The Lions Rule

Ⓒ Marc Mol


A gripping, natural drama – a story of power, betrayal and coming of age – played out in one of Africa’s most remote locations. Ruaha is Tanzania’s largest national park. Here, abundant prey species roam landscapes where humans seldom venture. And they sustain one of the world’s last, big populations of lions. Filmed over eight years, this series presents never before seen behaviour, extraordinary insights, and high drama in Ruaha’s kingdom of lions.2

‘The Lions Rule’ is the saga of three lion families linked together by a strange, charmed place called the Glade: a beautiful oasis in Ruaha National Park where there is always water.
The Glade is the territory of two old lionesses and their cubs. The Glade pride can bring down an adult giraffe – a remarkable skill.
A magical Baobab forest spreads out beyond the Glade. This is the territory of the Baobab pride. They are the largest pride in all of Ruaha.
The third pride are drifters – lean, mean and ruthless. They are the Njaa. The Njaa follow the buffalo. The herd is their territory and they are experts in the dark art of the buffalo kill.

All three prides are lead by lionesses; there are no adult males in residence. This will play a major role in their fates.

Other characters vie for the spotlight. Some behave in ways contrary to their natural instincts, while others perform astounding acts. In Ruaha, baboons help lions hunt, and giraffes appear to mourn their dead. But lioness politics are always bubbling just below the surface.

When destiny conspires to bring the prides together in forbidden territory, the Njaa brutally attack the Baobab pride. Not just once, but twice.
Why are these lions intent on destruction? As the series unfolds we discover that the prides are not only connected through the water of the Glade but by something much more precious.

‘The Lions Rule’ is a bewitching and intimate journey with never before filmed behavior, spanning generations of lion families.

At the height of summer, the Glade is a paradise in the desiccated plains of Ruaha. There is always water here. This bounty spawns strange relationships; like the pact that exists between a baboon family and a lion family. Against all natural instincts, predator and prey live side by side. But peace in the Glade is shattered when thousands of buffalo arrive to drink. The Glade pride know that many lions must follow. They are just a small pride, so to keep their cubs safe they abandon the Glade. Even in their absence, the Glade remains out of bounds to other prides – it is forbidden territory.

More prides are on the way. The buffalo are being followed by the Baobab pride – the biggest in all of Ruaha. When they enter the Glade to hunt the herd they unleash the wrath of the Njaa, who consider the herd to be their territory. Not only do the Baobab pride hunt in the forbidden zone, they also poach the Njaa’s prey. War breaks out inside the Glade. Before this day is over, lioness politics will deliver brutal retribution. And now the males are on their way.

As the dry continues in Ruaha, herds of elephants arrive in the Glade. They dig deep into the sand with their trunks to tap the cleanest waters. The Glade pride copy the elephants – unusual behavior. Life carries on in its own idiosyncratic way. Soon, things will change. Adult male lions are on the horizon. They are following the buffalo. The buffalo follow a well-worn circuit around the river systems, constantly being pushed on by the threat of lions. Soon they will enter the Glade again.

The Njaa pride have already spotted the males. But even these fearless lionesses will not hunt while the lions are about. Hunger keeps them at the Glade. Once more, events conspire to bring the prides together. When the Glade pride outrun and seize an adult giraffe in the Glade, the Baobab pride leave their territory to join the take down. Again in forbidden territory, they stay to feast with the Glade Pride. The Njaa take their retribution once more. This is the beginning of the end for the largest pride in all of Ruaha.

The future of the Glade pride may also be in jeopardy. A rogue male has entered the Glade – and he is hungry. When the Glade pride team with him to take down a buffalo, they do so with full knowledge of the dangers they may soon unleash.

The Baobab pride have suffered a dreadful loss. Their leader was badly injured in the Njaa attack. It will mean starvation for many, and the fragmentation of the pride. But now the dry season finally breaks; returning Ruaha to the time of plenty. The Glade Pride have been reunited. The rogue male who came to hunt buffalo in the Glade was the father of the Glade cubs. He has taken his place beside the lionesses once more.

Rogue males have also taken up residence in the fragmented Baobab pride. No longer are the prides being lead by lionesses. The balance of power has changed, bringing an end to inter-pride battles. Now, with male lions in charge, the violence will happen inside the prides – because fathers will soon attack their sons.

Cubs are growing up fast; learning to hunt and kill. Life in the Glade remains charmed, until one of the young lions begins to change. Fathers turn on young males when they reach adolescence – expel them from paradise. To survive, the young male from the Glade must join with other exiles. But staying alive in a kingdom of lions is a challenge that few can hope to overcome. It’s a jungle out there. The only security is in the pride.

Produced by Terra Mater Factual Studios in co-production with National Geographic Channel and Doclights/NDR Naturfilm in association with ARTE France / Unité Découverte et Connaissance and Shibumi Films