TOGETHER, WE STAND: ANDBEYOND AND GREAT PLAINS JOIN FORCES TO SAVE THE RHINOS

It is a rare thing to see two competitors put aside their differences and work towards a common goal – but in the name of rhino conservation, andBeyond and Great Plains Conservation have pulled their resources and joined hands to spearhead Rhinos Without Borders – a joint initiative that aims to translocate 100 rhinos out of harm’s way from the high-risk poaching areas in South Africa to the relative safety of Botswana.

We caught up with andBeyond and Great Plains Conservation, along with their CEOs, Joss Kent and Dereck Joubert, to find out more about the partnership, and hear from them why, when it comes to conservation, two heads are always better than one.


Rhino Without Borders team standing in front of the BDF C130 aircraft – courtesy of Wayne Raymond
Rhino Without Borders team standing in front of the BDF C130 aircraft – courtesy of Wayne Raymond

Rhinos Without Borders is a joint initiative between Great Plains Conservation and andBeyond that aims to translocate 100 rhinos from high-risk poaching areas in South Africa to the comparative safety of Botswana. Where did the idea for the project come from – who approached who?

The project was born out of the first ever-private game reserve donation of rhinos to another country. AndBeyond translocated six white rhino from andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa to Botswana’s Okavango Delta in 2013. This translocation was personally attended by the President of Botswana, and was successful in its key aim of moving endangered animals into a safe, new ecosystem and environment – proven by the subsequent birth of the first calf from these rhinos in 2014.

The bigger and more audacious goal of moving 100 rhinos came out of a lunch conversation between Joss and Dereck. Dereck threw down the gauntlet of essentially, “if rhino are to be moved, why not move 100?!” Although at the time it sounded like a crazy and nearly impossible target, there was a swift handshake, and the plan for a larger Rhinos Without Borders project was born.

Joss Kent and Derek Joubert shaking hands and celebrating the successful release of a batch of rhinos in Botswana – courtesy of David Murray
Joss Kent and Derek Joubert shaking hands and celebrating the successful release of a batch of rhinos in Botswana – courtesy of David Murray

“Dereck threw down the gauntlet of essentially, ‘if rhino are to be moved, why not move 100?!'”

The budget to translocate just one rhino is US$45,000, with the whole project costing US$4.5 million. Where does the money come from?

As notable players in the tourism industry, it has been the combined efforts of both companies that have ensured the success of Rhinos Without Borders. We have used the strengths of both companies, both in terms of fundraising (from guests, to those within the travel industry, to private donors), and in terms of pioneering conservation and translocation skillsets to make the translocations possible. However, the project also called on all members of the travel industry to join hands in order to make a difference.

Many NGOs keep between 15-to-40 per cent of project dollars to cover administration. In combination, though, andBeyond and Great Plains’ charitable bodies (the Great Plains Foundation and the Africa Foundation for andBeyond) only use 2.5 per cent to cover basic administration costs – so 97.5 cents in every US$1 are directly spent on sourcing, moving, securing and monitoring rhinos.

Rhino Without Borders team in action – courtesy of Charlie Dailey
Rhino Without Borders team in action – courtesy of Charlie Dailey

It’s rare to see business competitors working together towards a common goal – how do you make this work?

Regardless of the fact that both companies are competing on a business level, andBeyond and Great Plains Conservation put their differences aside and united behind a common goal: saving rhinos. Both companies have very different protocol, so when our companies disagreed on something, which happened often (as you might expect from any joint venture), the test used by both parties would be to ask themselves whether the bilateral resolution for the issue at hand was in the best interest of moving rhinos; then we would look past our own individual standpoints together and agree to push through and move forward.

This wasn’t always an easy task, and we learnt a lot from it, especially in the early stages of the project; but once everyone had established whether the action in question was in the interest of moving rhinos, that action was supported. We stuck to the mantra, “forgive fast and achieve the best”.

Photo is courtesy of Charlie Dailey

Also, the frequent meetings (Project Steering Committee Meetings) attended by all the top-level management have ensured that all parties have been on board throughout every stage of the project. This constant dialogue paved the way to smoothing out any rough edges.

How do you hope this will impact conservation moving forward – would you like to see other businesses using the project as a model to follow?

