Panthera Africa, a non-profit company based in Stanford, is passionate about creating awareness of the conditions big cats face in captivity, and how animal welfare and enrichment play a vital role in giving them the best captive life possible.
How did the idea for your business come about?
The magic of the Panthera Africa story lies in the way heartbreak and disillusionment were transformed into a story of hope, faith and love. The sanctuary was founded by Lizaene Cornwall and Cathrine Nyquist, two naïve volunteers who believed that they were saving lions by raising cubs. One day, when their two beloved lions, Obi and Oliver were sent away, they started to get suspicious. The owner of the project told them that the lions were going back to their owners. Lizaene and Cathrine never stopped loving these two lions and went to visit them at the breeding facility, and that day their lives changed.
What they saw, stopped them in their tracks. Deformed lionesses having difficulty walking because of inbreeding; a tiny cub in a 1 m2 cage totally panicked; and their beloved Obi and Oliver were found in a tiny enclosure with their two sisters, emaciated and without any shade, proper food or drinking water.
Right then and there, Lizaene and Cathrine realised something needed to be done and they made a promise to rescue Obi and Oliver one day. With this burning passion, they decided to start a big cat sanctuary, a place where big cats were respected and given the best possible captive life – without any exploitation such as breeding, trading or interaction. They were met with a lot of criticism; people said that you cannot make a sanctuary financially viable if you don’t trade or offer interaction to tourists and volunteers.
How did you come up with the name for your company / experience?
The name Panthera Africa is inspired by the love Lizaene and Cathrine have for the four Pantheras: Panthera leo (the lion), Panthera pardus (the leopard), Panthera onca (the jaguar) and Panthera tigris (the tiger).
Who is your ideal customer and why?
One of Panthera Africa’s main purposes is to be an educational platform where we create awareness about the conditions big cats face in captivity, and how animal welfare and enrichment play a vital role in giving them the best captive life possible. We are a true sanctuary where no hands-on interaction, breeding or trading takes place. We are a blueprint of how a non-profit sanctuary, focusing on animal welfare, can become self-sufficient – and we aim to change breeding facilities into sustainable ethical projects.
Panthera Africa believes in the connection between both environmental and wildlife conservation, and aims to become the first “green” big cat sanctuary in South Africa run solely on solar energy.
Panthera Africa has found its 40-hectare paradise with a beautiful home for the animals, the founders and the many volunteers visiting. The land is filled with lots of large trees, a natural spring and an amazing 180-degree mountain view! Our ideal customers are everyone and anyone! Nature and animal lovers alike.
Why do you offer the very best experience / product for your customers?
Come and enjoy the evening with your loved ones as the sun sets and the cats come alive after a long day of rest! Sunset is a magical time of day here at Panthera Africa, and we love sharing this enchanted time with our four-legged friends. We would love to invite you to join in this unique experience and you may even hear and see the lions roar!
What is your greatest hope for your business?
We are now in collaboration with other ethical sanctuaries in South Africa and have launched the hashtag #truesanctuaries to spread this awareness even further. We believe in unity there is strength, and in collaboration with other true sanctuaries we can reach even more people and educate them about sustainable and responsible tourism.
What has been the most satisfying achievement in your business?
The success of this model can be measured by the positive reviews on TripAdvisor and our consecutive Certificates of Excellence over our six years in operation; the volunteers who tell of life-changing experiences on our blog; the approval from and cooperation with some of the world’s biggest animal welfare organisations; as well as the outstanding financial support from individuals that feel and see the passion and authenticity of our work.
- Skål Sustainable Tourism Award 2017
- TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence: 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
- WTM Responsible Tourism Award Africa: Best Responsible Attraction “One to Watch” 2019
We are listed with the following ethical organisations:
- CACH (Campaign Against Canned Hunting)
- Captured in Africa Foundation
- Wasp International (World Animal Sanctuary Protection)
- True Sanctuaries
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who want to get into tourism?
Ensure that your facility/company only supports responsible tourism operators/practises.
If you could have a do-over, what would you do differently?
Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on Panthera Africa. Our main source of income is having visitors at the Sanctuary and on 26 March 2020, we lost 95% of our income. Our digital transformation has been a difficult and slow process due to limited funding available during and post pandemic. Panthera Africa should have been offering on-line visits during the pandemic.