Sitting down for a one-on-one, video call with Dereck and Beverly Joubert, I’m not sure what to expect.
This iconic couple has for the better part of my travel journalism career been championing the cause of Africa’s wildlife and its wild spaces as National Geographic explorers in residence.
The last time I featured these stalwarts in showcasing Africa's wildlife on Traveller24, they were recovering from a serious run-in with a buffalo. WATCH THE VIDEO INTERVIEW ABOVE.
At the time Beverly had about 21 bones smashed, with her face taking a full-impact blow - but the most severe part of it all was that the horn of the beast had come within a few inches of a major artery, after collapsing her lung and piercing her through her neck.
Dereck did not escape unharmed either.
He was the first one hit by the buffalo, which cracked his rib cage and broke his pelvis. Yet he somehow still mustered the ability to save Beverly who was impaled, as the buffalo ran off with her.
READ: SA NatGeo explorers Dereck and Beverly Joubert share intimate details of near-fatal buffalo charge
It resulted in an 8-month recovery period overall, just a year into the filming of the now completed Okavango: River of Dreams.
As their faces spring to life on my laptop screen, it’s remarkable how good they both look. A real testament to spending time in nature I suppose, but also a host of good doctors and surgeons I’m told.
In fact, as the conversation unfolds, it becomes clear that the accident that brought Beverly within inches of her life is something they’ve not only embraced but have fully incorporated into the creative process of the four-year-long filming project. The new series by National Geographic set to air on South African screens on National Geographic Wild in September is the reason for the interview.
This three-part series, set to air on 5, 6 & 7 September at 18:00 on National Geographic Wild, focuses on the Okavango in Southern Africa, its landscapes and wildlife. WATCH THE TRAILER BELOW
Dereck admits they could have easily put together a 52-part series while filming what he says was "a quest to reveal the real Okavango".
He then goes on to share how one of the core characters of the first episode, a lioness named Fekeetsa - meaning overcomes challenges, became a talisman for Beverly through the recovery process.
Turns out Fekeetsa also had a run in with a buffalo, creating “deep parallels with their relationship with the story”.
He says it’s incredible how she just "pushed through the pain... and she started to use her handicap and survived. Overcoming challenges just like Beverly did, making it especially close to our hearts".
Overall what they’ve since brought to life as a result is loosely based on Dante’s Divine Comedy – playing very heavily on the journey from one level in Paradise to Limbo and finally the Inferno - encapsulating the Divine Journey through the three parts of Botswana’s unique river – the only river in the world which ends inland, disappearing into a desert.
Dereck and Beverly describe it as a "multi-faceted tapestry, with so many aspects to appreciate". In fact they’re both of the opinion that the "biggest gift any visitor can give themselves is time. Time to explore".
WATCH: Iconic conservation duo talk wildlife at Indaba
And they should know having spent more than +30 years exploring its wild parts.
So what can you expect from 'paradise'?
"It is always green and an entry into understanding the Okavango. It’s not where all the wildlife is ironically, because in the big deep reed beds there is no grazing," says Dereck.
"Further along in the floodplains you really get to see the big wildlife."
And then finally all the harshness is seen in the desert.
"On the fringes of the Salt Pans is sometimes where all the magic happens," says Beverly. "But one thing you cannot do is judge the Okavango."
They're all too aware that this river can be harsh, as can be some of the scenes. But they emphasise the need to "take time for discovery".
"If you really want to understand the Okavango you need to choose three big destinations within that story," suggests Dereck, "If you plan on visiting for 8 days take 12."
Beverly agrees saying, "Let the Okavango speak to you, and don't only see it from the road or the river. See it by air as well, it is a tapestry of nature and you need to appreciate every aspect."
SEE:Conservation couple holds southern African name high on The Ellen DeGeneres Show
As with the parallels they also encourage their audience to really connect with the Okavango. Beverly emphasises that within the influence of the series the river itself is one of the key characters of the journey as "water is key to life".
"Consider the symbolism of the human body with its various limbs, this river is really the heartbeat – without the river, there is nothing there."
"We dig quite deep into the personal journey – this is not just a look at the three or four faces of the Okavango. But also about being unafraid to look at the darker side of any journey that any of us would take and its profound meaning."
SEE: TL;DR landmark UN Climate Change report: Close to 1 million species at risk
Having always championed the need for conservation and protection of Africa’s wildlife heritage the couple are deeply concerned with the recent changes in laws and policies around Botswana's wildlife - especially elephant and leopard hunting.
“There will always be a debate around what role nature plays in our lives. We’re going into a phase of use it and make it pay for itself. We are deeply concerned about that philosophy, especially when you consider that only 4% of the biomass across the earth is reserved for wildlife.
“We have to be very careful with how we use that last 4%,” says Dereck.
In light of the landmark UN report where more than 1-million species are already extinct, Beverly says "hunting really is not a form of conservation".
“There are many alternatives, in how to be successful and work closely with communities and for communities to benefit way more through eco-tourism than any other mechanism."
“Our ambition with this film is to present a picture of the real intrinsic value of a place like the Okavango. Not in how we can use it, but in the deep spiritual value of it - not just to us as filmmakers, but to the communities, people from around the world who derived their names from animal totems, from communities that gain revenue and support form eco-tourism.
"There are deep spiritual, rational and emotional reasons to preserve a place like the Okavango – and we wanted to celebrate that."
To find out more about how you can get involved with supporting the Joubert's conservation efforts visit the Great Plains Conservation Rhinos without Borders and don't miss Okavango: River of Dreams on National Geographic Wild from 5, 6, & 7 September at 18:00 (3 part series).
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