National Geographic filmmakers Dereck Joubert and Beverly Joubert’s The Last Lions — which New York Times critic Manohla Dargis calls “one of the most urgent and certainly among the most beautifully shot documentaries to hit the big screen in recent memory” — tells the story of the threats that face a family of lions in the harsh world of Botswana’s Okavango Delta. The project, which took the husband and wife team years to shoot and edit, seeks to illuminate a much larger issue: the fact that the current population of African lions is about 12 percent of what it was a half-century ago. Click through to check out a gallery of photos from the film’s companion book, and if you live in New York, LA, or DC, be sure to check out The Last Lions in theaters beginning today.
“With two cubs left, Ma di Tau holds them close. She is a good mother in an impossible situation struggling to hunt alone with two cubs to feed.” Photo credit: Beverly Joubert
“Ma di Tau’s cubs are a ball of energy. If they can’t find high ground to conquer, they use her as that high point to battle over. The young male always seems to need to be king of the hill; his sister is less attached.” Photo credit: Beverly Joubert
“Silver Eye, as we called her, rather than the Blind-eyed Female, took on a certain beauty once we’d named her. Lions are supposedly all of equal rank, but Silver Eye stood out for more than just her features. She was an excellent hunter, always taking risks either as the first female to attack or among the front line.” Photo credit: Beverly Joubert
“The small cubs took fright, but their mother intercepted and attacked the female, which clearly intended to harm them.” Photo credit: Beverly Joubert
“Nothing was safe while Silver Eye was around, and yet later, she and Ma di Tau mended their rift and became hunting sisters again.” Photo credit: Beverly Joubert
“Against a constant backdrop of buffalo, the lions of Duba are highlights on a dark canvas.” Photo credit: Beverly Joubert
“Will this lonely little survivor of this grand adventure be allowed to grow up, grow into a mane, and live to dominate a territory? That, as we say in the film, will depend on us.” Photo credit: Beverly Joubert
“Ironically, the young males of the Skimmer pride may be the best hope for the future of the Tsaro pride, even though they are enemies right now.” Photo credit: Beverly Joubert
“A prime example of the fluidity of Africa’s top predator in motion. While Beverly snapped off a dozen masterpieces, I was cursing and slapping my camera around to arouse it from a mysterious slumber. The camera finally came on as the buffalo collapsed in the mud, and I had filmed absolutely nothing of the event. So this sequence is also an homage to a bruised ego.” Photo credit: Beverly Joubert
“Water is difficult to move through quickly. When lionesses run at their prey, it takes all their strength and energy, the most likely reason for their enormous bulk.” Photo credit: Beverly Joubert
“Riding a storm: A Tsaro lioness battles to control a buffalo cow on the run.” Photo credit: Beverly Joubert
“A new male on the island seemed familiar and very calm. Then we found his spot pattern in an old photograph, a grown male cub from the Skimmer pride. He is the future of the Tsaro legacy now.” Photo credit: Beverly Joubert
Want to get involved with the issue? Check out Cause an Uproar, a major campaign from National Geographic to help save big cats from extinction.