Still from Joubert film
Still from Joubert film
Still from Joubert film
Beverly Joubert: Screen Icon
Beverly Joubert is a screen icon. The films that she creates, alongside her husband Derek are legendary and their footage is groundbreaking (from a hypnotically horrifying nocturnal scene of a group of lions attacking an elephant to evidence that hyenas have moved from scavengers to predators). They have been making multi-Emmy winning films of Africa’s top predators for over 25 years and are National Geographic Explorers in Residence. The film Eternal Enemies (documenting the competition between lions and hyenas) has been seen by billions of people and is part of the curriculum in some countries. Beverly is also a preeminent photographer and I met her at the London National Geographic store to talk about her work, her conservation tourism project and why we are running out of time to save Africa’s big cats.
What’s remarkable is that, when the Joubert’s started their first big adventure into Africa’s wilderness, neither was a trained photographer. Beverly smiles: “We started with nothing - purely with passion”. The couple met at high school in Johannesburg and started dating after Derek’s military service. They picked up and refined their skills as they spent more time observing the wildlife of Botswana’s Okavango Delta. To learn film making “we joined film companies as interns during the rainy season”.
Their films are carefully stitched patchworks shaping hundreds of hours of footage into compelling stories like that of Legadema the baby Leopard and her mother in The eye of the Leopard and have pioneered perception change about animal behaviour as they pushed technical boundaries: “nobody had done nocturnal work before”.
The root of the Joubert’s work is conservation. The statistics are bleak “In 50 years lions have dropped in number from 450,000 to around 20,000. Leopards have gone from 700,000 to about 50,000 and there are fewer than 12,000 wild cheetah.” The possibility looms that there will be no lions left in Africa by 2020. As they were filming the couple watched hunting taking place and saw that the system of small areas of protected land being hemmed in by non protected land meant that “nobody cared for the bigger picture”. It became clear to Beverly and Derek that “private sector funding was needed to protect areas” and this couldn’t be achieved by “one organisation. Communities need to be part of the system” “Governments can only do so much”. This understanding evolved into Great Plains Conservation – a “low volume, high cost” tourism initiative that has “put in intimate and luxury lodges that are low foot print”.
Great Plains works to create buffer zones around the edges of protected land. “We are moving away from the biogeographical approach and allowing for corridors”. It’s scalable enabling the creation of larger reserves. The project “has a focus on communities - making people shareholders" and helping them “to see and appreciate what's on their doorstep". "People are now the ambassadors for Great Plains". Big Cats caring for Communities, Communities caring for Big Cats is a project that produced material for local communities providing “better knowledge, entertainment and books to help protect them from diseases.”
Beverly explains that Botswana is progressive in terms of conservation. “The government has a wonderful policy of protecting wilderness. The current president is a true custodian. All national parks are protected and he is into creating concession areas. 19% of Botswana is National park and between 33 and 37% is wilderness area. In comparison globally 12 to 17% is Protected National Park. They understand that wildlife is a great resource”.
Climate Change and hunting are devastating Big Cat numbers but focusing people’s attention is problematic in a time when “there are so many disasters...earthquakes...human disasters. People go on safaris and see wildlife not realising that these are only tiny islands and that villages are slowly coming towards the area” and Beverly also acknowledges that as filmmakers they have contributed to the problem because the editing process can enhance an impression of abundance. Conserving the Lions and Leopards isn’t just a romantic whim “Top predators keep the environment in balance. If you take them out, the system will collapse. Yellowstone took wolves out and there was major soil erosion from deer eating Aspen Trees”. “Predators gently move migrations on” which retains balance. For example “Buffalo have parasites in their dung” and the migration prevents the system from becoming “completely diseased”. Beverly hopes that the “exhibition is a platform” and that “through art people will be moved. Lakadema has touched people and made them think - wait a minute they are not just animals out there”
- www.wildlifeconservationfilms.com The Joubert’s latest film The Last Lions (along withother films Living with Big Cats and Big Cat Odyssey) is out on DVD now.
Images courtesy of Beverly Joubert.