Les Carlisle

Group conservation manager at and Beyond and project manager for Rhinos Without Borders on animal translocation and extinction reversal.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
My Reading Room

Group conservation manager at and Beyond and project manager for Rhinos Without Borders on animal translocation and extinction reversal.

Growing up, Les Carlisle took frequent trips to Kruger National Park, 40 kilometres outside of his hometown in South Africa. His father handled the irrigation systems there, and they would encounter wild animals driving to the park. “The love of wildlife grew from those early days,” Carlisle says. For the past 25 years, Carlisle has been group conservation manager at and Beyond, a luxury experiential travel company with a strong focus on environmental initiatives and wildlife conservation.

He is also project manager for Rhinos Without Borders, a collaboration between and Beyond and conservation organisation Great Plains Project that translocates rhinos from high-risk areas in South Africa to safer environments in Botswana, where there is a minimal risk of poaching. “My role is primarily focused on conservation – but the scope of it has changed completely.” Impressed by his game capture background, and Beyond hired Carlisle to build its first reserve, the Phinda Private Game Reserve, in 1991.

“They needed someone who could speak Zulu and catch animals. I had a unique set of skills,” he says. As the company expanded, he became the regional conservation manager and finally, as group conservation manager when the company set up locations in other continents. Today, and Beyond offers personalised tours in more than a dozen African countries, and several continents including South America and South Asia, in addition to operating safari lodges and camps in Africa and India.

Carlisle is responsible for the group’s management of conservation areas and sustainability initiatives, lessening environmental impact at lodges located in remote areas. Over the years, Carlisle has gained extensive experience in animal translocation, the method of reintroducing species to reverse local extinction. In 2012, he was involved in a successful effort to reverse the local extinction of the Indian bison at the Bandhavgarh National Park.

“The Indians discovered a local extinction in the park. They captured it beautifully, but weren’t stopping it.” Carlisle explained to the experts at the national park that there was a chance the extinction could be reversed, but realised that they were unfamiliar with the translocation of herbivores. He had trucks built in the area, then brought Indian vets and field directors over to South Africa, where they witnessed professional capture teams at work.

“We went back to India and negotiated the process of capturing the animals.” It took three years for permission to be granted. After 19 bisons were moved, the team ran into red tape as the Indian authorities withdrew permission. Permission was reinstated a year later, so the team was able to continue. During the active periods, Carlisle and his team were able to move 50 animals. “I would indicate the right animal to dart by shining a green laser pointer on its shoulder, the vet would put the dart in its backside, then the stopwatch starts. We predicted that the animal would go down in six minutes.

The first animal we darted slipped into a drainage line and rolled onto its back. None of the crew realised that this would stop it from being able to breathe, and so nobody moved. I jumped off the elephant I was sitting on, moved the animal and the Indian team quickly came to help. They had never seen it done before and didn’t know.” Thankfully, once the team members were trained, they understood what was needed, Carlisle adds.

Carlisle has a long history working with rhinos, having successfully moved 21 of them into Phinda in one day early in his career – and so the Rhinos Without Borders project is something close to his heart. The seed was planted when Carlisle looked into moving rhinos from South Africa to Botswana, where rhino numbers were low. “While rhinos had been reintroduced to the central national park, this was not done in large enough numbers.”

Carlisle arranged for six rhinos to be donated from Phinda, which took three years of planning. The president of Botswana supported the move, which drove them to take the project to the next level. In the end, and Beyond joined with conservation firm Great Plains Foundation, and Rhinos Without Borders was born. Two batches of rhinos have already been translocated, and plans to move more animals are in the works.

To ensure environmental sustainability at and Beyond lodges, Carlisle says, “The cornerstone of environmental success is energy reduction.” There is a system in place that assesses the carbon footprint in each lodge; reduction is carried out through measures such as switching generators off and changing energy supplies from diesel to solar. However, and Beyond’s policy is to adapt the model to suit local requirements.

For example, recycling is not carried out in countries that don’t have recycling systems. Meanwhile, 50 percent of the lodges are equipped with water-purifying plants, with plans to install them across the board. “Guests don’t want to use water out of a faucet because they’re not sure of its source, but if there is a water bottling plant at the lodge where the water is purified, then the guests are supplied with what they need without us having to bring all that plastic into the wilderness. For me, it’s incredibly rewarding to be a part of a company that makes a difference.” www.andbeyond.com; www.rhinoswithoutborders.com

“The cornerstone of environmental success is energy reduction”

Rhinos Without Borders helps translocate rhinos from high-risk areas to safer environments in Botswana
Rhinos Without Borders helps translocate rhinos from high-risk areas to safer environments in Botswana