“I think that all journeys are stories and we are all the heroes of our scripts.”
– Dereck Joubert, CEO Great Plains Conservation
Dereck and Beverly Joubert have spent more than 40 years exploring the most wild places of Africa together. They have been described by former Botswana President, Ian Khama, as “true children of Africa”, and have proven to be a formidable force in the conservation arena.
Globally recognized award-winning filmmakers, photographers, conservationists, and National Geographic explorers-in-residence, the Jouberts have a monumental list of accomplishments between them. They have published 12 books, produced 30 films for National Geographic, and written half a dozen scientific papers as well as many articles for National Geographic magazine. Beverly is also an acclaimed photographer for National Geographic, and has had exhibitions displayed around the world. They have received 22 Emmy nominations, 8 Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, a Grand Teton Award, multiple Golden Panda Awards, a World Ecology, and a Presidential Order of Merit awarded by Botswana’s president, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, for their conservation work. They also founded the Big Cats Initiative, together with National Geographic, which currently funds 39 grants in 17 countries for the conservation of big cats.
The Jouberts’ passion for conservation led them to start Great Plains Conservation in 2006 with a mission to find the perfect formula of conservation, communities and commerce that would make a lasting, sustainable difference to the world’s iconic wildlife and wilderness. Great Plains has incredible camps in both Botswana (where the couple are based) and Kenya that offer a classic safari experience blended with conservation initiatives and community projects.
After a near-fatal Cape buffalo attack in their camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta on one fateful night in March 2017, these lifelong conservationists are more passionate than ever! The attack left Dereck with a cracked pelvis and Beverly with severe puncture wounds, more than 20 fractures and breaks, and a third of her blood lost before being stabilized in hospital – 18 hours later and more than 500 miles away.
It also left them bolder, stronger, and more determined than ever to continue their lifelong work protecting and preserving the wild places of the continent they live for.
Dereck joined us around the fire and we had a chat:
Hi Dereck, thanks for joining us! You and Beverly have been working together for over 40 years, exploring the plains of Africa as filmmakers and photographers. Can you tell us how you met and fell in love with Africa and each other?
First of all thank you for inviting us to chat with you. Africa has its own seductive qualities that seep into your soul and it’s worth remembering that all of us come from Africa. It’s in our DNA, So falling in love is easy, there is that natural connection. We met in high school and very shortly after university left to fall in love with Africa and have remained in love. She is a seductive mistress that can shatter you and then with a flutter of an eye, make you fall in love again.
Africa that is.
What has been your most memorable and inspiring travel experience or encounter?
We once found a leopard who was 8 days old and then followed her in the wild for 4 years for a film called Eye of the Leopard. It is memorable because we lived with her constantly but inspiring because she showed us what we needed to do, and that was to form the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative to be her voice… their voice. During the time with her the continent lost 10,000 leopards to legal sanctioned trophy hunting. Someone had to say, enough is enough. She did.
You collectively founded Great Plains in 2006 to fund your important wildlife conservation work. Since then, you have set up properties in Botswana, Kenya and Zimbabwe. If you could spend the rest of your life in one of these iconic destinations, which would it be and why?
Oh… do we have to choose! Ouch. Duba Plains in Botswana. It is where we have a home and I wish we could live there all the time. Mara Nyika in Kenya is a great alternative.
Since the inception of the Great Plains Foundation, what have been some of the highlights of your achievements in conservation and sustainability?
We could just as easily call this foundation, Second Chances, because each project we take on it seems is about giving something, or someone a second chance at a better life. So moving 87 rhinos from which 62 calves have been born is a wonderful success for us. We did this in collaboration with &Beyond so even that impossibility, two operators working together for 5 years is a success. We sent 9 women from the lowest education level to India under a Solar Mammas project to learn solar board technology for 6 month and return to uplift and brighten their villages.
We’ve saved lions and elephants, painted dogs and cheetahs but all of these would be in trouble if we had not immediately jumped in to form Project Range a year and a half ago, to distribute money to rangers to keep them in work, (we raised over $1m and will continue).
What is a distinct memory from your adventures together that can’t help but make you both laugh?
We laugh all the time. It’s my duty! We dance, we joke… we chase one another around, have fun. But one day I walked in to investigate a dead rhino in a mud pool and as I approached I dropped in through the crust of the mud up to my armpits. Beverly thought this was quite funny so went back to collect cameras to photograph the whole thing. But I was sinking quite fast. I couldn’t turn around and in response to my polite “Excuse me once you’re finished I wouldn’t mind a little help here” all I could hear was her camera clicking away. Only when I was up to my chin did she realise this was serious! I have still not forgiven her.
You both experienced a near fatal run-in with a buffalo in 2016 that left Beverly fighting for her life for weeks in ICU. How did this encounter change the both of you as partners, conservationists and humans?
I think anything like that, or even lesser events, either makes you a victim and a nervous person or makes you bolder, stronger, and more determined to do whatever you can to change the world. I held Beverly’s hand as she was dying (she died twice in my arms and twice under medical supervision) and I made pacts with the gods, (a range of them!) that if I could just have her for one more second, one more minute, hour, month I would dedicate everything to her and to making things better (and to remind her of the time she didn’t help me out of the damned mud!).
So we ramped it up. We have initiated more conservation than ever before, we spend time with buffalo, we are more compassionate and caring to everyone around us and we don’t take ourselves or much else around us, except saving this wild Africa we love so much, very seriously.
If you could host three guests – dead or alive – for an evening around the campfire, who would they be and why?
The live ones may be up for more engaging conversation, but probably Jeremy Irons, with whom we have done 16 films now and he is a great intellect, a foil to me and a terrific conversationalist. Two more… Leonardo Di Vinci whose mind I have always admired, inventor and artist, from a time when science and art were not banished to different corners of the brain and society. Malala Yousafzai to engage on societal impressions from a younger (and alive) perspective, on education on girls, on surviving incredible injustices, and gender based abuse and surviving in general.
If this inspired you to experience the wild spaces of Botswana’s Okavango and the vast Masai Mara through the lens of the formidable team at Great Plains, get in touch with a LuxVenture® Designer today and start planning.
Keep an eye out for more conversations and inspiring stories from bold achievers from both in and out of the travel industry with Ker & Downey® Africa’s Fireside Chats. There’s plenty more in store to whet your adventure appetite!