Harnessing the Power of Sustainable Tourism for Wildlife Preservation


What is the economic value of conservation? How can tourism fuel change and betterment for wildlife and indigenous groups in Africa? These are just a couple of the questions raised in andBeyond’s Wildlife Economy Masterclass.

It’s early morning at Phinda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and the Munywana Conservancy ecology, conservation, and veterinary teams have assembled in the bush. From the moment the young male black rhino sinks to his knees in the tall grass — expertly darted from a helicopter above — every second counts.

Vehicles rush to the scene and the teams spring into action. Quickly and calmly, they check that the sedative has taken hold before shifting the rhino into a comfortable position, soothing his senses with improvised ear plugs and a soft eye bandage, and soaking his skin with cool water. This youngster has never been microchipped, blood-tested, measured, ID-marked, or dehorned before, so there’s much to do.

Amid the flurry comes the clip of the ear-notcher, the whirr of the chainsaw, and the musty scent of horn shavings, especially prominent on a hot day. It’s enough to evoke a knot of emotions. In early 2024, Barbara Creecy, South Africa’s minister of environment, confirmed that the global epicenter of rhino poaching has shifted from Kruger National Park to KwaZulu-Natal, with annual losses up 10% in 2023.

Rhino viewing at Phinda Private Game Reserve

Despite this bleak state of affairs, Phinda, which andBeyond has run since 1991, has been a stronghold for rhinos. As drastic as today’s interventions may seem, they will help protect this youngster from harm. In the beautiful Phinda reserve — a former pineapple plantation, painstakingly rewilded — every rhino helps keep the ecosystem in balance, cementing the land’s value as an ecotourism destination that benefits local communities.

Joss Kent, andBeyond’s charismatic executive chairman and CEO, steps forward to offer the rhino’s warm, dusty shoulders a reassuring touch. Kent is co-hosting a groundbreaking new small-group safari, andBeyond’s WILDeconomy Masterclass, and the conservancy’s teams have welcomed the participants into their midst to observe, learn, and take part in the action. Designed to stimulate critical thinking, andBeyond’s masterclasses consider mankind’s relationship with nature from multiple angles; some that are familiar and others that are challenging and sometimes even divisive.

“With international travelers increasingly concerned about sustainability and the economic development of the destinations they visit, the time is right to create opportunities to explore the broader context of how wildlife can contribute to Africa’s economy alongside other resources such as human capital, oil, and gas,” Kent says. “We’re hoping to reach a greater understanding of how the wild economy can sustainably conserve and protect Africa’s wild places for generations to come.”

As well as allowing privileged access to experts such as vets, researchers, community leaders, and anti-poaching security squads (along with their razor-focused tracker dogs), the Phinda-based masterclass includes conventional activities such as nature drives and e-bike rides. Each outing is framed by structured discussions on some of Africa’s most urgent scientific, cultural, and economic challenges, curated by the African Leadership University School of Wildlife Conservation.

Dr. Sue Snyman, the school’s research director, is on hand to steer the discussions, peppering the conversation with case studies and global statistics. “You’ve heard of the Big Five animals, but we’re here to learn about another Big Five: ecotourism, hunting, ranching, the carbon market, and forest products,” she explains. “Together, they’re worth over US$250 billion a year in Africa.”

Dr. Snyman is supported by two final-year students from ALU, Dennis Nyarko of Ghana and Amie Jobe of The Gambia, both of whom have unique insights to add to the mix. Previously piloted in Kenya and Tanzania, the masterclass concept is the brainchild of Nicole Robinson, andBeyond’s chief marketing officer. “It grew out of us wondering how best to use our wonderful reserves as classrooms and spaces to ask questions,” she notes. “We partnered with ALU to combine what we have to offer — hospitality and interpretive nature guiding — with mind-opening learning.”

It’s quite a leap from offering cool refreshments at just the right moment to catering to guests that have a thirst for knowledge and understanding, but andBeyond’s superb staff are rising to the challenge. Click here to learn more about andBeyond's Wildlife Economy Materclass.

A leader in the sustainable tourism space, andBeyond defines the wildlife economy as utilizing wildlife, plants, and animals (marine and terrestrial), as an economic asset to create value that aligns with conservation objectives and delivers sustainable growth and economic development. The luxury ecotourism lodge and tour operator’s portfolio of 29 luxury lodges and camps are members of Beyond Green (pending inspection). andBeyond’s incredible destinations across Africa, in Chile, and in Bhutan provide an immersive luxury experience, and in addition, bespoke sustainable travel itineraries are available in Africa and Latin America through andBeyond Travel.

This article was submitted by Emma Gregg on behalf of andBeyond.