Co-Pilot Spotlight: Dereck Joubert

Posted on June 4, 2017 by Nikki Pepper


The Co-Pilot Spotlight navigates into the minds and experiences of travel professionals and professional travelers. Join us in the cockpit with Dereck Joubert, a man of many hats, and Co-Founder of several endeavors along with his wife Beverly.

OTPYM: What is it exactly that you do? 

DERECK: I have a few roles: a National Geographic Explorer in Residence, filmmaker, conservationist. I am Co-Founder and Chair of the Big Cats Initiative and Chairman and CEO of Great Plains Conservation.  Phew, I suddenly feel tired!

Where was the first place you ever traveled?

I was born in South Africa so I’ve travelled extensively through South Africa. My first cross border insurgency was into Mozambique.

Where is the last place you visited?

I took 73 flights last year! The last place was Washington D.C. and NYC to release our latest film Soul of the Cat on Nat Geo WILD.

Where is next for you?

It’s a bit tricky. We are away from home right now recovering from an attack by a buffalo, so our wings have been clipped for a while. Beverly just spent 4 weeks in the ICU at the best trauma unit in Africa but we are steadily remerging and back on our feet. So…South Africa is our next venture out where we are selecting more rhinos to move to the wild. Our project is called Rhinos without Borders and through this we just moved another 12 rhino (to bring our total to 32 rhinos so far) and we may look at another 40 this week. This month we are sourcing rhinos from different locations so we can have genetic diversity in the herds we are establishing in Botswana.  We are moving 100 rhinos to safety so we are getting close to our goal.  But we are doing it gingerly right now because between us we have about 25 broken bones and we want to make sure we never get admitted to hospital again.

Why do you choose to travel?

Business and conservation. We give talks around the world, last year was China, India, USA ,Kenya, Botswana, SA, UK. All involve conservation efforts.

How has travel helped to define your world view?

A good example was a trip to China where prior to that I had relegated that entire nation to being wildlife and conservation criminals but being there, and the fact that our talk was picked up by 195 million Chinese people in 30 minutes indicated that I was totally wrong. The Chinese nation is a powerful force and that can be for good as well. We need to reach out more and understand, and find the common ground based on trust, dignity, empathy and respect. Travelling teaches us all this.

Where is the favorite place you’ve traveled and why?

Too many. We have just opened what has to be one of the most spectacular camp in Africa at Duba Plains (we own it so that is full disclosure,) but Duba in the Okavango is one of the most amazing places on the planet for wildlife. Mara Plains in Kenya is another. Staring into the amber eyes of a tiger in Tadoba in India is another… the truth is there is no one place but every place that I am in at the moment is the best.

When on your travels have you felt the most out of your comfort zone?

Trekking into Northern side of the Himalayas to try to find snow leopards with sherpas who could not communicate a word in English and with such totally different fitness levels, values, cultural views of nature.

Who is the most interesting person you have ever met while traveling and why?

Siberia. Sitting in a snow-storm opposite a man in an airport who eventually leaned over and asked about National Geographic (I had a torn badge on). Ended up he was the first person to ever walk in space. We had a long conversation and stayed in touch until he died years later.

What is the most adventurous food you have tried while on the road?

Turkmenistan, sheep’s eyeballs, and cheek flesh. Just like in an Indiana Jones movie I couldn’t turn it down. We were lost in a snow storm. By midnight we stumbled into a village half frozen and the household insisted on feeding us. Some bread would have been fine but they rallied and slaughtered a sheep and presented this fatty congealed sheep’s head.

What’s the next trend in travel?

Clearly with the information age, conscientious travel is important but I find that people want to do something that is uniquely theirs and that will change them forever. I think that it’s about being an adventurer, explorer, or traveler not a tourist.  If it is canned, cookie cutter or what you neighbor just did, most people don’t want to do it. We want something that is a once in a lifetime experience.

Dereck and his wife, Beverly, on safari.