Animal magic

Great Plains Conservation

With Great Plains Conservation, safari-goers not only give back to the environment but can learn from it in a positive, life-changing way

When Dereck Joubert describes his model for Great Plains Conservation, the luxury safari and conservation company he runs with his wife Beverly, he likens it to a herd of elephants. “I have structured the company so we have all the ‘values’ of elephants,” he explains. “Empathy, trust, dignity, respect; a sense of past, present and future; language and communication. When you spend time with elephants, you see that unlike a sports team where the weakest link gets left behind the herd of elephants will always take care of the one that is limping. It’s a caring and compassionate society that we can learn so much from.”

The Jouberts were born in South Africa and share a love of nature. They worked as filmmakers, photographers and “explorers at large” for National Geographic before concentrating their efforts on conservation. They identified land in Africa that was at risk of being overrun by human growth and leased it from local communities, creating partnerships to provide essential corridors for wildlife and ensuring biodiversity. To pay for this, they developed a luxury safari experience in Botswana and Kenya, where guests can expect 1,000-square-foot tents, plunge pools, wine cellars, in-room massages and spa treatments, as well as private game drive vehicles, guides, chefs and staff. Camps are constructed from natural and recycled materials and run almost entirely off solar power but deliver supreme comfort to visitors.

“One of our enduring philosophies is, we can only have a meaningful, transformational conversation with guests if we take care of the transactions,” explains Dereck. “So I need to make sure that the wine and linen is as good as or better than at home. We need to make sure our guests have an extraordinary experience with no complaints and niggles, so we can then start that transformational journey.” The aim is to create a means for influential people around the world to leave the camps as ambassadors for biodiversity and sustainability. “If a CEO switches his company to solar energy because of us, we have made a difference to the world – all because we leased some land, served a great glass of wine and had lions roaring in the background.”

One such ambassador is Robert Redford. One day, the actor went with the Jouberts on a safari and chanced upon a leopard sitting in a tree. Redford was impressed but soon wanted to move on; Joubert persuaded him to stay and wait – for three hours. “Eventually his biorhythms settled and then we saw the leopard leap from the tree and catch an impala right in front of us,” recalls Dereck. “Many times subsequently at Sundance, he’d talk about how we had taught him the art of patience, which influenced many decisions he made afterwards in business and in life.”

All profits from the safari business are funnelled into three areas: supporting the local community, improving conservation and expanding the wildlife corridors. Land that was once used for hunting now provides a source of employment for hundreds, while animal repopulation can be managed by moving them from different locations. During the pandemic, the Jouberts raised funds through their Great Plains Foundation to support local rangers, so they could continue to protect the big cats and other iconic beasts of Africa. “When you are in nature, you become more aware of what is around you,” says Dereck. “You can’t underplay the value of the setting and the story that we tell.”