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The Robb Reader: Dereck and Beverly Joubert

Lisa Sweetingham

When Botswana residents Dereck and Beverly Joubert are not traversing continents to promote their latest film, book, or photography exhibition, they live in the bush, tracking the lions and other super predators that are the focus of their Emmy Award–winning documentaries. After 32 years of exploring together, the Jouberts—who are part owners of the African travel company Great Plains Conservation (see "Great Expectations," page 76)—cherish the risks and rewards. "I’ve had 20 scorpion stings, six bouts of malaria, one snake bite, and buffalo scrapes," says Dereck. "And yet, when you look into the eyes of a leopard, there’s a deep connection between this other world of aggression and us. We treasure those moments." Still, the distant hum of a single-engine plane is always a welcome signal to the couple that staples are en route: fresh food, fuel, and mail—including the latest Robb Report—dropped once a month onto a dirt airstrip in the bush. —Lisa Sweetingham

What is the one luxury item you cannot live without in the bush?
Dereck Joubert: Twenty years ago, when we finished a film called Eternal Enemies, Beverly gave me a Rolex watch, a GMT-Master II, and I don’t think I’ve had it off my arm for 20 years. It’s not flashy; I can wear it in the bush or in town. But the luxury for me is not in the brand, but in the fact that it never damn well stops.
Beverly Joubert: Clean water is a luxury for me. And, of course, the cameras I use. My favorite is my Canon EOS-1DS Mark III. And I absolutely adore my Canon 600 mm lens.

What is the best gear for going on safari?
BJ: Our Orvis luggage is great because it’s canvas with a touch of leather. And I always wear a waterproof Akubra hat. Other hats flop around and don’t shield your face from the sun. It’s also really important to layer clothing: cotton T-shirts and long sleeves, a fleece, a vest, and trousers that you can zip off. I wear capri pants. A lot of people think they have to be completely closed up in high boots or Gore-Tex shoes, but you really don’t. You can even wear [Converse] All Stars, because it is so intensely hot.

Where do you like to vacation?
BJ: I love going to Rwanda to see the gorillas, or scuba diving in the Seychelles. El Tamarindo Resort in Mexico is absolutely exquisite, a little bit of wilderness right along the coast.
DJ: We also enjoy Las Ventanas al Paraíso in Mexico. But it’s action that drives us. We recently camped on the east coast of South Africa and went diving with whales and watched the sardine run—the greatest show on Earth!

Some people collect cars or watches, but you collect DNA?
DJ: When we were born, there were about 450,000 lions. Today, that number has dipped below 20,000. Our prediction is that there will be mass extinctions of the big cats and all top predators by 2020. Certainly, we should not be shooting big cats to collect their skins and hang them on walls. We’ve created the Big Cat Initiative with National Geographic to stop the killing of lions, but as a fallback position, we’re collecting DNA samples of lions. They’re being stored in three facilities in the U.S., Europe, and Botswana. We’ve already got 500 samples, and we’re trying to extend that to the thousands in the hopes of safeguarding the species in case of a massive collapse.

What can animals tell us about living well?
DJ: Animals live in the present. We could all learn lessons from them. So many people from the bush go to New York and say, “Oh, I wish I were back in the bush.” People from New York go to Botswana and say, “I wish I had The New York Times.” It’s ridiculous. You’ve got to be in the moment.
BJ: One of the things I’ve noticed with leopards and lions is that after they’ve gone through a traumatic situation, they instantly stop and sleep. It’s a mechanism of recovery. That’s not necessarily something that we as humans do. Humans turn to addictive situations—smoking, drinking, eating, or taking a supplement—to keep going, instead of just being.

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Photo by Dana Allen
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