Both andBeyond and Great Plains Conservation believe that translocations are an important way to secure the ongoing survival of endangered species. We believe that, through the success of Rhinos Without Borders, we can inspire members of the safari and wider travel industry to cooperate (instead of compete) for the sake of conserving our precious wildlife species and their havens. Regardless of differing views on a range of topics, we really envisage the tourism industry taking up their seat at the conservation table to help make wildlife-area funding more sustainable.

“Through the success of Rhinos Without Borders, we can inspire members of the safari and wider travel industry to cooperate (instead of compete) for the sake of conserving our precious wildlife species and their havens”

On site with Rhinos Without Borders – courtesy of Charlie Dailey

Both of you have been on the ground during a translocation – on a personal level, how did it feel?

Joss Kent, CEO of andBeyond: It is very difficult to convey how one feels when present at a translocation – and especially at the time of the release. It is a very humbling and emotional moment. So much work from so many people has gone into that moment. But ultimately, for me personally, it is the sight of such a large and powerful animal in such a vulnerable state (and by that, I mean the poaching conditions that have triggered this dramatic move for them as their species fight for survival) that is most moving. Once the release is done and is deemed to have been a success, there is huge sense of relief – albeit in the knowledge that the work is far from over, and that the security and monitoring of these extraordinary animals will keep us busy for many years to come.

Joss Kent and Derek Joubert at the release of rhinos in Botswana – courtesy of David Murray
Joss Kent and Derek Joubert at the release of rhinos in Botswana – courtesy of David Murray

Dereck Joubert, CEO of Great Plains Conservation: At a recent release, as the helicopter lifted off with a rhino and slung it across the Okavango Delta, Joss turned and walked over me. We shook hands and embraced. Neither of us said anything, afraid perhaps that the lumps in our throats would betray exactly how emotional we both felt right in that moment.

“We shook hands and embraced. Neither of us said anything, afraid perhaps that the lumps in our throats would betray exactly how emotional we both felt right in that moment”

Derek Joubert, CEO of Great Plains Conservation

Do you believe the high-end African travel industry has a duty to contribute towards conservation efforts? Besides morals, what’s the business case for doing so?

We firmly believe that the high-end African safari and wider travel industry is built off the stage that Mother Nature provides. If we don’t care for this stage, we don’t have a business. Protecting what we have been blessed with is simply the right thing to do. In the long-run, we believe it is an unavoidable fact that solid business decisions and commercial logic will, and must, be based off solid sustainable conservation efforts. The responsibility for these efforts sits as much (in terms of actual impact and effort) with the private sector as it does with governments and/or NGOs.

Rhino Without Borders team in action – courtesy of Charlie Dailey

What’s the one thing you wish all African travel operators knew about conservation? If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

One thing we wish all African tour operators knew is that there are no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions to conservation problems; rather, we need to put into action carefully crafted local solutions to solve our conservation problems in our local vicinities.

And something we would change: currently, there isn’t an agreed measurement standard for African safari sustainability (conservation and community). We would love to see something like this implemented.

And are we are allowed a second?! Another would to see more private sector operators and NGOs working together, joining forces and combining budgets etc. on specific projects (like we have done with Rhinos Without Borders ) versus pursuing totally parallel, individualistic efforts that ultimately waste money, resources, time and that, ultimately, have a really limited positive impact on the overall sustainability of their project. The inefficient application of all these absolutely could mean the possible extinction of a species. And we don’t believe it is our right to hold such power (through inefficiencies and egos) over species that have no say or voice.

“We don’t believe it is our right to hold such power (through inefficiencies and egos) over species that have no say or voice”

Rhinos’ calves in mobile boas until the seen suckling – courtesy of Riaan Venter

Once you succeed (fingers crossed!) in translocating 100 rhinos, what’s next?

For andBeyond, moving the 100 rhinos is only part of the project – their Department of Wildlife will continue to monitor the rhinoes for a few years to come. We are also looking at conservation issues in other areas, both ecosystem-wise and geographically. Our andBeyond Oceans Without Borders programme is our next big 3C’s project. We are taking our model into marine ecosystems in Africa, and have plans afoot in South America and Asia – watch this space!

For Great Plains Conservation, we have already committed to moving another 100 rhino to safe locations. Now that we’ve proven to ourselves – and others – that saving quantifiable numbers of threatened wildlife is possible, we are moving forward and are dedicated to continuing on this journey. We look forward to collaborating with all the members of the travel industry to ensure that Africa’s most iconic species live on for many more generations to come.

[Photos are via Rhinos Without Borders]