At &Beyond we feel so honoured to have countlessly dedicated, long-serving employees, some of whom have actually been with the company since our inception 25 years ago. Their stories of unwavering loyalty and selfless hard work, which is often behind-the-scenes and not always ‘seen’ per se, continue to inspire and motivate us all.
Last week, we introduced Uledi Jaku, our quiet and unassuming, yet boldly determined “turtle whisperer” and fully qualified PADI Divemaster. Read his heart-warming story of two decades worth of personal perseverance and triumph here.
Uledi’s ongoing commitment and devotion to marine conservation embody one-third of our core company ethos: Care of the Land, which of course we expand to include the earth’s precious oceans through our Oceans Without Borders initiative.
Today, we celebrate a quartet of “rhino whisperers” who represent the second arm of our three-tiered core company ethos: Care of the Wildlife.
A lifetime dedicated to conserving wildlife
Hired back in 1991 as &Beyond’s second official employee, Les Carlisle recently celebrated his own personal milestone of #25yearsofandBeyond. This enthusiastic, energetic and infectiously positive man with the heart of a lion has dedicated a quarter of a century of his life to making one heck of a meaningful difference to conservation all around the world.
When asked how he’s doing on any particular day, Les will always flash a great big grin and, in a booming voice, will tell you that he’s “disgusting”. It’s his trademark way of letting you know that, in his world, the glass is always half full and he won’t let anything get him down.
With an endless string of worthy accolades and accreditations to his name, as well as an impressive list of conservation firsts, many of which we are proud to say have been accomplished during his time at &Beyond, Les’ lifelong focus has always been the preservation of wildlife.
He has found himself in all sorts of precarious positions, from grabbing a semi-sedated gaur (Indian wild cattle), literally, by the horns to save it from falling into a ditch to flying in a very small aircraft next to a sedated lion that suddenly and very unexpectedly decided to wake up mid-flight. He is afraid of nothing and continues to guide dangerous operations with ease, courage, talent and true professionalism.
Read more about Les Carlisle, our beloved Group Conservation Manager and Rhinos Without Borders hero.
Leading the way for conservation
Another fiercely passionate, quietly dedicated and truly professional conservationist is Simon Naylor, Conservation Manager at &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve.
For someone who, just two days into &Beyond’s Inkwazi ranger training course at Phinda, wondered what on earth he had got himself into, Simon sure has stuck around for a long time; playing an integral part of &Beyond’s conservation and guiding teams for more than 20 years.
Upon completing a degree in nature conservation, Simon joined &Beyond in 1995 as a ranger at &Beyond Phinda. As he sat on the small plane that was officially bringing him back to what would now be his new home, he caught a glimpse of the rare sand forest and open plains of Phinda, as well as the nearby Indian Ocean and Lake St Lucia, and knew in his heart that it was the right decision.
Five years later, the exciting opportunity arose for Simon to take &Beyond’s ranger training programme to East Africa. Thus the &Beyond Mwewe Ranger Training School was born and Simon communicated and instilled the &Beyond way throughout Kenya and Tanzania. After nearly four years, he was due for a change of scenery and moved to Kasane to take charge of &Beyond’s mobile camping expeditions in Botswana.
In 2006, when fate came knocking with an opportunity to return to Phinda, he accepted the position of Conservation Manager without hesitation. For Simon, no two days at work are ever the same and he revels in caring for all aspects of wildlife and habitat management both at Phinda and for the entire Munyawana Conservancy. He has also brought his skills to bear on formulating national conservation strategies for elephant, lion, cheetah and both black and white rhino.
Simon considers himself blessed to have worked in some of Africa’s most beautiful and pristine wilderness areas. Watching the Great Migration cross the Mara River, seeing African wild dogs hunting in the Selous and herds of elephant swimming across the Chobe River, stargazing in the Namib Desert and scuba diving off &Beyond Mnemba Island are all special moments for him.
However, for Simon, nothing compares to Zululand and everything pales in comparison to Phinda. The ultimate highlight in his working life has been playing a role in turning Phinda into a world-class wildlife reserve, both in terms of tourism and conservation.
