By National Geographic Education Staff
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Dereck and Beverly are environmentalists and documentary filmmakers who focus on the big cats native to their home in Botswana, and throughout Africa. They helped the National Geographic Society establish the Big Cats Initiative, which provides information and solutions to stop the number of big cats, especially lions, from dwindling.
Beverly and Dereck, who met when they were teenagers, always had an interest in the outdoors.
Dereck and his family often spent holidays in nature preserves. “It’s part of my DNA,” he says.
Beverly remembers how she and her twin brother explored the grasslands surrounding their childhood home in South Africa. She was awed by the “vast, open veldt.”
MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK
Beverly: “Being somewhere in the field and not knowing what will happen . . . capturing a unique scene or behavior . . . discovering something new for science.”
Dereck: “Spending time with individual animals, such as a leopard, and getting to know their personality and character.”
MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK
Beverly and Dereck answer in unison: “Leaving the bush, finishing a project.”
Beverly says the hours required can be grueling. “We work seven days a week, 18-19 hours a day in extreme climates. The heat, dust, rain, and all the bugs can be emotionally exhausting, as well as physically.”
Dereck adds, “Because we work with predators, we deal with death all the time.”
HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?
Dereck defines geography as an active process: “Going out into the edges of society, gathering information, and bringing it back to the center. . . . It can be a journey in the mind. Going to the edge of the unknown.
“Geography is looking at the Earth, and seeing the lines on its face.”
Beverly and Dereck visit schools and museums all over the world, and they have noticed that students in developed countries are not as well-prepared in geography as students in less-developed countries.
“Kids in these far-flung places have a better sense of geography,” Dereck says. “They have to actively find themselves on a map. ‘Where am I?’”
Beverly encourages students to “get a visceral connection to a place”—not just looking for places on a map, but understanding the climate, biodiversity, and culture of a specific location.
SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . WILDLIFE FILMMAKER
Dereck encourages students to study diverse topics in biology—Earth science, zoology, ecology—instead of focusing on the latest camera or filmmaking technology. “Technology changes! It’s so much more important to understand the natural world,” he says.
Beverly says conservationists “need to be completely 'in the zone'.” Turning off personal electronic devices is a great way to get closer to the natural world, she says. It allows people to always be watching and observing nature, instead of “listening for the beep-beep” of a smartphone.
Dereck is more succinct about the demands of life in the field: “Toughen up!”
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry behavior Noun
anything an organism does involving action or response to stimulation.
big cat Noun
large predators, including tigers, lions, jaguars, and leopards.
Big Cats Initiative Noun
National Geographic Society program that supports on-the-ground conservation projects, education, economic incentive efforts, and a global public-awareness campaign to protect big cats and their habitats.
all the different kinds of living organisms within a given area.
Encyclopedic Entry: biodiversity biology Noun
study of living things.
bush adjective, noun
open, undeveloped, or sparsely populated area.
all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.
Encyclopedic Entry: climate conservationist Noun
person who works to preserve natural habitats.
learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.
varied or having many different types.
documentary filmmaker Noun
person who makes non-fiction movies or television programs.
to overpower or control.
tiny, dry particles of material solid enough for wind to carry.
Encyclopedic Entry: dust dwindle Verb
our planet, the third from the Sun. The Earth is the only place in the known universe that supports life.
Encyclopedic Entry: Earth Earth science Noun
branches of study that focus on the origin and structure of the Earth. Also called geoscience.
branch of biology that studies the relationship between living organisms and their environment.
Encyclopedic Entry: ecology encourage Verb
to inspire or support a person or idea.
person who studies or works to protect the Earth's ecosystems.
to form or officially organize.
spread over a great distance.
study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.
Encyclopedic Entry: geography geology Noun
study of the physical history of the Earth, its composition, its structure, and the processes that form and change it.
ecosystem with large, flat areas of grasses.
position of a particular point on the surface of the Earth.
Encyclopedic Entry: location map Noun
symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface.
Encyclopedic Entry: map museum Noun
space where valuable works of art, history, or science are kept for public view.
National Geographic Society Noun
(1888) organization whose mission is "Inspiring people to care about the planet."
animal that hunts other animals for food.
to maintain and keep safe from damage.
Encyclopedic Entry: rain smartphone Noun
mobile telephone with additional features, such as a web browser or music playing device.
having few words.
the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.
one of a kind.
huge and spread out.
rural grasslands of southern Africa.
having to do with deep, inward emotions or instinct.
the study of animals.