Cape Town - National Geographic explorer in residence Dereck Joubert has shared the gory and intimate details of a buffalo charge that nearly claimed the life of fellow explorer and wife Beverly Joubert.
Just over a month after the incident happened on Friday 3 March in the Okavango-Delta in Botswana, the Jouberts shared an intimate account on their Big Cat Conservation Facebook page.
The incident saw Dereck having to coax his wife to consciousness several times due to a wound that came mere inches of a major artery in her neck and almost damaging one eye.
Ironically it all unfolded on World Wildlife Day, the same day the award-winning South African documentary filmmaker Dereck celebrated his birthday.
SEE: Support pours in for NatGeo explorers Dereck and Beverly Joubert after buffalo attack
But it is safe to say the world-renowned photographic and conservation specialist are well on their way to recovery, as they expressed their gratitude for the "sheer volume and sincerity" of well-wishes and support.
"It has been overwhelming but I understand now why we send wishes on these occasions. They are like the building blocks in our healing and work almost intuitively or energetically feeding our very DNA. It’s as if thousands of people have been willing us to recover so hard that it was impossible to let you all down!" writes Dereck Joubert.
"And we have healed."
For Dereck bed rest hasn't really been an option having suffered a broken rib and two cracked ribs as well as a fractured hip. In his post the concern for his wife is overwhelming as he says his injuries "pales in comparison to what Beverly has gone through".
"She has endured and worked through a collapsed lung, 120 sutures, 20 hours of surgery and reconstruction of bones, muscles and nerves.
According to the post Beverly Joubert left the hospital unassisted last week Wednesday 5 April, some 5 weeks after being in intensive care or high care.
“It felt like a classic movie jail break where at any moment we expected someone to rush up and stop us. In fact someone did ask for our release papers at the doors! But we were able to watch the sunset together for the first time in over a month, and breathe fresh air (not piped oxygen) and listen to…nothing!
“No medical machines beeping alarms, no well-meaning nurses breaking down the door to poke or prod her at all hours of the day and night, no wails of nearby victims of terrible injuries.”
‘11 dark hours of torture waiting for medical assistance’
According to the post the buffalo hit Dereck first and then a second later impaled Beverly under her arm - causing major damage and missing a major artery and her eye by mere millimetres.
SEE: SA NatGeo explorer charged by buffalo wants to heal fast because she has rhino to move
After piercing her collar bone, the horn then went further up, through her throat, the back of her mouth and into her cheek, shattering that into 21 pieces, missing the oesophagus, vocal chords, jugular, Carotid artery and carotid sinus passage and stopped a millimetre away from the optic nerve and her eye orbit.
“It is of course a professional looking wound but a few millimetres or seconds in space and time and this note to you all would be have been a sad obituary. It is instead a celebration.”
Dereck describes the ‘torture’ of almost losing his wife during the first 11 hours.
“I fought to stabilise her, (and lost her twice) as we waited for dawn and medical help and we will both hang on to that memory as a strong reminder of the importance of each moment, each breath. “
Her spirit was indecisive twice more through the next few days but we got her back again and again, sometimes with fluids, blood or when I was just talking her back quietly, urgently in those dark hours of the night.
‘Buffalo removed but died after Darting’
The buffalo that caused all the unfortunate drama was in fact wounded itself, according to the post.
Dereck explains that while the couple does not believe in punitive actions against wildlife, he did ask for the buffalo to be moved from the island.
“As it happens when the vets flew in and darted the animal it died. I was not happy but then I was sent images. The buffalo had a wound, ironically almost a mirror image of Beverly’s, from another buffalo into its lung. When I was knocked down, I got up and ran after the buffalo (and Beverly) and landed one kick in its side.
"By chance I kicked near enough to its wound that it burst open and it was possibly that action that turned the buffalo, made him flick Beverly off and release her, and ultimately saved her from a fate I don’t want to contemplate now.”
SEE: Conservation couple holds southern African name high on The Ellen DeGeneres Show
‘Rest, sleep, healthy food, quiet, nature…rewind and start again’
For now the couple intend to take the time they need to rest and heal properly.
"It has been quite a saga but as the wounds heal the sheer impact of your messages, the well wishes, the tears, anger, shock and outpouring of love, prayer in some cases, light, energy, flowers, and in some cases piles of food that have been arriving, have all made us stronger.
"We have started the recovery that hospitals are not really geared up for. Rest, sleep, healthy food, quiet, nature…rewind and start again, rest, sleep..."
But for the Jouberts a life of retirement is just not an option. While they may be licking their wounds, it is clear that the accident has left an indelible impression far deeper than scars.
“We are sharper, more focused and resolute to do what we can to change a version of the future where there are no buffalo, no wildlife, no rhinos to save, no lions.”
“This is what we fight for, what we must collectively focus on, because the wildlife of the world is in a similarly traumatic phase, (in the ICU) and if we don’t perform emergency interventions we will all be writing obituaries about nature.”
“You can anticipate more from us, more fire in our veins for this cause we appear to be have born to.”
A lifetime of exceptional wildlife conservation efforts
The couple, who have received several awards for their wildlife films, have lived in the veld, specifically Botswana, for more than 30 years.
In recent years, they have been resident explorers for National Geographic.
Their coverage of predator and other animal behaviour has resulted in 25 movies, 11 books, six scientific papers and several articles for the National Geographic magazine.
SEE: Great Plains conservation calls for public aid to relocate rhino
The Jouberts work has been, among other things, nominated for eight Emmy Awards, a Peabody- and a World Ecology Award.
A presidential order of merit was recently awarded the Jouberts for their life's work by the Botswana government.
Beverly Joubert is an award winning photographer and several of her photos have appeared in National Geographic.
It is estimated that their documentary film, Eternal Enemies, which deals with the interaction between a pride of lions and a group of hyenas, has been watched by more than a billion people.
Both are involved in conservation projects in Botswana and the Okavango.
The couple established the Big Cats Initiative, a programme for National Geographic.
The programme was established as an emergency action fund to focus the world's attention on big cats and to develop solutions to deal with the reduction in lion numbers over the past 50 years from 450 000 to 20 000 - Click here for more info on their Big Cat Conservation project.
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