African conservation has a brand-new ambassador: model Behati Prinsloo, who earlier this year signed up as spokesperson for Save the Rhino Trust Namibia. Prinsloo, who grew up in Namibia, flew back to her homeland in May—leaving her husband, the musician Adam Levine, and their two young daughters behind in L.A.—to witness SRT’s work tracking and monitoring rhinos in the wild. It’s territory familiar to Dereck Joubert, the South African filmmaker and driving force behind pioneering projects like Rhinos Without Borders and the Big Cats Initiative. Together with his wife, Beverly, Joubert invites guests to experience conservation in action at their ever-expanding portfolio of Great Plains Conservation lodges in Botswana, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.
Behati, how did you get involved with Save the Rhino Trust?
BEHATI PRINSLOO: I’m from Namibia, so conservation has always been a passion. Then, when I had my two kids, it all just fell into place. I realized that I could use the platform I’ve made for myself through modeling to do something good.
DERECK JOUBERT: Our work is becoming more and more urgent. We are engaged in a battle for African wildlife—for rhinos in particular, but also for elephants and big cats. And that’s why people like you, Behati, using your background and becoming an ambassador is so important.
What are your earliest memories of being out in the wilderness?
BP: My dad is very adventurous. He would drive me and my mom all over Namibia. We’d go off for days and days, take our own water, gas, everything. I remember feeling so connected to nature—and so vulnerable. My favorite thing would be to sit and watch a water hole at night and see all the different animals come to drink. Rhinos are normally very solitary, but there you’d see two moms with calves meet and interact with each other. It was a powerful experience.
DJ: These species are the heart and soul of Africa. They are what anybody from Africa grew up around. But I’m finding a lot of people, a lot of kids, in particular, divorcing themselves from nature because they’re just not exposed to it anymore.
BH: When I was in Namibia, the Save the Rhino Trust trackers told me that some of their kids have never even seen a rhino. That really got to me.
DJ: Many indigenous groups have names that directly relate to animals—the Ingonyama use the lion as their totem, for instance, and the Tshukudu use the white rhino. Today, many never see their totem animal, or even know what its name means. So protecting wildlife is also about making sure that those threads of connectivity reach down into the community and get passed forward.
BP: It was cool to see how SRT is really trying to get the community involved, and say, “These are our animals, and we have to save them.” Local people, conservation groups, and ambassadors like us all need to band together.
Dereck, how did you become involved in rhino conservation?
DJ: In South Africa, one rhino is poached every 6.3 hours. Rhinos Without Borders was designed to move 100 rhinos out of South Africa and put them into safe havens in Botswana. So far we’ve moved 87, and they’ve had 28 babies. It’s like there are babies popping up everywhere—it’s ridiculous. Beverly and I go to these places and see rhinos and we look at each other and go, “Without us they wouldn’t be here.” So that’s fantastic.
BP: I went tracking with the SRT team in Damaraland, which is an extremely rocky region in central Namibia. That area has been free of poaching for 22 months now, and we think it’s because of the amount of people who are on the ground, basically giving a damn. I felt so proud of my country and how everyone is coming together. There’s still a lot that needs doing, but the trip gave me real hope.
DJ: There’s about $80 billion a year in ecotourism coming into Africa at the moment. That’s all based on the backs of lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards— gorillas, perhaps. The consequences of losing that income are dire. That’s why I would just encourage as many people as possible to come out on a safari.
BH: When people go to Africa for the first time, they see this life force in front of them that is peaceful and beautiful and kind—and they want to get involved.
DJ: Travelers might think that Africa isn’t for young people, but I say, “Bring the kids and have them interact with the stories, with the soil.” They are tomorrow’s influencers, tomorrow’s conservationists.
BH: We need to inspire young people to look up from their phones and take action on conservation and climate change. I want them to know that they can make a difference.