C4 Global Communications

September 6, 2013

Caroline Graham, C4 Global Communications

PDF version here

How a Botswana safari camp and a biogas scientist
found an abundant energy source
in the middle of Africa

August 29, 2013. Selinda Camp, Botswana — To the trained eye Dr. Katey Walter Anthony looks out of place walking through the tall grass of the African plains. That’s because Dr. Anthony, a leading bio–geochemist and aquatic ecologist, spends much of her time doing research on the frozen tundra of Siberia where she studies what National Geographic referred to as “the dangerous, self perpetuating cycle: thawing permafrost caused by global warming releases methane, which contributes to global warming.”

“We met Katey in Washington at the Explorers symposium a few years ago, and have stayed in touch since. This is exciting work that could change the way we use the planet,” says Dereck Joubert Explorer–in–Residence at National Geographic and CEO of Great Plains Conservation. On this trip Dr. Anthony, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, has chosen a less hostile climate, the award–winning Selinda Camp, a seriously eco–friendly and beautiful safari camp on the banks of the eastern Selinda Spillway in the 320,000 acre Selinda Reserve of northern Botswana. This camp is the creation Great Plains Conservation, recent winners of Best Safari Properties in Africa by the Safari 2013 Awards and featured regularly in Architectural Digest and Condé Nast Traveler. While luxury is abundant, it is brought to safari guests through the use of reclaimed wood, concrete free construction, locally crafted furnishings, organic foods and all powered “off the grid.” Selinda installed biogas converters just after the Jouberts met Dr. Anthony. The goal is to leave no footprint.

Dr. Anthony was in Botswana for a little R&R but also to advise Great Plains Conservation on how to optimize the use of their biogas system, something she has developed with fellow scientist T.H Culhane in part thanks to a NGS/Blackstone Ranch Institute Challenge Grant. The biogas systems used at the Great Plains camps convert methane gases produced by food waste into a fuel source for the kitchens. Dr. Anthony had previously shown that adding mud collected from the bottom of local lakes inside the arctic circle to digestors enhanced biogas production. After working with the amazed kitchen staff and management on how to improve biogas production, Dr. Anthony took a walk to the edge of the Selinda Spillway. In her own words, this is what happened next, “we stirred the mud in the river next to the Selinda boat dock, collected the large gas bubbles that came out of that mud, and lit the gas on fire. Since the gas ignited, we can be sure that the gas contained methane- the main energy constituent of biogas. This demonstrated that there are viable methane–producing microbes living in the mud right outside the lodge. Because these microbes are adapted to the temperature fluctuations experienced in this region, these microbes are a good addition to the [biogas] digestors.”

The next logical question is why does an award–winning safari camp operator have a scientist advising them on their biogas system? It comes down to the true nature of Great Plains Conservation and the couple who run it. Behind the scenes is one of the great “power couples” of conservation, the award–winning filmmakers and National Geographic Explorers, Dereck and Beverly Joubert.

As Dereck Joubert tells it, “these unique safari camps are a way for Great Plains to introduce the beauty and wildlife of Africa to international guests who in turn contribute to the maintenance of a large ecosystem like this and the protection of its wildlife. Tourism makes Botswana’s wild places sustainable. We see ourselves as the hub for conservation, influence and innovation like this discovery of Katey’s. Many of our guests arrive as enthusiasts but leave as ambassadors.” This low volume, high cost model has proved to be an incredibly effective way for Botswana conservation and for Great Plains to raise awareness about conservation.

“When we were first able to secure the land around the camp and put a stop to the trophy hunting on it, wildlife was basically in hiding and completely traumatized. After just one season without hunting the animals settled down and today, seven years later, the difference is unbelievable. Seeing that transformation is a priceless experience and one Great Plains Conservation is trying to replicate across Africa. We’d rather protect it now than be faced with extinctions and the impossibilities of having to try and bring back the last remaining lions or elephants.“

“What is exciting is that Great Plains camps are becoming the meeting places of great minds and interesting people, like Dr. Anthony and TH Culhane, who can leave something behind, some discovery, some intellectual contribution, whether it is a new way to generate power, or a piece of art, poetry, an idea on how to be greener, or something that makes us all better. It’s fun and stimulating to be in the company of experts, no matter what they specialize in. Our doors are open.”

The Great Plains Conservation mission: to find the right formula between conservation, communities and commerce. Great Plains Conservation’s model takes stressed and threatened environments, surrounds them with compassionate protection and intelligent management.

For more information please visit:

Great Plains Conservation: greatplainsconservation.com

Dereck and Beverly Joubert: wildlifefilms.co

Dr. Walther Anthony: INE.UAF.EDU

 Great Plains Conservation
 The Last Lions
 Follow the Jouberts @dereckbeverly

For more information, contact: Caroline Graham, C4 Global Communications
caroline@c4global.com | +1 310.899.2727 | www.c4global.com