Interview with highly acclaimed filmmaker and conservationist – Dereck Joubert

Iconic Africa had the pleasure of chatting to Dereck Joubert, award-winning filmmaker, conservationist and founder of the incredible initiative: Rhinos Without Borders.

Dereck and Beverly Joubert have been filming, researching, and exploring in Africa for over 25 years. Their 22 films have resulted in five Emmys, a Peabody, the World Ecology Award, and the recent induction into the American Academy of Achievement.

Sixteen months ago, they formed the Rhinos Without Borders initiative which set out to translocate 100 rhinos from South Africa, where poaching is increasing at an alarming rate, to the comparative safety of neighbouring Botswana, renowned for its anti-poaching initiatives. What started as a dream has now become reality with the successful release of the first batch of rhinos in their new home in Botswana.

Duba-60-min-trip-with-Jouberts-and-Lara-Logan_copyright-BJoubert7456*Picture courtesy of Great Plains

Iconic Africa eagerly follows Dereck’s journey and we were lucky enough to discuss the latest outcomes with him. Below are Dereck’s thoughts on a pivotal breakthrough for elephant conservation – China’s recent banning of the ivory trade.

  1. Do you believe that this ban is legitimate as China have made similar promises before?

Dereck “It has been a long process, and it will continue to be a long process, but I do believe that that it is well intentioned. China wants to be a legitimate partner sitting at the table of solutions around wildlife. If we continue to demonize them, it will always be a struggle of blame. In actual fact none of us are blameless and none have been successful in solving the massive crisis we are facing. The West continues to enjoy hunting of ‘big game’ despite us all knowing there is a crisis, and in fact hunt more as species approach endangered status. In the East the demand is so great that any effort to control supply is impossible.

We just gave a talk in China and it was followed by 195 million people! That shows real social will to be a part of the solution. An interview we had on TV there was followed by 200 million people! It said one thing over and over, ‘Stop the demand’ and was a sort of PR number so we pushed for an ivory and rhino ban. We signed a petition for a referendum on ivory and rhino horn weeks before this announcement and it was presented to leadership. So we HAVE to believe in the call to action and that this is a real response. The alternative is to be always cynical, and I don’t want to be one of those people or run one of those NGO’s that has to have an enemy. If China is our friend in this battle for Africa, we stand a better chance of winning it.”

2. How quickly do you think we will feel the benefits of this agreement?

Dereck “An ivory ban leads to many things. At the moment there are hundreds of ivory carving sweat shops in Africa run by the Chinese, and today’s ivory poaching doesn’t have to go to Malaysia or China as raw ivory but can be processed. This closes that down. If we close China as a free trade market for ivory and rhino horn, it puts a lot of pressure on Vietnam and Malaysia and Thailand to follow and those are the trade routes to tackle next. I want the largest country, with the largest population of consumers in the world on my side, as a conservationist, not on the opposite side.”

3. How many elephants would you say have been killed as a result of this industry in the last year?

Dereck “A sort of PR number is 96 a day. But statistically we all think that it is 25,000 to 30,000 a year somewhere around 4 or 5 per hour. It is an extermination fuelled by greed. It seems like pure insanity and ignorance to know this, and still board a private jet from the USA to go on a private safari to kill one, for fun doesn’t it?”

4. Are there any other countries where the Ivory trade is booming that we should worry about?

Dereck “Actually Thailand is the Ivory consumer capitol of the world. Malaysia is also a big consumer.”

5. What is the state of the domestic ivory market today?

Dereck “By domestic you mean Africa? There really isn’t a market for what I call ‘Iconic species consumption’ in Africa. Bush meat is a massive issue but based on poverty and the economic needs and opportunity. Ivory is all about possession, status and greed. Rhino horn is all about ignorance and consumption, misunderstanding and greed of course. But the bottom line is that both of the latter are not African consumables.”

6. What else (in your opinion) needs to happen to help elephant conservation?

Dereck “It’s all about demand. Cut down demand and the trade strangles and supply dies an orphan’s death.”

Questions on Rhino’s Without Borders:

1. What gave you the idea for Rhinos Without Borders?

Dereck “Three species drive African economics in the environmental arena: lions, elephants and rhinos. With a rhino killed every 7.5 hours, we needed to do something positive and proactive. I was sitting under a tree one day, considering the sadness of a conversation I was having about rhinos and how the conservationists I knew just shook their heads when it came to the staggering rhino poaching. I knew we had to move rhinos out of the high poaching zones into protection in Botswana. Others have moved rhinos before in batches of 5 or 6 and even more, quite successfully, so it is a proven technique, but it was time to move a large batch, and 100 sounds and feels more significant than a few dozen or even 99. I then asked industry leaders to partner with us and And Beyond stepped up.”

2. When did you set it up?

Dereck “Basically a year ago is when we got our first rhino donation.”

3. How many rhinos have been relocated to date?

Dereck “We have raised money for the first 35, and moved 10 as a test, and we are ready to move another 25 this year and 65 next.”

4. What are some of the difficulties that the initiative faces?

Dereck “Ah, the number of ‘No’s’ I got in discussions about this project, or the ‘It will never happen’ or ‘rhinos will never go extinct’ or ‘we don’t care about white rhinos only black are endangered’ etc. were almost overwhelming. Thankfully I have had obstacles before and they can be overcome. The largest obstacle frankly is money. We still need to raise $3M to be able to catch, move and protect 100 rhinos.”

5. How many rhinos have been poached in SA in the last year?

Dereck “1215 is the official figure but then there are rhinos being killed that we don’t find. Either way, we are now losing rhinos faster than they can breed.”

6. How is Botswana more advanced with anti-poaching?

Dereck “I think that Botswana has very good anti-poaching, it has military or military styled anti-poaching. It has a new enhanced budget to fight poaching. But it also has only 2 million people low corruption and real political will. Rhinos have a greater probability of success in Botswana than anywhere else.”

7. How can the general public get involved to help this cause?

Dereck “The best way to help is via our website you can donate whatever amount you are comfortable with, from $1 to much more. Follow us on face book and on the Rhinos without Borders site for updates.”

Thank you Dereck for taking the time to talk to us. We wholeheartedly support the work you do and wish you all the best.

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