Three People and a Pride of Lions

namib times 21-07-15

When Will and Lianne Steenkamp saw how many people have come to watch their   documentary about the Desert Lions of Namibia, they were overwhelmed. Many who came to see the film, eventually had to go home empty-handed, because the event was sold out.

It was a privilege to be part of the crowd Saturday, and to get a glimpse into the very private lives of the lions. But who are these two young filmmakers, and how the film come about…Lianne explains:

“Will and I are wildlife filmmakers and we specialise in behavioural, blue-chip wildlife films. About eight years ago Will met Dr Philip Stander in the desert during another production. He was intrigued by the extensive research Philip

had been doing on the desert-adapted lions and everything he had come to know about how they survive in this relentless desert.

Ever since, we always hoped to return one day and make a film about the desert-adapted lions of Namibia. Several years ago, when one of the prides had given birth to a cohort of 5 male cubs, which is a unique situation, it seemed to be the right time to start making a film.

Philip provided us with all the important data and guidance when we started following the ‘5 Musketeers’ at one-and-a-half years old. And that was the beginning of an extraordinary coming of age story.”

She says they knew the

Desert Lion Project recei-ves a lot of support from people in Swakopmund, so they expected there was going to be interest in the film.

“However, we were over-whelmed by the number of people that came to the screening. None of us ever expected that…

It is a sign that Namibians really care for their own wildlife and extraordinary environment, that they are passionate about the desert lions, and that they support valuable conservation initiatives. So for us it was a great privilege to be able to show them this film.”

Lianne says following a

pride of desert lions is nothing like anything they’ve done before.

“We have made several films on lions and other big cats, but the home range of a desert lion is enormous, meaning we travelled extensively in trying to follow the lions.

They walk great distances. In one night our pride could walk between 20 and 30 kilometres.

So it was a great challenge keeping up and finding them again. Without the invaluable research done by the Desert Lion Project we would have never been able to follow a pride so closely.

We would spend more time searching than actually filming them…”

For Lianne and Will another challenge was that the desert terrain is extremely sensitive, meaning making new tracks could scar the landscape for decades. “So there were many days where we would see our pride walk off across these beautiful gravel plains where it was not possible to follow, and then not being able to be with them for weeks on end.

Our aim was to keep our impact as minimal as possible. Our respect for the landscape played a major role in that. Our Landcruiser was our home and we had a rooftop tent to sleep in. We lived a wonderful, simple life as nomads, setting up camp in a different place every night.

That was an amazing experience, a sense of freedom you can hardly ever experience anywhere else. It allowed us to stay closer to the lions and brought us wonderful filming moments we wouldn’t have had if we had lived from a permanent base.

The majority of our filming took place in and around the Hoanib Valley, the home of our lion pride.”

The film music has its origin in Austria, Lianne says, “We did our postproduction in Vienna, Austria, where we worked together with Roman Kariolou, a very talented music composer. From the start we knew this film deserved a great music score, and we wanted specific themes for each of our characters.

Roman was able to make our images and characters come alive even more with his phenomenal work.

The old lioness has her own theme, as well as the

adult male and the five


Their journey with Dr Philip Stander has been a very special one “When we met Philip we realized he was no ordinary scientist.

This man has dedicated his entire life to studying these desert lions. 20 years of intensive research in the field has resulted in the extensive knowledge we have on desert-adapted lions today. Thanks to Philip’s research we can address human-lion conflict much more effectively and show tourists from all over the world these elusive predators. And with it we can conserve this national treasure for Namibia. For us as wildlife filmmakers it is extremely valuable to work together with a scientist.

The help and guidance we received from Philip was important and contributed greatly to the end result of the film. It is a true and factual story, authentic in every way, with a solid base of science behind it. It has given our film the cre-

dibility it deserves.

We believe no wildlife film should be made without sound scientific information. Science communication plays a vital role in bridging the gap between nature and people.”

So, where to now with their film… “We co-produced this film with three main broadcast partners, namely ORF in Austria, Smithsonian Channel in the United States and ARTE in France/Germany. ORF will premiere the film on television in Austria on the 15th September.

Thereafter it will be shown in the other countries. National Geographic International has recently come on board and will bring the film to the rest of the world. But most importantly, the film will be made available free of charge to the broadcast channels in Namibia.”

On a question about their personal journey the last two years, and what the experience meant to them, and lead them, she said, “Imagine a lion walking across an endless gravel plain. Imagine it hunting in the dunes. Imagine it roaming the coast. Seeing the ghostlike figure of a pre-

dator in the thick fog. Seeing it vanish in the relentless sand storms…

No words can describe what we experienced over the last two years. Living in the wild with such a remarkable pride of lions who shared with us their hardships and triumphs, was a life changing experience.

At first we were just hoping to capture this iconic species in the desert landscape. That alone would have been fantastic, for they are secretive, elusive animals, and very hard to follow intimately. But over time this pride allowed us inside their world, and enabled us to make an in-depth behavioural film on how lions survive in this ancient desert.

It was more than we could have ever hoped for. Being able to document such an intimate story will hopefully help in the conservation of this unique kind of lion. Bringing this film to the world will hopefully contribute to the tourism in Namibia. And bringing this film to the people of Namibia itself is vital in that we need to raise awareness, instill an appreciation for this remarkable animal, that only lives here, in your country… Desert lions are found nowhere else in the world. It is something Namibians can be very proud of and they should treasure it.”

Lianne and Will on Sunday went on a very special mission. “Now that we have shown the film in Windhoek and Swakopmund, we will take it on a roadshow to some of the local villages in the desert. Our mobile cinema will screen the film in Wêreld’s End, Bergsig, Sesfontein and Purros.

The lion is a flagship species for Namibia, a national treasure. It plays a valuable role for the tourism industry.

However, the villages in the desert have to bear the costs of living with these lions. Human-lion conflict is an inevitable challenge, one that has no easy solution. We would like to show the film to these people, and especially to the young generation. Most of the children have never seen a lion, but they share the same land and they go through the same hardships in the desert. Hopefully they will take pride in having such a special kind of lion.

Hopefully we can show them how valuable and precious their conser-

vancies are, which allows the wild animals to thrive there, and that they can become part of the beautiful wildlife stories that unfold here.”



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