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Secrets of king of jungle exposed

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CLOSE: Three sub adult males stand together.

With close to three decades of filming, researching and capturing Africa’s wildlife behind them, award-winning film-makers Dereck and Beverly Joubert are at it again – they have made Game of Lions for Nat Geo Wild. Debashine Thangevelo found out why this particular project has such special meaning for them…

RECENT statistics reveal that, of the 20 000 lions left on Earth, only 3 500 are males - the rest are lionesses. What’s interesting is that both are born on an even ratio but only one in every eight males reach maturity. And it was this nugget of information that piqued the interest of Dereck and Beverly Joubert.

They have been making wildlife films for decades – and they have covered a wide gamut of subjects on camera and in their books as well as myriad articles for National Geographic magazine.

Shedding light on their compatibility and how it fuelled their shared interests, Dereck says, “We go back a long way. We met in high school and we embarked on this career together.

“It’s based on the mutual passion for, obviously, each other and for the bush. So there’s a great overlap in interests, but I think what happens to us in the field is that we use our strengths compatibly.

“In the field, just technically, I do the filming and Beverly the photography, I’ll do the script-writing and Beverly the sound.

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PLAYFUL: Two young male cubs play on a branch.

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“We obviously produce together and then in the editorial we sit together and make that project or film or whatever it might be into a whole.

“But within that division of roles there’re also different personalities.

“I think they fluctuate from day to day, so I know that with Beverly being more feminine she has a softer side most of the time and mine might be more pragmatic.

“It changes from day to day and I think that the success is in our accepting those differences and enjoying them.”

Beverly adds: “What we’ve had is really the yin and yang at all times, also the masculine and the feminine.

“What creates a better atmosphere when we are making these films is that when Dereck and I are together, we’re sharing these experiences together.

“We discuss memories we’ve been living all our lives and through the research experienced daily in the field.

“Getting the enthusiasm and the excitement, I believe that plays a huge role in our films because when we are in the editing suite, at the end, we have lived with them and we can share the spirit of what we have gone through with each one.” Turning to Game of Lions, Beverly says: “For 30 years, we worked on observing lion families and lion tribes and we had looked at every aspect of lions, or so we thought.

“Until we produced our last film, The Lost Lion, and that was the feature film done a few years ago, a lot of the comments at the end of the film were that a lot of people wanted to know what happened to the young male cub that had survived, because the other cub hadn’t.

“It inspired us to go and film that story. Probably in the 1990s we touched on it in Lions of Darkness, but we never took it further.

“To look at the male lions, seeing how many survived, how many are at stake and the mortality rate of all those young males and of course eventually the one that survives, becomes scary. It was an important story to tell.”

Dereck adds: “This film attempts to answer that mystery.”

On the question of how this film is linked with the couple’s expansion into conservation, Dereck says: “The story basically is about what happens to the other seven (female) cubs and what it takes to get one male all the way through that and claim his place as a pride male, but the end of the film is quite specific.

“All the things that it takes to get male lions to the genetic qualities they need to get there, are (their) downfall because humans just come and shoot them for these.

“That’s the safe way into our conservation lives – and, obviously, as founders and leaders of the Big Cats with the National Geographic Society, we extend that to the next level. We believe that our films don’t end the conversation at the end of the film.

“They start the conversation and that leads us to the Big Cat initiative, where, at the moment, we’ve got roughly 50 projects in 18 countries.

“We are really are hands-on, trying to save these big cats.

“We strongly believe that we can save as many lions as we like, but we need to be proactive in securing the land they are on.

“That’s why we formed our own conservation company, to secure land and to make sure that it’s available for ever and that it’s well managed, well run and well funded so that we can take care of the big cats.”

Shooting the film alone took 18 months. Beverly says they hope viewers will realise how fraught with dangers the journey is that a male lion has to take to survive – and to claim his kingly status.

Game of Lions takes an unflinching look at the journey male lions make as they overcome adversities in the wilderness – with the acclaimed film-makers proud of yet another exceptionally poignant undertaking. Not to mention eye-opening!

• Game of Lions airs Thursday, February 27, at 4pm on Nat Geo Wild (DStv channel 182).

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