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Field Notes
Dereck and Beverly Joubert
Photograph by Graham Boynton
Dereck and Beverly Joubert
Interview by Cassandra Franklin-Barbajosa

Documentary filmmakers and National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence, the Jouberts have collaborated on African wildlife projects for 20 years. The key to working well together, says Dereck, is trust. "We live, eat, work, sleep, and bathe within two feet (one meter) of each other for months at a time," he says. "Over the years, I've come to trust Beverly's instincts. I might read her some script lines as I'm working on them and rely on her telling me if I am completely out of the park on an idea. I trust her to say yes as much as no and to do so without ego."

What was your best experience during this assignment?

Going back to the Okavango Delta after three years and finding Legadema again was certainly one of our best experiences in life. We'd developed such a close bond with this cat as a cub and then as a subadult. What a joy it was to discover—near the end of the project—that the bond was still intact. She recognized us immediately, came up to our vehicle, rubbed up against it, and then crawled underneath it to rest. This was something she used to do as an eight-month-old cub. It was a sign that she viewed our vehicle as a safe place and accepted us without fear of danger. We were truly moved.

What was your worst experience during this assignment?

Calling it quits on this assignment was extremely difficult, on an emotional level. We'd developed such enormous affection for the leopards at Mombo, especially Legadema. But at some point we had to call it a day, admit that the active part of the project was over, and return home for editing and finishing. That was a defining moment, and it was very difficult. In fact, we kept extending it day by day by day. Getting on that airplane to leave the bush was like stepping out of a life.

What was the oddest experience you encountered during this assignment?

One day Legadema was in a very inquisitive mood. She'd been watching us from her tree as Dereck worked on his laptop in the Land Rover. As I moved to the back of the car, she suddenly left the tree, came up to the vehicle, and climbed onto my seat. Then, amazingly, she raised a paw, put in on the keyboard of Dereck's computer, and looked him in the face. This was a very touching moment, which seemed to draw us into her consciousness, her world. But we knew this was inappropriate behavior for her, especially if acted out with tourists. To reestablish proper boundaries, we gently encouraged her to leave the vehicle by turning on the heater, which produced a sound similar to the growl of disapproval a mother leopard might make.