By NED POTTER
Oct. 5, 2006 — - They met her when she was just a cub -- 8 days old -- and they decided to follow her.
It turned into a three-year relationship between a young leopard and the filmmakers now telling her story.
Beverly and Dereck Joubert, a husband-and-wife team of adventurer-photographers, have spent much of their adult lives in the wilds of Botswana, in southern Africa, documenting the lives of animals in films and articles for National Geographic.
'Light From the Sky'
Their newest special, "Eye of the Leopard," tells the story of a single cat, from infancy to adulthood. The Jouberts nicknamed her Legadema, the local Setswana word for "light from the sky."
"She floats around us, in and around us, and into our heads in many ways," said Dereck. He and his wife are officially listed as "explorers in residence" at the National Geographic Society, although their much of the time their "residence" is a tent in Botswana's Okavango Delta.
"For us, it really is a true paradise," said Beverly on a visit to New York, "but many true paradises can be hell for many people, especially at certain times of the year.
We have hot, dry winds that hit us in October. Sometimes it feels like the earth is burning, and that we're living in the middle of a furnace, and it's difficult to breathe."
They get their food from a bush plane, making deliveries from the nearest town, half an hour away by air. They cook over an open fire. To recharge the batteries for their cameras, they spread out solar panels.
Winning a Leopard's Trust
Most of the day they ride in a truck, looking for picture opportunities, or keeping a distance of 30 to 50 yards from their subject. Slowly and patiently, they said, they won the trust of Legadema.
"She ignores us. You can see her moving through frames without looking up every time the camera rolls," said Dereck. "You get that sense that we're there with her, and accepted by her."
"We remain sharp, and observe," said Beverly, "just so that we can film that one moment, which could be in a split second."
The world they show is often brutal, but sometimes tender as well.
In one sequence, Legadema kills a baboon for food. Then she finds it has a baby -- and protects it.
The Jouberts say they are not just after impressive pictures. They describe themselves as being on a mission to remind people that wild places have value, even if we never visit them.
"I think that if we lose that, we lose that sense within our souls of creativity, of everything being OK," said Dereck. "If we understand that the entire planet is taken up with high-rise buildings, this will be a very, very sad place."
After "Eye of the Leopard" airs on U.S. television (it premieres on the National Geographic Channel on Sunday night, October 8) the Jouberts plan to return to Botswana and say they expect to find Legadema again, just as they have after many interruptions in the past.
"And it would be great," said Beverly, "to film her when she's had her own cubs."