The Wordrobe shines the spotlight on Dereck and Beverly Joubert, a powerhouse team of award-winning filmmakers and conservationists who have made it their life mission to help save the wild places and animals of Africa
Having dedicated their lives to help protect Africa’s creatures and locations, together, Dereck and Beverly Joubert have created, designed and operated sixteen stunning owned and partner safari properties in Kenya, Botswana and Zimbabwe. They are also the founders ofthe company’s charity, The Great Plains Foundation, which strives to preserve and protect landscapes, wildlife, and the communities which rely on them in Africa.
With more than 40 produced films, 12 published books and many scientific papers under their belts, their incredible work knows no creative bounds – they are also the founders of the Big Cats Initiative, Project Ranger and their charity Great Plains Foundation. The Wordrobe spoke with the husband and wife team to find out more about their inspirational work, secret penchant for dark 95% African chocolate and the motivations behind their mission.
What does conservation mean to you?
Conservation is the lifeblood of all humanity, clean air, water, biodiversity, reduced carbon. But it is also the spiritual, rational, traditional and even business compass by which we do or should live our lives. Without good conservation, there are no elephants, no rhinos, no communities, no health or welfare, only the deep and prolonged suffering or humanity and everything in our reach. Not language, or empathy, nor intelligence or design or trust can be truly called uniquely human. But conservation can.
How did you get involved in the industry – could you tell us more about your background?
Dereck came from a more wildlife saturated background with his brother and he would often go off to the bush together. He would come back unshaven dusty and determined to go straight back out. I (Beverly) then got swept up in that life journey that started with exploring, then photography and then conservation.
As a small girl I (Beverly (obviously, Dereck was never a small girl)) was the designated family photographer but decades later when Dereck switched from being a professional photographer to cinematographer he passed on the stills cameras to me. Now if he wants to use a stills camera he has to wrestle it out of my hands! And I (Dereck) started photography also because of someone else, my brother, who was an emerging wildlife artist and suggested that there was only room for one of those in our family, so gave me a camera as a distraction.
One day when we joined the Chobe Lion Research Institute to study lions, I found a Movie camera in an old cabinet, with a manual, loaded it and went out and started filming… and in a stroke, I was a cinematographer! Magic. Images from that first experimental day went into a National Geographic film called Stolen River. It seems we’re born to it, but needed a nudge and some determination.
What is the main inspiration and driving force behind your incredible work
I think we are both inspired by the breathtaking complexity of the beauty of nature and equally by the anger for what is being done to it. So our work is a blend of celebration and advocacy, appreciation and outrage.
Describe your approach to conservation in three words:
Combating ignorance and greed.
What are the main challenges faced by conservationists in Africa in 2021?
Shining a spotlight on anything harsh, people want good news not bad, and yet it’s hard to find the good news in light of a $29 Billion illegal wildlife trafficking industry each year – over $60B since the pandemic in the world of highly organised transnational crime – but we can and have found ways to do that.
Project Ranger does that, turning a bad situation into a story of hope where we have. Managed to raise $1m to give to rangers and anti-poaching teams all round Africa. See more via projectranger.org
Do you have a favourite African dish?
We have many different dishes. We are however both plant-based eaters having abandoned ‘the flesh’ a good few years ago, but for me a wonderful African vegetarian biryani (with rice) really does it, as long as there are no inions or garlic, it’s more a Jain based taste.
Beverly, loves a grapefruit, avocado, salad (she says) but I’d just add that the dark black 95% African chocolate seems to disappear quite quickly when we have it, although I have suspicions I apparently have no science on where it goes exactly (she says.) However, Benjamin in Mara Plains Camp does a killer dish or two (or dozens) that include layers, a bake of nuts, crusted, butternut slices, with spices, rainbow layers of pureed vegetables, in a kind of plant-based garden quiche.
How can high-end hospitality help scale sustainability today?
High-end hospitality is more inclined to have the capacity to invest in solar and water recycling, locally grown fresh food and upcycling than mass tourism that is largely low margin low yield but heavy footprint tourism
You’ve produced an impressive number of films! And we’re only just begun! What inspired your latest, Jade Eyed Leopard?
Any day with big cats is spectacular but recently when working on Jade Eyed Leopard, Toto the main character suddenly tired of chasing warthogs and squirrels and saw our vehicle, wandered over and lay in the shade, and looked up into our eyes, with her jade eyes and won our hearts…again.
She truly inspired us. But it was the ability to grow up with a cat over some years that creates trust and a journey that very few people in the world can experience, so bringing that to an audience was an opportunity and a responsibility to seize.
Do you have a favourite piece of published work, be it a book, film or photograph?
Too many. I read Dante a dozen times before writing the Okavango series. This question however does focus me on when we were doing a leopard film and Beverly’s mother wanted to send us something to read, small, one thing! So I asked for the Complete works of Shakespeare and read it all to Beverly by candlelight ( we had no power!) over the course of the film.
What’s the one thing you can’t travel without?
My wife Beverly. We are never apart. Who would I tango with? We once stopped in a large open area in the bush at sunset and set about a tango as the sun went down, music only in our heads and then returned to camp to make a fire, a vegetable Biryani read Shakespeare and if I was fast enough, a square of dark chocolate.
What’s been the most bloodcurdling moment?
For both of us the recent attack by a buffalo that ambushed us and busted us up quite badly. That would qualify. Between Beverly and me we had 30 broken bones although she sustained 22 of those! She died in my arms twice and I was able to get her back to this side of that daunting line. It was serious and resulted in about 9 months of recovery but it also changed our lives and made us refocus on what is meaningful and how to change the world in a positive way, now, while we can.
Lastly, what’s next on the cards?
Lost of films, and books and moving wildlife out of the jaws of death, to safety, working with governments and role players, giving women and children that are abused second chances by sending them to school via our Great Plains Earth Academy. More films. A scripted series on wildlife crime, funding for rangers, and for women conservationists. Talks, more films, and developing our tourism company with just the finest hand designed and developed safari camps in the world, not many, but just the ones that give us the most pleasure in creating. And more films. Now, where is that dark chocolate?