Skift Take

By shifting the focus from watching animals to protecting animals, African countries and safari companies can achieve competitive advantage among today's more educated safari clientele.

Great Plains Conservation and &Beyond, two of the most active safari companies promoting conservation today, are presently collaborating on a project to relocate 100 rhinos from South Africa to protected safety in Botswana.

A record number of 1,215 rhino poachings were recorded in 2014 in South Africa, which is home to 80% of the continent’s rhino population.

The “Rhinos Without Borders” conservation effort is not just an ambitious project to save wildlife. It’s also a savvy branding and marketing initiative for both Botswana, which has a zero tolerance policy toward poaching, and the two safari companies.

Great Plains Conservation is owned by Dereck and Beverly Joubert. The two National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence stationed in Botswana have been studying African wildlife for over 25 years. So their knowledge of the major safari countries and the global media industry is a big plus in raising awareness around the global campaign to fight poaching.

The African governments need more professional PR and marketing assistance to drive more media coverage around the losing the battle against poachers. Most travelers don’t realize that poaching is relatively new within the last two decades, and that it’s growing alarmingly fast.

The African Wildlife Federation reports, “Between 2002 and 2013, 65% of Africa’s forest elephant population has been wiped out.” Their data also show that South Africa rhino poaching in 2015 will likely surpass the record levels in 2014 (chart below).

Today’s most sophisticated poachers use helicopters, night vision goggles and grenade launchers to kill rhinos quickly and remove their heavy horns valued more than their weight in gold in Asia. Presently, one rhino is killed every seven hours on average in Africa, fueled by demand based on the false belief that rhino horns have medicinal qualities.

According to the Save The Rhino campaign: “The Western black rhino was declared extinct by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) in 2011, with the primary cause identified as poaching. In fact, all five remaining rhinos species are listed on the IUCN Redlist of threatened species, with three out of five species classified as critically endangered.”


Rhinos Without Borders

The Rhino relocation program involves veterinarians tranquilizing rhinos in the South African bush so they can be flown in small groups aboard cargo planes to a protected area in Botswana. In their new home, the rhino herds are placed under 24/7 armed guard.

So this is a fairly expensive proposition.

Hilton Walker, sales director of Great Plains, spoke to Skift at the PURE Life Experiences conference in Marrakech last month. He said, “We made a commitment at PURE two years ago, because there’s a negative birthrate due to poaching, that we were going to move 100 rhinos from South Africa to Botswana. We had no idea how much it was going to cost.”

Rhinos Without Borders has raised over $1 million in donations to date, which should get another bump following this week. On Wednesday, the relocation team transported another batch of 15 rhinos to Botswana, bringing the total to 39.

Big Bertha, one of the original relocated rhinos, gave birth to a calf in September.

“We’re looking at this as a buy one, get one free sort of deal,” joked Walker.

Moving 100 rhinos to safety is obviously not going to significantly impact the African poaching problem in terms of numbers. However, the storytelling and volume of social media engagement can potentially influence decision making at the government level.

Botswana is employing its military to fight poaching, and it has a somewhat controversial shoot-to-kill policy in place in an attempt to intimidate poachers. That strategy is helping differentiate the country in the safari industry, which is often dominated by South Africa in terms of marketing dollars and general consumer knowledge.

The stories and social media are also helping Great Plains position itself as a conservation organization first and tourism company second.

“We’re using the tourism dollars to further our conservation efforts across Africa, and that’s innovative because the Jouberts are not from the hospitality industry,” Walker told Skift.

He says the conservation-first mentality is driving incremental business in the safari market because travelers are so much more educated today.

“So it’s no longer about the style of the accommodation that guests are buying, because now they want to know, ‘Where is my money going?'” he explained. “They’re becoming very selective in needing to know that the local communities are deriving a direct benefit. They want to know that the area where they’re spending money is involved in responsible tourism.”

Community Education

For 2016, Walker says Great Plains will be formalizing a collaboration with Apple and Adobe to introduce more computers and technology education into the local communities surrounding the safari camps.

Traditionally, safari caravans depart the lodges before daybreak to see the animals while they’re up and moving around in the slanting sunlight. The groups then come back sometime before noon when the wildlife is often resting and the sun is high in the sky, which makes it a poor environment for photography.

So there’s this dead time mid-day around the camp when not much is going on. Great Plains is planning to set up Apple computer workstations, which Apple will provide at cost, in the camps where the staff can teach guests how to manipulate their photography with Adobe Photoshop. The staff is also being trained to educate guests about how they might take better pictures on subsequent safari drives by adjusting how they control aperture, framing, use of light, etc.

Few other travel experiences place as high a priority on photo-taking as safaris do, so Walker believes that guests will pay a little more for the photography education. The additional funds will help purchase the computers, which will then be donated to local schools.

Walker said that Great Plains is negotiating with Adobe to provide software training for teachers, based on Great Plains delivering an agreed allotment of donated computers. There’s a major challenge behind technology adoption in African classrooms because teachers themselves often don’t know how to use the software.

“It’s these types of demonstrable differentiators around conservation and community engagement that our partners overseas are picking up on,” Walker told us. “That’s what they’re promoting to their clients now.”

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Tags: botswana, safaris

Photo credit: Rhinos are tranquilized and blindfolded for their flight to Botswana. Rhinos Beyond Borders

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