Simon, we salute you and the enormous contribution you have made and continue to make, to conservation in Africa.
One fierce rhino warrior
Lee-Anne Davis has been a ranger with &Beyond for almost seven years. When she joined the &Beyond Inkwazi Ranger Training School in 2010, she was a good seven to nine years older than her fellow trainees and had already been living abroad working as an event planner at Chateau Marmont on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard. Prior to that, Lee-Anne was a model. Talk about opposite worlds colliding.
Hollywood glitz and glamour aside, to work in the bush and be surrounded by nature was Lee-Anne’s destiny and her homecoming, and subsequent qualification as an &Beyond ranger, was the start of an exciting new chapter that has only just begun.
Lee-Anne’s undeniable passion for wildlife is evident in everything she does. By day, she enthusiastically reveals the beauty of &Beyond Ngala Private Game Reserve to our guests, and during the very little downtime that she actually has, she runs her own non-profit organisation, Our Horn is Not Medicine (OHNM).
Lee-Anne launched OHNM in 2012 and, with the help of her fellow rangers at &Beyond Ngala and generous donations from &Beyond guests and wildlife enthusiasts around the world, she has managed to raise ZAR 2.8 million for rhino conservation. One hundred percent of the proceeds are channelled between two projects close to Lee-Anne’s heart: (1) the Bathawk project and (2) Rhinos Without Borders (an &Beyond and Great Plains Conservation joint initiative).
OHNM has donated much-needed equipment: the actual Bathawk aircraft itself; telemetry sets; handheld radios; rhino collars; rifle-mounted torches for the SANPARKS men that patrol &Beyond Ngala at night; Trimble GPSs; motion-sensor camera traps; and many hours of helicopter fuel.
From printing flyers, posters and vehicle disks and stickers, to designing button badges, safari buffs and stylish t-shirts, Lee-Anne and the &Beyond Ngala rangers are dedicated to the cause. Sadly, they have all personally witnessed the brutality of rhino poaching first-hand and they are all committed to saving this highly endangered species. They continue to hold fundraisers, sell raffle tickets, participate in cycling events to raise funds, produce videos and speak at local schools to educate the next generation.
Lee-Anne’s smile is as big as her heart and her unbridled passion and enthusiasm for Africa’s extraordinary land and its wildlife is nothing short of infectious. She has a real zest for life and her positive energy will always leave you smiling.
Annie, we are so grateful to have you on our team. Not only are you a role model for women as you continue to prove that guiding is no longer a male-dominated world, but you also dedicate your days to helping to save a species on the brink of extinction, and for that, we thank you.
Hope for horns
One of Lee-Anne’s fellow rangers and rhino warriors at &Beyond Ngala Private Game Reserve, Dan Fenton, is also making quite a name for himself in the world of conservation.
The youngest ranger to ever complete our &Beyond Inkwazi Ranger Training course at the ripe age of 21, Dan continues to display leadership, empathy and passion, not only towards his budding career as a guide but also for Africa’s land and the preservation of its wildlife.
Now 23, Dan made his own personal, and very gruelling, commitment to rhino conservation earlier this year when he successfully walked an astounding 30 km every day for 31 days in a row, recreating the arduous 922 km route that some of the Rhinos Without Borders’ translocated rhino were transported along back in 2013.
Starting amidst the poaching hotspots of South Africa, Dan embarked on his epic journey on foot all the way from &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve right up to the Ramatlabama border post in Botswana. Aptly named “Hope for Horns”, Dan’s walk not only served as a remembrance for the countless rhino that have been illegally killed for their horns, but it also raised much-needed awareness and vital funding for the plight of this endangered species.
Dan also stopped in local communities along the way to educate young children about why it is so important for us to protect the rhino and save it from extinction. He was interviewed on several popular radio shows and featured in many newspapers as an up and coming hero that is making a difference to conservation.
Dan was recently nominated by his peers to receive the 2016 &Beyond Bateleur Award for his region and we feel certain that his career with &Beyond has only just begun and that the world can expect great things from Dan.