by Javier and Lola Kirigin
Imagine a young boy having a real connection and understanding with lions, who has a dream of being pursued by a lion and just as he is about to be caught, wakes up with back spasm. This dream is repeated time and time again over weeks, months, years, until puberty.
Many years later, this connection reappears for Herbert Brauer, a Nature Photographer, Coach and Mentor, in the Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia's Western Province, not far from Angola, where he met “Lady Liuwa” the Last Lioness, in 2005.
Imagine being a solitary lioness, the last survivor of your species in the area where all your family and friends were wiped out by poachers and trophy hunters. The park is close to 3 500 square-kilometres. “Liuwa" means "plain" in the local Lozi language, where a couple of film expeditions tracking Lady for several months could rarely find her. She was considered a myth by some who have lived in this park for 1½ years. Herbert arrives with his crew and on the first night at the park he finds her and from then on sporadically shoots footage of her for 5 years in many facets of Lady’s life, during the changing seasons.
This inspirational talk on the Power of Nature to Heal and Transform on Saturday, 21st November 2020 took place at the Collaborative Healing Centre (CHC) founded and run by Leah Holtz. A beautiful setting for a beautiful story. Herbert is now also a collaborator at the Centre, and he took us on a journey with this film “Last Lioness” which was shot between 2005 and 2009. This is an epic journey carving through human intuition, creativity and trust.
Unexpectedly, on a certain occasion when Herbert approaches within 10m with the Land Rover, Lady surprisingly rolled over on her back exposing her belly. This was a sign of her trust, despite the previous experience of poachers killing her pride for muti. Lions are social beings and now Lady turned to humans for companionship and especially to Herbert who filmed her over the years in the varying facets of her life, showing her resilience in the challenges of survival, hunting alone, fending off hyena packs (12-18 at a time), especially intense during the dry months and then easing up with nature’s abundance during the rainy season. The urge to get closer to her new friends and Herbert in particular, became stronger, and Lady kept coming closer, to the extent that she once caused damage to the seat of the crew’s Land Rover. Eventually it was clear to Herbert that he needed to assert the boundaries. Here and no more. A dramatic, yet presence-filled confrontation between man and animal ensued. Herbert’s intuitive and courageous stand-off proved victorious, as Lady backed off respectfully and peacefully. This was a significant, triumphant point in the destiny of these two beings, lion and man, with liberating consequences for both. The childhood dream finds resolution.
This is a story of how Lady Liuwa turned to particular human beings, trustingly, and how these same people in turn, put their own “life and limb” towards finding her a pride of her own. This has become one of the most moving wildlife stories of all time, showing how trust and collaboration between people like Herbert and Craig Reid, Liuwa Park Manager (African Parks) and the inhabitants of the area worked together to make this goal a reality. Relocating lions is a dangerous and highly risky endeavour. Sedation and transportation pose a significant threat to the lions’ health. This proved fatal in their first attempt to bring a single male lion from nearby Kafue National Park to Liuwa Plain in an 11-hour trip, which sadly ended tragically, as the film shows.
Courageously, the team continued their quest and decided to plan the next relocation during the rainy season, when Liuwa becomes like the Okavango Swamps, more accessible by boat, thus halving the trip duration. This time, the team located two young male brothers without a pride. At the end of the rainy season in May 2009, the two brothers were successfully relocated from Kafue National Park to Liuwa Plain, the Lonely Lioness was no longer alone, and her story continues to outlive her to this day.
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