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Filmmakers get up close with The Last Lions

posted 22 Feb 2011, 13:18 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 22 Feb 2011, 13:20 ]

In the documentary "The Last Lions", filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert examine the decline of the lion population through the story of a young lioness struggling to protect and feed her cubs in the wild.

 BOTSWANA, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENTERTAINMENT - Single motherhood is never easy, but for Ma di Tau, the lioness at the center of "The Last Lions," there is danger at every turn.

Wildlife filmmakers Beverly and Dereck Joubert followed Ma di Tau and a rival pride of lions for two years, chronicling their battles with each other and their struggle for survival.

For the husband and wife team, who have been photographing and filming animals in the wild for three decades, making the film was about trying to save a declining population.

"Lion numbers have just crashed, in the last 20,10, 15-20 years - these numbers are in desperate, desperate decline - 95 percent in 50 years. So we going have to do something about these lions now or else we are going to have to face extinction in 10 or 15 years. And that's why we did this film. We wanted to bring this to an audience in a big theatric venue on a big screen so that people could engage with lions," Dereck Joubert told Reuters.

In the last 50 years, lion populations have plummeted from 450,000 to as few as 20,000.

The Jouberts weave a dramatic story with breathtaking up-close footage around one principal question - Are Ma di Tau and her young to be among the last lions in the wold?

From the abstract patterns of birds in flight to the harrowing footage of brutally defeated lions, the footage gets up-close and personal.

The film follows Ma di Tau in the lush wetlands of Botswana's Okavango Delta. After fleeing a fire and being attacked by a rival pride, the lioness was forced onto Duba Island. There audiences see the story unfold of a strong mother driven to provide and keep her cubs safe from predators.

The remote strip of land is home to wild buffalo, who are one of her biggest threats - but also could be the next meal.

Over the course of two years the Jouberts shot about 200 hours worth of film. Their days began at 4 a.m., so they could film before the heat became too overwhelming.

The couple said they were on the edge of danger almost every single day, but often times the insecurity did not come from the lions themselves.

"We respect them in every single way. You know if we see that they are uncomfortable and a lion starts to flick their tale, we know we need to back off. So I think that ultimate respect that we give them filming them, we never challenge them and we never try and antagonize them to get that aggressive look," Beverly Joubert explained.

"Sometimes, the aggression that we get from them is despite all of our efforts to be passive around them, sometimes we get charged," said Dereck Joubert.

"And we've had lions charge right up to us and try and attack us and it's usually because of something else. It's usually because a hunter has wounded this animal or poacher has laid a snare. You can do your best but every now and again things go wrong. And it is often elephants that have damaged us most. We've been attacked by elephants four times now."

But that has not deterred the duo. The high school sweethearts, who work alone out in the field and in the editing room, said despite the dangers and hardships, they will keep going back to tell more stories.

"We keep trying to get this right," Dereck said.

For the couple, sharing the unseen experiences of animals with humans is worth the risk.

"The draw is definitely to protect the wilderness and to protect the animals and to stop the poaching and the safari hunting. The trade on all the animals," Beverly said.

"In essence if we don't do something about this, these animals will be extinct in 10-15 years," added Dereck.

The Jouberts say all the risks are paying off - literally. National Geographic has announced that it will donate all profits from the film to the Big Cats initiative, a conservation effort aimed at the lion population .