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Lion: The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride — release date and everything we know about about the wildlife documentary

A group of lions sit on the ground with sunlight on them. One looks at the camera on Lion: The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride
The fate of an extraordinary group of lions is explored in Lion: The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride. (Image credit: BBC)

Lion: The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride centers on a group of big cats who have made their home in Kenya’s Maasai Mara reserve and profiles how their lives have changed over the past 40 years.

The moving one-off documentary, airing on BBC Two this month, sees those who have lived and worked with the lions look back at how the pride became the most famous on Earth, thanks to its appearances in a host of wildlife films from Sir David Attenborough’s Dynasties to Big Cat Diary. 

It also examines the challenges the lions have faced due to rivalries within the pride, as well as threats from other animals and, most significantly, from humans.

Here’s everything we know about Lion: The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride...

Lion: The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride — what is the release date?

The feature-length documentary will air on BBC Two on Tuesday, August 23 at 9pm in the UK. It will also be available on BBC iPlayer. We will update here about a release date in the US. 

Simon King in a beige fleece and baseball cap stands against a green outdoor background.

Simon King followed the Marsh Pride in Big Cat Diary and now looks back at their lives in Lion: The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride. (Image credit: BBC)

Lion: The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride — who’s in it?

In the film, naturalist Simon King, who hosted Big Cat Diary from 1996 to 2009, reflects on the incredible years he spent filming the Marsh Pride, while his Big Cat Diary co-host Jonathan Scott shares his memories as well.

Also featuring in the documentary are members of the Maasai who talk about living alongside the stunning but dangerous predators, while Michael Kaelo of the Mara Predator Conservation Programme and conservationist Dr Paula Kahumbu, CEO of charity Wildlife Direct, discuss their efforts to protect the lions as the animals' numbers decline.

“I first came to the Mara in 1977,” reveals Jonathan. “[Journalist] Brian Jackman and I wrote a book, The Marsh Lions (opens in new tab), in 1982, after we’d watched the lions for five years. And they used some of the names of the lions from the book in The Lion King, which is wonderful. But since that movie went out in 1994, the lion population has halved. Now, lions everywhere are under threat and the Marsh Pride are a key example.”

Jonathan Scott in a khaki shirt sits at a table outside with his wife Angela in a straw hat with members of the Maasai wearing traditional jewellery. They smile at something they are watching on a laptop.

Jonathan Scott has been living and working alongside both the lions and the Maasai for decades. (Image credit: BBC)

Lion: The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride — which lions feature in the show?

The documentary shares archive footage of a range of lions who have featured on previous shows and have been key members of the pride, including one-time leader Scar, who faced a challenge to his throne from rival males Simba and Blondie. Lioness Bibi also comes under the spotlight with her attempts to protect her precious cubs from other predators as well as incoming males.

“Bibi, who’s probably the focal point of this program, along with Scar, became iconic amongst a whole array of lions who became stars,” says Jonathan. “Bibi lived to 17, which was old for a lion, that’s almost unheard of. She was a remarkable lioness.”

“Yes, she was a special cat. I spent a lot of time with her in Big Cat Diary,” adds Simon. “But every individual played a part. I don't think ‘love’ is too strong for these creatures, because people like myself and Johnny are privileged to be able to spend years alongside them. It's a part of our lives.” 

Lioness Bibi sits on the ground facing the camera

Brave lioness Bibi fought to protect her cubs, but later, tragedy struck... (Image credit: BBC)

Lion: The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride — what difficulties do we see the Marsh Pride deal with?

The film focuses on the issues faced by the Marsh Pride in recent years as their habitat has come increasingly close to that of local Maasai herdsmen. Members of the pride have been killed with spears in retaliation for killing the herdsmen’s livestock. 

“When I first arrived in the Mara, there were relatively few people and they were nomadic, a community would move on. There was conflict but lions and humans co-existed,” says Simon. 

“Over time, the community has built villages and their herds are getting bigger. As a consequence, the lions now rub shoulders with them and they’re all trying to find available resources. The lions are pressured and a big herd of cows is attractive, so there's going to be a flashpoint.” 

But in an even more worrying development, several lions, including Bibi, have tragically lost their lives to poison, which can have far-reaching consequences.

“Poisoning [cattle] carcasses can kill not just the lions, but everything that then eats the lion and everything that eats the carcass,” explains Simon. “So hundreds of vultures, the keystone species that maintains the ecosystem that cleans up the Savannah, have been decimated. That’s tragic and terrifying, because the knock-on can profoundly affect the entire ecological infrastructure.”

Lion: The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride — what is being done to help the lions?

Various means of trying to safeguard the lions’ future are shown in the documentary as Michael Kaelo and his team speak with local communities and schools.

“We are the first line of defence for lions,” explains Michael. “We are trying to work with communities to mitigate human/wildlife conflict, and also to create awareness amongst the young generation. We are supporting communities in putting up better livestock enclosures, which minimises the risk of attacks. And we try to make sure that people connect the dots and see that lions play a critical role in maintaining the ecosystem with which we survive as human beings."

Lion: The Rise and Fall of the Marsh Pride — is there a trailer?

Not as yet, but we will let you know here if one is released.

Caren has been a journalist specializing in TV for almost two decades and is a Senior Features Writer for TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and What’s On TV magazines and she also writes for What to Watch.

Over the years, she has spent many a day in a muddy field or an on-set catering bus chatting to numerous stars on location including the likes of Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Suranne Jones, Jamie Dornan, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi as well as Hollywood actors such as Glenn Close and Kiefer Sutherland.

Caren will happily sit down and watch any kind of telly (well, maybe not sci-fi!), but she particularly loves period dramas like Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Crown and she’s also a big fan of juicy crime thrillers from Line of Duty to Poirot.

In her spare time, Caren enjoys going to the cinema and theatre or curling up with a good book.