Changing Planet

Remembering Lady Liuwa, the ‘Last Lioness’ of Zambia’s Liuwa Plain

Posted by African Parks

A legendary lioness fondly known as ‘Lady Liuwa’, that lived in Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia, died of natural causes on August 9, 2017, just one day before World Lion Day. African Parks, a conservation NGO which manages national parks and protected areas across Africa, has been managing Liuwa Plain in partnership with the Zambia Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) since 2003.

Lady Liuwa was an icon, and a symbol of survival and resilience. Due to years of poaching and illegal trophy hunting, lions were completely eradicated from Liuwa Plain in the 1990s, except for one lioness – Lady Liuwa. Her presence was first confirmed in 2002 and since then she roamed the plains for years as the sole survivor in the park. With no lions to be found, she looked to humans for companionship. Her extraordinary story of survival, as well as how African Parks helped give her a pride of her own, became one of the most moving wildlife films ever produced.

“Lady Liuwa was a truly exceptional lioness, so much so that it is impossible to do justice to her in words,” said Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks. “Oftentimes she would lie just five meters away from our camp-fire in the middle of the park. When it came time to go to bed, she would follow, walking parallel to the path and then fall asleep in front of one of our tents. In the mornings, we would find her in a tree, just watching but never threatening us. After years of being solitary, and after several reintroductions and careful management, we were finally able to unite her with her own kind. While her passing saddens us all, she leaves behind a legacy of survival in the small but growing pride in Liuwa Plain”.

The efforts to find Lady Liuwa her own family were not without setbacks. After five years of waiting for lions to return to Liuwa from the larger landscape, and after securing the park through improved law enforcement and working with local communities, African Parks reintroduced a male lion in 2008 to join Lady. Sadly, he died during the translocation process. A year later, two more males were reintroduced, both of whom mated with Lady Liuwa but she never produced any cubs, almost certainly because of her infertility. Two young lionesses were then reintroduced in 2011.

However, in 2012 one of the females was killed by a poacher’s snare and the other, Sepo, fled towards the Angolan boundary. In a dramatic rescue mission, Sepo was darted, flown back to the park by helicopter and placed in a boma for safety along with Lady Liuwa to encourage Sepo to bond with Lady, critical for the young lioness’ survival. And this time it worked. After two months, they were released back into the park, and were inseparable from that point forward. Sepo produced her first litter of cubs shortly thereafter.

The growing pride suffered another setback when the two males left the park and entered Angola. One was shot and killed by villagers, but the other made it safely back to Liuwa on his own, where he became the resident male.

African Parks in collaboration with the Zambia Carnivore Programme (ZCP), DNPW and Mushingashi Conservancy reintroduced another male lion in September 2016 to help grow the pride and increase genetic integrity. The newly translocated male and the resident male were placed in a boma for two months to undergo the bonding process and then were successfully released into the park to join with the females. While the males were in the enclosure, Lady Liuwa and Sepo would visit them, sleeping just outside of it at night, and staying just a short distance from it during the day. On November 15th 2016 it was confirmed that Sepo had produced another two new cubs, sired by the resident male. While Lady Liwa could not have cubs of her own, she was seen helping to raise Sepo’s numerous litters over the years, and it was clear that finally Lady Liuwa had a pride of her own.

Lady Liuwa’s exact age is unknown, but it is believed she was 17 years old, an extraordinary feat for a wild lion hunting and surviving on her own, and is a testament to the collaborative protection she was afforded by African Parks, the DNPW, ZCP and the BRE. Her remains along with her VHF collar were found yesterday. There was no sign of human activity and it is believed she died of natural causes.

“It’s incredibly rare for a lion to live to such an old age and to die from natural causes” said Matthew Becker, CEO of ZCP. “Lions are incredibly threatened across their range given the levels of poaching, conflict killing and habitat loss and fragmentation that is occurring across the continent. Her survival and that of her growing pride signifies what can happen when people come together to help protect and restore a species – Lady’s story is one of hope and possibility”.

Also read: Remembering Lady Liuwa, by Rob Reid, African Parks

African Parks is a nonprofit conservation organization that takes on the complete responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments and local communities. With the largest counter-poaching force and the most amount of area under protection for any one NGO in Africa, African Parks manages 11 national parks and protected areas in eight countries covering six and a half million hectares in Malawi, Benin, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Zambia. Visit to learn more. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

  • Carlos Elias Abdala Rocha

    Estou emocionado com a história de luta e força desta espécie tão ameaçada, é um exemplo para nós seres humanos !!!

  • Alix Burnett

    Goodbye Lady Liuwa, you were a remarkable, tenacious, brave and wise lioness of legendary status. You survived against so many odds for so many years and endured on your own. It was wonderful to see that you had the company of family again in the latter part of your life and it was an honour to have known you, even from afar. RIP you magnificent Queen.

  • Shauna Kattler

    My heart is very heavy and extremely sad after hearing the news of Lady’s death. Though expected because of her age, doesn’t make it any easier.

    I became enthralled with Lady Liuwa’s story after seeing Herbert Brauer’s documentary, The Last Lioness. Her story is one of unimaginable resilience, remarkable skill, and incredible survival. What she endured and how she survived on her own for endless years is absolutely extraordinary.

    Her story etched into my heart. I knew one day I just had to see her. My “bucket list” trip came true in November 2016 when my husband and I spent 4 days at Mtamanene Camp in the Liuwa Plain. We saw a tree where Lady scratched herself against frequently when she visited the camp when Herb was there.

    Shortly after we arrived at camp, we went on a sunset drive and we saw her for the first time. She was lying down in a clump of bushes but soon stood up and walked a few feet only to lie down again. She was much thinner than I’d seen in her pictures and the bridge on her nose black, from where no hair grew, battlefield scars of what she’d endured and overcome in the past. Her trusty female companion, Sepo, stayed in the bushes and to our utter surprise, we spotted 2 little cubs who were approximately 4-6 weeks old. We had no idea we were going to see any cubs so this was such a blessing! They were so tiny their eyes were still blue. We watched in awe as they wobbled around, climbing and nursing on Sepo. Sepo was very attentive and would gently nudge and lick them as they walked past her. They were very curious and soon ventured out of the bushes where we were better able to see them. Their little “chirps” let momma know where they were as she kept a watchful eye. I was in heaven. It was a magical moment.

    We were fortunate to see Lady again, but that was the last time we saw Sepo. Our guide said she was trying to keep the cubs hidden and moved them at night. We came across Lady after a downpour about 2 days later. She was lying in the tall grass, her coat dark from the rain. She was finishing chewing the remains of a carcass and stood up and walked a few feet past our vehicle to go to a pond to drink. She drank and drank for at least 10 minutes. Our guide said in all his years he’d never seen a lion drink that long. After she finished, she stood there and called out for Sepo in a low bellowing chuff.

    I cannot express how honored and privileged it was for me to see Lady Liuwa and visit Liuwa Plain. I only hope Zambia Carnivore Program and African Parks can provide a monument to honor her in some way. She was THE only reason I went to Liuwa. If it wasn’t for her story which Herbert so beautifully filmed, I would never have gone nor would I have felt compelled to, but I am so thankful I did. My only regret is that I wish I would have gone sooner.

    If there is any consolation, it is that she went quietly on her own and she didn’t have to endure any suffering as she had so many years before during her solitary life.

    Because of the Last Lioness, her story will live on forever. She is a LEGEND. Live on Lady Liuwa. Live on.
    You will forever be remembered and missed.

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