Phinda – meaning ‘the return’ in Zulu – has become the most compelling realisation of the &Beyond dream to create sustainable conservation through responsible tourism.
Our land and wildlife
&Beyond was launched with the creation of Phinda Private Game Reserve in 1991. It was the first private game reserve in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
The original 13,076 hectares (32,311 acres) selected was identified as key conservation land. Wildlife had originally occurred here, but for almost a century this area had been dominated by pineapple, cattle, sisal and game farms, and was severely overgrazed and degraded. The founding vision was to rehabilitate this depleted tract of land, and reintroduce all the large mammal species that had originally lived in this region.
Care of the land, wildlife and people: the business model supporting this ambitious project was based on the principle that by harnessing international capital through low-impact, high-yield tourism, conservation can provide economic viability while also generating meaningful benefits for neighbouring rural communities.
Today, Phinda is not only a flagship property boasting six globally recognised and award-winning luxury safari lodges, but it is also a proven impact case study that is widely regarded as one of the world’s most far-sighted and successful blueprints for international ecotourism.
Through our relationships with the local communities and our close affiliation with the Mun-Ya-Wana Conservancy (a collaboration of wildlife land owners in the surrounding KwaZulu-Natal region), &Beyond Phinda has grown from the original 13,076 hectares (32,311 acres) to 28,622 hectares (70,726 acres) of protected wilderness.
On 05 September 2019, the Mun-Ya-Wana Conservancy was officially gazetted as a protected nature reserve in terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Area Act, 2003.
First wildlife reintroduction milestones
In 1992 and 1993, pioneering reintroduction methods were successfully used to mix Phinda’s first 13 lions sourced from different prides. Now one of South Africa’s most genetically diverse lion populations, it has supported the establishment of other reserve populations in Africa and even reversed a 15–year local extinction in Rwanda.
The reintroduction of Namibian cheetah – 12 in two groups – was carefully planned to give them time to settle before lion were introduced – the first successful reintroduction of these two species into the same area. As one of Southern Africa’s most important populations, it is in high demand to restock or develop new populations.
Phinda was the first private reserve to reintroduce elephants in 1991. The initial two intakes of elephant were 37 orphaned youngsters, with the first four adults arriving from Zimbabwe in 1993. 1994 marked the arrival of a group of 14 from Kruger National Park including a full breeding herd, and the birth of the first calf on Phinda.
21 white rhino – an estimated 35 tons – were relocated in one day from a neighbouring farm in the largest translocation of its time. In 2004, Phinda was selected to start the WWF/Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Black Rhino Range Expansion Project and received 15 black rhino. The project’s first calf was conceived and born on Phinda a year later.
Alongside the restoration of the land and reintroduction of the wildlife, the Phinda story is also about care of the people – the generation of meaningful community benefits through our conservation endeavours.
In those early days, our engagement with the communities was an extended, trust-building process, as their association with conservation authorities in this politically turbulent period had been largely negative. We were also fortunate to have a staff member, Walter Zulu, who was of royal lineage, to guide us through the complexities of the traditional meeting protocols.
Our undertaking was to create job opportunites, provide skills training and support community-led development projects through the establishment of the Rural Investment Fund (1992) – now Africa Foundation, our non-profit community development partner.
Perhaps this part of the Phinda story is best explained by community member, Gladys Zikhali:
“The rural communities bordering Phinda were ordinary people. When Phinda started, for the most part, they did not think that changing a pineapple farm and cattle ranch into a game reserve was a good idea. They believed that there was every chance that the dangerous animals would destroy their farm stock, and perhaps even worse. They never thought that one day they could have better jobs and the opportunity for tertiary education.”
The community were the first to agree with the planned return of the wildlife. Nkosi Simon Gumede, leader of the Makhasa Tribal Authority and the Mduku Community, had this to say:
“The animals were here long before us – we should let them come back.”
Without conservation no wildlife; without wildlife, no community upliftment; without community support, no conservation.
Foundational community-led projects
A primary school, crèche and clinic: three of the very first community-led projects facilitated by Africa Foundation to take shape within the rural communities bordering &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve.
Mnqobokazi Primary School
Situated in the Mnqobokazi Community, Africa Foundation first assisted the school in 1993/1994 with two classrooms. Since then another two classrooms, electricity connection and a vegetable garden with water access and fencing has been provided.
Located within the Mduku Tribal Authority area, the crèche was established in 1999 in collaboration with the Non-Profit Company, Operation Jumpstart. Africa Foundation has funded the build of two classrooms, including ceilings, electrification, tiling and furniture.
A clinic for the Mduku Community was identified as one of the community’s most critical needs when consultation began with the Community Leadership structures in 1993. At that time the community only had access to healthcare through a fortnightly mobile clinic offering limited services and just a single doctor and nurse in attendance to examine hundreds of patients. The nearest hospital with ante-natal and critical care facilities was 70 km (43 mi.) away.
The early structure was funded by Africa Foundation in 1995, as were subsequent expansions:
- 1994 – Construction of Mduku Clinic consisting of a pharmacy, a duty room, three consulting rooms,a dressing room, maternity room, post-natal care room, a kitchen and sluice room and flush ablutions. Staff accommodation: two cottages, each with three bedrooms built, providing housing for four nurses and four security guards
- 1995 – Clinic opens
- 2003 – Computer and printer for clinic administration
- 2006 – Further building renovations
- 2009 – Furniture and equipment for staff accommodation
- 2013 – Women-and-children’s wing added to the clinic (handed over Jan 2014)
- 2017 – Additional nurses’ accommodation with furniture (2 houses)
- 2019 – Additional staff accommodation (2 houses) and car ports for staff parking
- 2020 – Today, Mduku Clinic is a 24-hour primary health care centre, serving over 55,000 community members a year