World renowned award winning conservation couple who survived a Buffalo attack have opened up about the terrifying experience.
Dereck and Beverly Joubert are award-winning filmmakers, National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence and wildlife conservationists, who have been filming, researching and exploring in Africa for over 30 years. Their mission is the conservation and understanding of the large predators and other key wildlife species that determine the course of all conservation in Africa.
They are the founders of the Big Cats Initiative with National Geographic, which currently funds 39 grants in 17 countries for the conservation of big cats.
The Jouberts have made 25 films for National Geographic, published 11 books, half a dozen scientific papers, and have written many articles for the National Geographic Magazine.
Beverly Joubert is also an acclaimed photographer and her international exhibitions have further helped to raise awareness for the plight of big cats across the world.
On the 3rd March 2017, the couple found themselves in Botswana’s Okavango Delta face to face with a charging Buffalo.
“The Black Death” or “Widowmaker” is another name given to a charging Buffalo, one of the big five who is widely regarded as a very dangerous animal, as it gores and kills over 200 people every year. Buffaloes are sometimes reported to kill more people in Africa than any other animal.
This particular Buffalo hit Dereck first and then a second later impaled Beverly under her arm.
“The horn ripped through her collar bone and then went further up, through her throat, the back of her mouth and into her cheek, shattering that into 21 pieces. It miraculously missed the oesophagus, vocal chords, jugular, Carotid artery and carotid sinus passage and stopped just a millimetre away from the optic nerve and her eye orbit.”
All of this with just one entry wound… under the arm.
“It is of course a professional looking wound but a few millimetres or seconds in space and time and this note to you all would be have been a sad obituary. It is instead a celebration.”
Dereck spent the rest of the night, alone, in the dark, trying to stabilize his wife.
“The first 11 hours in the dark were probably the most torturous, as I fought to stabilise her, (and lost her twice) as we waited for dawn and medical help. We will both hang on to that memory as a strong reminder of the importance of each moment, each breath.”
Help did eventually arrive and the couple were immediately taken to the nearest hospital.
“Her spirit was indecisive twice more through the next few days but we got her back again and again, sometimes with fluids, blood or when I was just talking her back quietly, urgently in those dark hours of the night.”
Because the couple do not believe in punitive actions against wildlife, Dereck told the team in Duba to dart the buffalo and move it from the island that the camp is on and fit a radio collar but not to kill it.
As it happens when the vets flew in and darted the animal it died. He was not happy but then he saw the images of the animal.
“The buffalo had a wound, ironically almost a mirror image of Beverly’s, from another buffalo into its lung. When I was knocked down, I got up and ran after the buffalo (and Beverly) and landed one kick in its side. By chance I kicked near enough to its wound that it burst open and it was possibly that action that turned the buffalo, made him flick Beverly off and release her, and ultimately saved her from a fate I don’t want to contemplate now.”
5 weeks after the incident, the couple took to social media to update their followers on their progress, they shared their side of their story and spoke about their future in conservation.
“To all who have been so very kind in sending well wishes and support, I want to thank you. The sheer volume and sincerity has been overwhelming but I understand now why we send wishes on these occasions. They are like the building blocks in our healing and work almost intuitively or energetically feeding our very DNA. It’s as if thousands of people have been willing us to recover so hard that it was impossible to let you all down!”
“And we have healed.”
“So, my broken rib and two cracked ribs feel better each day. I am a big fan of painkillers now and take them each dawn and dusk because bedrest has just not been an option while I have been at Beverly’s side. My fractured hip is a little more sore, so sleep has been an optional extra at times, but this all pales in comparison to what Beverly has gone through.”
“She has endured and worked through a collapsed lung, 120 sutures, 20 hours of surgery and reconstruction of bones, muscles and nerves.”
“But all of that has been somewhat miraculously successful, and after nearly 5 weeks in intensive care or high care, I managed to negotiate an early release and we both walked out of the hospital unassisted yesterday.”
“It felt like a classic movie jail break where at any moment we expected someone to rush up and stop us. In fact someone did ask for our release papers at the doors!”
“But we were able to watch the sunset together for the first time in over a month, and breath fresh air (not piped oxygen) and listen to… nothing! No medical machines beeping alarms, no well-meaning nurses breaking down the door to poke or prod her at all hours of the day and night, no wails of nearby victims of terrible injuries.”
“It has been quite a saga but as the wounds heal the sheer impact of your messages, the well wishes, the tears, anger, shock and outpouring of love, prayer in some cases, light, energy, flowers, and in some cases piles of food that have been arriving, have all made us stronger.”
“Last night we slept in our own bed and have started the recovery that hospitals are not really geared up for. Rest, sleep, healthy food, quiet, nature… rewind and start again, rest, sleep etc.”
“There are two reactions to these kinds of accidents: one would be to retire, lick our wounds and consider what we did to deserve this.”
“The other is to step forward and understand that it was an accident that we may have some scars from but we are not victim to, and lean into the next phase, one where we are sharper, more focussed and resolute to do what we can to change a version of the future where there are no buffalo, no wildlife, no rhinos to save, no lions.”
“It is ironic that this happened on World Wildlife Day but it is relevant that this is what we fight for, what we must collectively focus on, because the wildlife of the world is in a similarly traumatic phase, (in the ICU) and if we don’t perform emergency interventions we will all be writing obituaries about nature.”
“You can anticipate more from us, more fire in our veins for this cause we appear to be have born to.”