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CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV: Kenya's poisoned lions

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Kenya’s poisoned lions and the tears and fury of a big cat guru

Lion: The Rise And Fall Of The Marsh Pride 

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Fake Or Fortune? 

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News that our dogs shed tears of joy when their owners return after a short absence will come as no surprise to pet-loving Mail readers.

My own dog squeals hysterically if I’ve been gone for a couple of hours. She’s a mixed breed, an Attention Seeker crossed with a poodle — a SillyPoo.

But many scientists refuse to concede that other mammals feel human-like emotions, dismissing these claims as ‘anthropomorphism’ . . . the illusion that animals are people, too.

Lion: The Rise And Fall Of The Marsh Pride traced the work of what filmmaker Simon King and other film crews have done for the BBC with this extended family of animals in the Masai Mara nature reserve over 25 years

‘When you see lions rubbing their heads together in greeting, and exchanging scents, the only word I can come up with is “love”’, said Simon King

Filmmaker Simon King has few such doubts. When I interviewed him recently about his life’s work filming lions in Kenya, he told me: ‘When you see lions rubbing their heads together in greeting, and exchanging scents, the only word I can come up with is “love”.

‘And when a lioness takes on a buffalo that is trying to trample her cubs, I believe that’s no different to the instinct that makes a human mother run into traffic to save her child.’  

That makes the poisoning of Simon’s beloved big cats all the more horrific. As he talked, the veteran cameraman choked up with grief and anger.

Lion: The Rise And Fall Of The Marsh Pride (BBC2) traced the work he and other film crews have done for the BBC with this extended family of animals in the Masai Mara nature reserve over 25 years.

The lions were so used to being photographed that local guides referred to them as the Sure Thing pride — because tourists on safari were sure to see them.

One problem for Simon was that the big males would come and lie in the shade of his Land Rover. It’s hard to get a good picture when the lion is stretched out under an axle.

But as the human population in rural Kenya booms, the government is turning a blind eye to farmers who graze cattle in the reserve. The lions can’t resist picking off stray cows — and the herders retaliate by leaving carcases laced with the lethal chemical, carbofuran.

The lions were so used to being photographed that local guides referred to them as the Sure Thing pride — because tourists on safari were sure to see them

With an estimated 20,000 lions left in the African wild, the film’s message could not be more urgent

One week, eight lions were poisoned, and despite desperate efforts by vets, three died. Others have simply disappeared.

Simon told me that other creatures are being wiped out by the poison, too, including birds: ‘When I was growing up in Kenya, it was quite common to look up and see several hundred vultures circling, riding a thermal. That sight has gone.’

It was impossible to watch this documentary without sharing Simon’s sadness and fury. With an estimated 20,000 lions left in the African wild, the film’s message could not be more urgent.

The help of Philip Mould and Fiona Bruce was urgently needed, too, on Fake Or Fortune? (BBC1), as a home extension risked demolishing an artwork.

When they moved into their cottage near Guildford, Ian and his wife Julie nearly allowed their four-year-old to ‘finish colouring in’ the abstract painting on their spare room wall.

But a neighbour, Derek, alerted them to local stories that the mural was painted by British artist Ben Nicholson. This rumour was what Philip called ‘traditional attribution’. But it was complicated by the fact that the chap who used to live there, a friend of Nicholson’s, was himself an amateur artist.

As always in this series, the connoisseurs and restorers displayed fascinating expertise, while the excitement of the owners — eager to see their painting declared a masterpiece — made us care about the outcome.

Derek had no doubts. He just wished his old neighbours were still around to confirm the rumour. As it was, he said, they were ‘up top, listening’.

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