The Last Lions

Fiercely protective of their prides, or family units, male lions patrol a vast territory normally covering about 100 square miles (260 square kilometers); photo by Chris Johns, NGS.

Big cat numbers have dropped precipitously over the past few decades and no one understands this better than Dereck and Beverly Joubert, who have been living out of the back of a truck for most of those years, trying to educate people through their photos and films. Their latest effort, The Last Lions, opened in three cities this past weekend and is scheduled to open in more major cities next month.

However, they have realized that stories and films are not enough. For the past few years, they have become involved in ecotourism as well as offering compensation to locals whose cattle have been killed by lions. Working with National Geographic, they have launched the Big Cats Initiative, a comprehensive program consisting of innovative projects, in an all-out effort to avert the extinction of lions, tigers, and other big cats.

We no longer have the luxury of time when it comes to big cats,” says Dereck. “They are in such a downward spiral that if we hesitate now, we will be responsible for extinctions across the globe. If there was ever a time to take action, it is now.”

It’s easy to imagine life in the field to be a romantic, freewheeling existence, but as any field photographer will tell you it is often anything but. Although Dereck Joubert commented at a lecture that they lived in paradise, he was enjoying anything but bliss on the day recounted here:

It was going to be one of those days…I was up to my knees in a thick mixture of mud, elephant urine, and maggots. I couldn’t move myself; but in fact I was pretty sure that I was moving…deeper. Unfortunately, as I collapsed through a dry, razor-thin crust, I got a dozen or so small cuts on my legs–and they were starting to burn like hell from either the urine or the decaying maggots on the nearby rotting rhino carcass. To make matters worse, Beverly was nowhere to be seen….I was on the brink of a serious sense-of-humor failure.
“I could really use a little help here…”
“Sooner rather than later would be good.”
Then I heard it, the familiar sound of the motor drive and the cascading mirth. By craning my neck around, I could see Beverly collapsed in a fit of giggles, struggling to keep a steady lens. I had been trying to creep out onto the bone dry (or so I thought) pan to take a closer look at the dead rhino stuck up to its neck in mud…What could possibly drive me to investigate such things? Beverly, meanwhile, snapped a few more photographs of me for her collection, then using a piece of wood and a shovel to distribute her weight, she crawled out to help me…

From The Africa Diaries: An Illustrated Memoir of Life in the Bush



About Cathy Hunter

I have worked as an archivist at National Geographic for over 20 years and particularly love learning more about our old expeditions.
This entry was posted in NGS Explorers & Fellows, Photography & Photographers and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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