Warning: Highly subjective topic with a heavy bias towards documentaries that can be viewed right here on this site!
Possibly one of the best wildlife documentaries ever made, The Last Lioness follows a lioness named Lady Liuwa across the Liuwa plain national park in Zambia. This film will tug at your heart strings, you see Lady Liuwa is the last surviving lion in a park which was frequently targeted by trophy hunters. A story of survival and loneliness, this resilient lioness not only survives but thrives.
The story of survival over the four years of filming would be enough alone to justify inclusion in this list but it is a story made all that more special when Lady Liuwa learns to trust the cameraman and reaches out to him for companionship, a completely wild and free animal trusting and befriending a member of the species that had wiped out her pride. Anybody with a heart would find it difficult to not be touched by this story. Watch here.
Elsa The Lioness made history when she became the first ever captive Lion to be released back into the wild. Elsa and her two sisters were adopted by George and Joy Adamson after the former had been forced to shoot her mother while on a safari. While the two siblings went to Europe to live in zoos, Joy Adamson made it her mission to train Elsa to fend for herself in the wild, something which was believed was not possible at the time. After being successfully reintegrated into the wild Elsa rewarded Joy Adamson when she was tracked down and presented three young cubs of her own.
Unfortunately Elsa died young of a common big cat disease but her cubs lived on and were relocated to a larger national park. Elsa was made famous in 1965 when the movie Born Free was made about her and the Adamson’s. Watch here.
Now for something really different. A Spy In The Den, a 2002 documentary narrated by the great Sir David Attenborough, was filmed almost entirely using a remote controlled camera disguised as a rock. At the time that was a pioneering technique.
The production team edited this documentary from over 3000 hours of footage to chart the progress of a group of lion cubs as they develop into young adult lions.
Some of the incredible scenes include an attempt by the young cubs to surround an extremely angry hippo, they also encounter a variety of other dangerous animals including a Cobra snake. Watch here.
Christian the Lion is responsible for one of the greatest YouTube clips in existence, you will surely have seen the video of the lion hugging the men who had raised him after having been released back into the wild? Christian’s story is a great one; purchased from Harrods department store in London and raised in an apartment before being reintroduced back into the wild by George Adamson, the man who had earlier been the first to successfully reintegrate a captive lion (See: Elsa: The Lioness Who Changed The World).
Numerous books and films were made about Christian in the 1970’s but the story was largely forgotten until that famous YouTube clip renewed interest, resulting in this 2009 documentary. It includes contributions from the men who had raised Christian decades prior. Watch here.
All of the documentaries above relate to African Lions, so it is only fear that Indian lions get a look in. This 2006 BBC documentary is specifically about Asiatic Lions, a species of lion which once roamed all over a huge area of Asia but is now confined to a small area of India.
The film tells a positive story however, there were as little as 20 of the lions left in the wild at the start of the 20th century, mostly due to British forces in India shooting most of them dead. The lions have since fought back and with 300 of them occupying the Gir Forest in Gajput they face a new challenge, how they are going to expand their territory and reclaim some of their old stomping grounds to make room for the growing number of prides. Watch here.