfinder

is now aware

that this island has lions,

and from now on

he'll always be on the alert.

It will be an

almost daily conflict,

unavoidable in this open,

yet confined space.

If she is not going

to be at their mercy,

she will have to learn more

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Dereck Joubert

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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