Care of the Wildlife
&Beyond is the real deal in conservation, with a proven track record of reversing local extinctions, spearheading innovative research and driving policy through innovation
&Beyond’s conservation successes
Beginning with our groundbreaking conservation achievements during the original restocking of Phinda Private Game Reserve, &Beyond has continued to take part in a number of conservation successes. Our approach to the creation of this reserve, from the underlying conservation issues to its interaction with the community, would prove to be the foundation on which all our subsequent projects were to be built. Since then we have embarked on a variety of pioneering conservation initiatives, both in Africa and beyond, and in line with our strategy of focussed endangered species protection. Some of our most comprehensive conservation victories are described below.
Gaur relocation in India
In February 2011, &Beyond was at the forefront of the groundbreaking translocation of 19 gaur (Indian bison) at Bandhavgarh National Park in India. The project saw the first successful reversal of a local extinction by means of the mass translocation of wild animals in the country. It also laid the foundation for further specialised wildlife relocations in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, including the subsequent movement of another 31 gaur in January 2012 by Indian wildlife authorities.
The gaur project has had substantial benefits, not only for the future of the species but for active wildlife management in India. The success of reversing a local extinction is measured by how well the new population does in its new environment. Despite tiger-inflicted mortalities, the gaur herd has steadily grown over the years, with the birth of calves bringing the total number of animals to more than 70.
A decade of leopard research
As a direct result of the most extensive leopard research ever conducted in the world, the leopard population at &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve is now stable at 30 resident adults. At the onset of the project there were only an estimated 15 to 20 resident cats due to the leopard mortality rates, the majority of which were caused by humans. This increase in population density is the result of the findings and measures implemented as a result of the MunYaWana Leopard Project, a collaboration between &Beyond and Panthera, a USA-based philanthropic association focused on the conservation of the world’s 37 species of wild cats.
Regulations for sustainable leopard trophy hunting and a stricter system of permits for the control of problem animals were set up as a result of the study, resulting in a decrease in annual mortality rates from 40 to a more natural 13%. The success of the project can also be attributed to the introduction of a leopard management programme for cattle farmers and ranchers, providing them with training and support in alternative means of protecting their livestock from predators like leopard. The research project has also studied the illegal persecution of leopards through snaring, poisoning and illegal shooting, as well as the trade in leopard skins. The team has studied the use of these skins within Zulu culture and the Shembe religion and has developed a low-cost fake fur that may alleviate the pressure on wild leopard populations. Phinda has imported 750 of these fake skins to introduce them to church leadership and have recently secured funds from Panthera to import and donate another 4 000 to church followers.
The giants of the bush, elephants are one of Africa’s most iconic and magnificent wild animals. However, when confined in a defined nature reserve, they are also capable of causing major environmental changes should their numbers increase too dramatically. With contained populations, low mortality rates and high growth rates, most game reserves are faced with the challenge of ensuring that elephant numbers do not exceed carrying capacity. At &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve the growth of the elephant population is being managed through a non-invasive method of contraception called immunocontraception.
The contraceptive vaccine, which is not based on steroids and therefore runs no risk of altering the animals’ behaviour, is administered to female elephants three times in the initial year of use, followed by an annual booster shot. The vaccine is remotely delivered through the use of darts shot from vehicles or helicopters, which means that there is no need to handle or sedate the animals, thus eliminating stress to the beasts and reducing the cost of treatment. Extensive research has shown no long-term effect on the elephants’ health or their social behaviour. The contraceptive effects of the vaccine can also be easily reversed by omitting the annual booster shot, with female elephants then regaining their fertility. Moreover, the vaccine is safe for other wildlife and does not contaminate the environment or the drinking water in any way.
At &Beyond Phinda the vaccine is used in conjunction with a stringent elephant management plan. Female elephant are vaccinated only after having had one calf and the object of the programme is not to decrease elephant numbers but to slow their growth to an appropriate level.
The challenge of disease-free buffalo
By 1995, a great deal of the animal reintroduction into &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve had been completed. However, research into the history of the area revealed that this particular region was once home to thousands of free-roaming buffalo. The large and heavy buffalo play an important role in land management too. Because of their size and weight, they break up the soil, stimulating the recycling of nutrients back into the grounds. As Phinda was made up of degraded farmlands where the soils had been depleted, buffalo would be instrumental in improving the carrying capacity of the land. &Beyond decided to take on the challenge.
Buffalo carry diseases that affect cattle, so, in order to protect cattle farmers, their movements are strictly controlled. Legislation at the time did not permit for the establishment of new buffalo populations. However, after six years of negotiation with national veterinary authorities and consultation with local farmers, in 1997 &Beyond was eventually granted permission to introduce buffalo to Phinda. No sooner was this in place than bovine tuberculosis was discovered in the buffalo population at nearby Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, from where we had planned to source our buffalo. Reluctant to give up on our vision for buffalo, we simply pioneered a new protocol to ensure that any animals released onto our land were disease-free. This involved the movement of the animals to Phinda, followed by them being placed in specialised holding pens known as bomas for twelve to eighteen months. During this time, each buffalo underwent a succession of blood tests to ensure that they were TB-free.
At last the momentous day came when the buffalo were released onto the reserve and Phinda finally had its Big Five in 1998. The reserve herd has grown so well that Phinda now has over 300 buffalo, with well over a thousand tuberculosis-free animals relocated to other wildlife areas.
&Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve is renowned for some of the best cheetah sightings in South Africa. This most elegant and graceful of all cats was reintroduced to the land in 1992, when five males and four females were brought in from Namibia. The reintroduction was carefully timed in order to give the cheetah time to settle before lion where brought into the reserve, the first time the two species had been successfully reintroduced into the same area. Since then, the cheetah have not only survived but thrived and Phinda now boasts South Africa’s fourth largest and most important cheetah population. Between 1992 and 2013, the reserve has seen 70 litters being born, with a total of 124 cubs. As a result of this healthy increase in the cheetah population, 53 animals have been relocated to other reserves countrywide in order to boost other populations while keeping Phinda’s cheetah numbers at optimal levels for the land size. The reserve’s cheetah are highly sought after, as they respect electric fences, are aware of lions and are habituated to game viewing vehicles.
The most intensively monitored and researched cheetah in South Africa, the population has been actively monitored since 2008, with additional males brought in to diversify bloodlines.
Conservation has always been a strong driver at all andBeyond lodges and now, with three of &Beyond’s lodges situated on tropical islands, the company has further cemented its position as a supporter of marine conservation, as well as land. The protected marine areas where andBeyond’s lodges are situated covers the East Africa coast from Zanzibar down to Southern Mozambique, allowing the company to extend its influence over hundreds of thousands of square kilometres, as well as the nine million acres of wildlife land that it protects.
Mnemba Island Marine Conservation Area
&Beyond’s only island destination, &Beyond Mnemba Island is known for its coral atoll, which supports a variety of reef fish and other marine life.
In 2005, &Beyond worked with the Zanzibar Department of Fisheries and members of local Zanzibari fishing communities to form the Mnemba Island Marine Conservation Area (MIMCA). In addition to other measures, this protected area officially demarcated specific areas for snorkelling, diving and fishing. The agreement also resulted in the introduction of a daily recreational fee for the use of these areas. The revenue generated by this levy was used to fund local community projects and benefit local fishermen.
One of the main objectives of the establishment of MIMCA was to reduce the incidence of net fishing in the shallow waters off the coral reefs and encourage fishing for fewer and larger species further out, in deeper waters. Several measures were introduced to encourage this practice.
The boundaries of MIMCA have now been extended to include a far larger portion of the Zanzibar coastline.
&Beyond continues to work with local villagers to implement localised and sustainable conservation plans, as well as to implement more effective netting techniques that don’t damage the reefs.
Ader’s duiker at &Beyond Mnemba Island in Zanzibar
The rarest antelope species in Africa, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) estimates that there are between 300 and 600 Ader’s duiker remaining in the wild. In 2005 five of these antelope were introduced to &Beyond Mnemba Island, the ideal location for a breeding project due to having no natural predators and a good supply of food. Between 2005 and 2013, the duiker have tripled their number, with a population of 15 now living on the island.
Notoriously secretive, Mnemba is believed to be one of the only places in the world where these little animals can be spotted in the wild. Working with WCS, &Beyond has collected information on the duikers’ diet and behaviour and we hope that this will allow us to improve the breeding programme, leading to a further increase in the numbers of the species.
Suni at &Beyond Mnemba Island in Zanzibar
The tiny suni antelope were originally brought to &Beyond Mnemba Island from Jozani Forest with the aim of diversifying and increasing the population of these rare little animals. Life has been so good for the suni on Mnemba, where they have no natural predators, that they have been breeding twice, rather than once, every year. With numbers increasing so rapidly, periodical relocations of the species have ensured that there is enough space and food for the suni. Over the years, more than 250 suni have been moved to 13 sites throughout Zanzibar.
Suni numbers remain 'carefully monitored and recently 15 new individuals were introduced onto the island to diversify the gene pool.
Coconut crab at &Beyond Mnemba Island in Zanzibar
The biggest land crab in the world, so little is known about the coconut crab that they do not even have a conservation status with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), being listed as ‘data deficient’. Mnemba Island has a small but stable population of these crabs and recently hosted two researchers from Gothenburg University in Sweden, who conducted a study of the coconut crabs at Mnemba and nearby Chumbe Island. This was the first study of its kind conducted in Africa, as any previous research has taken place in the Asia-Pacific region. The initial output of the research shows evidence of breeding behaviour among the crabs.
Vamizi Island Conservation and Research
Conservation has been a strong driver at &Beyond Vamizi Island even before its six luxury villas were opened, with a Conservation Team present on the island from 2005. Home to one of the world’s great marine archipelagos, this entire area is under threat. Along with the Vamizi conservation team, &Beyond uses our influence and expertise to protect it, focusing on reef conservation and on creating safe migratory routes for the endangered species that travel this coastline, from turtles to humpback whales.
Vamizi is renowned as a breeding site for green turtles, providing guests with the opportunity to see these magnificent creatures laying their eggs or the hatchlings making their first trip to the ocean’s edge. Supported by an on-site conservation team for more than ten years, the careful preservation of the reefs surrounding Vamizi has led to one of the dive sites accessed from the island, Neptune’s Arm, being recognised as one of the top scuba sites in the world.
Follow Les Carlisle, &Beyond's Group Conservation Manager, on his blog, Carlisle on Conservation, to get updates on his latest adventures.
Rhinos Without Borders is an award-winning initiative aimed at safely translocating up to 100 rhinos from South Africa to safe havens in Botswana.