It was a star studded affair in Kasane last week, 15-17 March, as the who’s who of the conservation industry gathered for the 2018 Giants Club Summit. From millionaire philanthropists to Hollywood stars, and producers of some of the world famous conservation documentaries. And the subject? Saving the wildlife especially theelephant. Among those were Steve Boyse, a conservationist and National Geographic explorer who has dedicated his life to preserving Africa’s wildlife and its habitat. Boyse, who has led teamson various expeditions along the Okavango and Cuito Rivers, gave an eye opening presentation of the importance ofpreserving the entire Okavango catchment. The 10,000-square-mile wetland basin sprawls across the borders of Botswana, Namibia and Angola and is home to the largest remaining population of elephants.
It was partly through his research and advocacy that UNESCO declared the Okavango Delta a World Heritage Site, consequently protecting the delta from possible agricultural and any other activities that may interfere with the natural habitat. The delta however, Boyes has said, remains at risk for as long as the rivers that feed into it are not protected. The CuitoRiver, one of the channels that feed into the delta has faced threats of proposed dams and agricultural activities from Angola. Boyse hopes the Angolans can see the value of tourism as a crucial component of economic diversification.
Boyse is also the Scientific Director of the Wild Bird Trust. His work takes him all over Africa, studying wildlife rehabilitation and biodiversity, fighting the wild-caught bird trade, and planting thousands of trees in forest restoration projects.Dereck and Beverly Joubert are award winning film makers and conservationists. They are best known for their award winning documentaries such as The Last Lions, the story about a lioness facing an arduous battle to preserve her life and that of her three cubs in the Okavango Delta.The Jouberts have been conducting their research and filming wildlife in Africa especially in Botswana for more than three decades. They have made tens of films for the National Geographic channel, written for the National Geographic Magazine,published books, and written scientific papers. “The secret behind story telling when it comes to wild animals is to allow the animals to tell their own story and let their stories speak to you,” Beverly told the audience in Kasane last week. She said through their work they have been able to reach millions of people. “Dereck and I went to Beijing, China where we had discussions about ‘The Battle for Africa’s Wildlife’ and addressed issues of ivory trade.” She said the discussion was caught on social media and reached over 195 million viewers. Beverly also made reference to the 2011 release of ‘The Last Lions’ saying by giving the feature documentary a cinematic release allowed the film to reach over 95 million audiences .She almost lost her life in 2017 when the couple were attacked by a buffalo while walking back to their camp site in the Okavango. Dereck suffered some bone fractures but Beverly was the more seriously injured, with the buffalo’shorn causing life threatening injuries.
The couple’s latest project is a rhino conservation project called ‘Rhinos Without Borders’. An initiative in partnership with Great Plains Conservation and And Beyond which aims to move 100 rhinos from South Africa to Botswana toprotect them from poachers.
The other speaker at the summit was Laura Turner Seydel, the daughter of American media mogul and philanthropist who founded the first 24 hour cable news channel, Cable News Network (CNN). Laura addressed the Giants Club Summit in Kasane on behalf of Turner’s foundation, Captain Planet Foundation.
“My dad’s first interest in concervation was triggered by the plight of the American bison (buffalo) which at one point had a population of over 50 million,” she told the audience. “The bison were however eradicated by white settlers and the government at the time in order to control the Native Americans who were dependent on the bison for sustenance,” Laura said. She said Turner was so touched by the plight of the bison at a young age that as soon as he bought his first piece of land he also bought three bison. As the herd increased numbers Turner needed to acquire more land and soon he decided to also provide habitat for other endangered species as well.
“Today, I have the honor of acting as Chairperson of the Captain Planet Foundation which supports high-quality, hands-on environmental stewardship projects that have enabled more than one million youth across the US and around the world to make significant environmental improvements to their schools or communities.”
Space for Giants founder Max Graham said while there have been some major gains made against poaching a lot still needs to be done to save elephants.“To hear that elephants in the region we thought was safest are actually under new and growing threats, is a huge worry,” he said, adding, “I’m grateful that the Giants Club has come together and done what it does best: galvanise new money for quick and effective action.”
Also present at the summit was Hollywood actress and daughter to Oscar Award winning Meryl Streep, Mary Mamie Gummer, also known for her role in ‘The Good Wife’.
The Giants Club unites visionary leaders of African elephant-range states, enlightened heads of major businesses operating in Africa, global philanthropists, key influencers and leading wildlife protection experts. Together, these individuals provide the very highest levels of political action, financial investment, global influence and technical capacity that are needed to protect Africa’s remaining elephant populations from poaching, habitat loss, and human-elephant conflict. The Giants Club’s goal is to protect half of Africa’s elephants by 2020. The four countries represented in the Club’s founding membership are together home to half of Africa’s savannah elephants and half of its forest elephants.