Oh, serendipity… I was recently staying at the Mara Plains Camp in the Masai Mara, Kenya, at the exact same time as two of my all-time heroes – Dereck and Beverly Joubert. They’re conservation experts, Emmy-winning wildlife doco makers, TED talkers, National Geographic Explorers in Residence, and partners with Great Plains Conservation (as well as each other). Impressive, right? So I cornered Dereck to find out what we need to do to save the lion and the work he’s doing to help rhinos. Here’s what he told me…
Fauno: Lion numbers have plummeted to somewhere around the 20,000 mark. What’s their biggest threat?
Dereck: Ignorance and greed. When I was born there were 450,000 lions. And as you say now there are 20,000, but many people don’t know that, or accept it. However, many know it and just don’t care because they don’t understand what the impact of a world with no lions may be. Others don’t care because they gain from killing lions – hunters are responsible for about 25% of the reduction of lions, but they lobby to keep lion hunting alive because it serves them. Others gain by trading in lion bones, even though using them does absolutely nothing from a medicinal point of view, but some countries allow it. It’s time for us all to be conservationists. Inform yourself and then get behind an organisation that is doing something.
Fauno: You guys were involved in starting up the Maasai Olympics to help save the lion. Can you tell us a bit about how the project works?
Dereck: The credit has to be shared with others, but we have been involved in supporting methods to stop lion killing in the region for some time. Via the Big Cats Initiative we support Predator Compensation where if a cow is killed by a lion, leopard or cheetah, we pay market value for it if the community don’t retaliate and kill the predator. Much of the killing of lions is done by young warriors with steam to blow off, and the Olympics is a way to channel that energy into field and track sports rather than killing lions. It may be working because since it was introduced there has not been a lion killed by this community. At the Great Plains ol Donyo Lodge we have seen a large change in the lion situation, from seeing no lions to a population of over 60. The communities have embraced it and each one we spoke to said they are grateful for the work and benefit that conservation and lions have brought to their lives.
Fauno: Mara Plains Camp is a Great Plains Conservation (GPC) property. What does that mean?
Dereck: GPC is at its core a conservation company that acquires, restores and protects large tracts of African landscape and its wildlife. In many cases we use tourism to fund the conservation we do, and so we operate in a slightly different way to most tourism operations. Our shareholders, for example, don’t take a dividend but we pour 1/3 of our profits into land growth for conservation, 1/3 into community efforts and 1/3 into direct conservation. We have about 500,000ha of conservation land under management and we support about 11,000 people via our programs, leases or directly. Our conservation work at the moment focuses on big cats and rhinos where we are moving 100 rhinos from high poaching regions in South Africa to low poaching regions in Botswana. We also view the travellers who come through our camps as potential ambassadors for conservation, so we aim for a very exclusive high-end market on one hand, and a very engaged and active age group on the other. But all of our energy is focused on how to make conservation and Africa better.
Fauno: What other conservation projects do you guys have on the go right now?
Dereck: With the Rhinos Without Borders campaign we are raising money via crowd funding to save at least 100 rhinos by moving them to Botswana, and protecting them there. We plan to expand this to over 250 if we can raise the money. With a poaching rate in South Africa of one rhino every 7.3 hours we have to be proactive or be in danger of losing the species inside of a decade. Similarly, we are involved in over 60 projects on big cats in over 26 countries. We are also doing a bid on behalf of communities to take over ex hunting concessions and rehabilitate them to the degree where the wildlife is in good shape again and ecotourism can be introduced and jobs created, with all revenues going to the communities.
Fauno: What’s the funniest wildlife encounter you’ve ever had?
Dereck: Oh, I don’t know. Probably watching a leopard we were following and had followed from when she was 8 days old. We sat with her daily and she entertained us as we were filming our National Geographic film Eye of the Leopard. She hated squirrels and chased them all over the forest, but one-day curiosity got the better of her. She was 6 months old and lying asleep next to our vehicle when she spotted two honey badgers running down a path. A 6-month-old leopard is ready to conquer the world so she stalked off and started to chase them. Both honey-badgers swung around and took two steps towards her. She leapt in the air and ran straight back to us and tucked herself under our car, where she waited out the rest of the day in case they stayed lurking around. We spent 4 years with her, and each day she made us laugh a little.
See, told you Dereck’s inspiring. I also spoke to his incredibly talented partner, Beverly, about how to take better wildlife photos – the interview’s coming to faunographic.com soon.