"Last Lions" film humanizes fate of African lions

Wed Feb 23, 2011 6:05pm EST
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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert are somewhat famous in the small world of wildlife documentaries, and to those outside it, lead a romantic life filming wild animals against an enchanting African landscape.

But the topic of their new film, "The Last Lions," which recently opened in the United States, is anything but ideal.

The cold statistic that drew the husband and wife team to their latest story -- set in the lush wetlands of Botswana's Okavango Delta -- speaks for itself. In the last 50 years, African lions have plummeted in numbers from 450,000 to between 20,000 and 50,000, conservation groups say.

"These numbers are in desperate, desperate decline," said Dereck Joubert. "So we are going have to do something about these lions now or else we are going to have to face their extinction."

Statistics aside, "The Last Lions," is no dry documentary. Breathtakingly shot and narrated by actor Jeremy Irons, the Jouberts illustrate their point through the emotional, suspenseful tale of one lion, Ma di Tau, as she battles to keep her family alive, hunting buffalo five times her size.

"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 said.

"Last Lions" has been compared to the Oscar-winning "March of the Penguins," which humanized a tale of Antarctic Emperor penguins on their annual trek to a breeding ground where they share protective duties over eggs and hatchlings.

In Africa, over the course of two years, the Jouberts lived among the lions on Duba Island, an isolated strip of land in the Okavango Delta surrounded by flood waters. They shot 100 hours of footage, beginning each day at 4 a.m.   Continued...