It is a pleasure to introduce to Cathrine Scharning Cornwall-Nyquist, Founder / Managing Director of Panthera Africa NPC (Big Cat Sanctuary). I met Cathrine at the recent WTM Africa in Cape Town 2019 and was really taken by the personal story she is sharing with you in this interview. Hope you will find it just as inspiring !
What inspired you to work in the travel industry?
My deep passion to make a difference and change the big cat tourism industry into a responsible and animal welfare-based industry. To enlighten tourist stakeholders about the exploitative big cat attractions and enable them to make and recommend informed and conscious decisions. Knowledge is the most powerful weapon in the world!
How did you begin working in the travel industry and what was your first role?
I started my South Africa adventure as a naïve and unaware volunteer wanting to make a difference – 2 weeks in August 2011. I fell in love with the big cats and South Africa, and I returned three times for only few weeks at the time before I made the move in May 2012 for 8 months. After 7 months I decided to stay and quit my job in Norway, and I worked/volunteered as a volunteer coordinator and tour guide for tourists visiting.
How did you get to where you are in your career today?
Through following my heart and inner voice! I have eight years’ experience in the business and commercial real estate industry in Oslo before I moved to South Africa. The experience and knowledge with regards to doing business and relating to people has definitely helped us to establish Panthera Africa and the development of the project further. No doubt, the trusting of my heart’s desire and inner guidance is the driving force of how I got to where I am today.
What attributes would help someone aspiring to your role?
My role within Panthera Africa is divided; one side is related to business, marketing, networking, public relations. So very much to do with people skills. The other side is to do with more spiritual work with and for the animals and the project as a whole where I make use of animal communication work, reiki, channelling, creative envisioning. For this type of work I make use of my more introvert attributes and rather go within, trust myself and the purpose of my life, and follow the guidance given to me.
Describe a typical day at work in 100 words?
Mondays are my favourite day so I will describe that one!
6– 8am – rise and shine for morning routine which included saying hi and checking that all is good with the animals, testing electrical fences and giving the daily medication for those who need it.
8am-12pm – admin work including anything from emails, preparation for tourism related presentations, networking/tourism/campaign related meetings
12-1pm – break for animal time and help with animal tasks
1.30-6pm – general admin and working on our awareness campaign We Are One campaign, sponsorships, marketing and PR for both Panthera Africa
What is your most memorable moment working within the travel industry?
I was invited to hold a presentation at the mini Indaba about the big cat industry, and I remember the reactions when I cried and told the the story of my one lioness Shani who used to be exploited for tourist and volunteer interaction and then were killed for the lion bone trade. That my story can help raise awareness and enable tourism stakeholders to make conscious responsible tourism decisions fuels me with such motivation and belief that a positive change in the big cat industry is possible.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in your role and how did you overcome this?
I believe the process of setting up the sanctuary was the biggest work-related challenge. The process with municipal applications with its time-consuming, rollercoaster no/yes processes on the one hand, combined with extremely tight financial means, combined with some beloved animals being killed and others in dire need of rescue, and also doing this with my life partner with the emotions that adds to it and trying to maintain a professional relations with other employees, was the most stressful and challenging time of my life so far. I believe I overcame it by a combination of factors; having deep faith and knowing that we were setting up this sanctuary for a greater purpose than ourselves and there was only one way forward; my constant focusing, positive mindset and visualisation of the end result; taking day by day – sometimes hour by hour – at a time; allowing myself some moments a day of own time to recompose. I remember even one time I walked upstairs and talking out loud to the lions that if they really want this sanctuary to happen they need to help us now – and help was given next day when our main approval came through!
What drives you to succeed?
The knowledge that I am making a difference to the many big cats being exploited in captivity by rescuing them, raising awareness on a global scale, making a positive change in the tourism industry and that I am everyday giving a sanctuary for both animals and people.
What would be your top three tips for women who are interested in starting a career in the travel and tourism industry?
Dare to believe in your own dreams as there is always a reason why the ideas are there in the first place; Be brave and courageous, always keep faith and have trust in your own abilities; always keep focus on the end goal and allow the storms to pass by without getting caught up in them.
What one change could help more women become leaders in the travel industry?
To establish a leadership program, funded by governments worldwide, where tourism stakeholders agree to send a minimum amount of women over an agreed time period to partake in the program that prepares the women on all levels for a leadership role.
How do you relax when not working?
I spend time at the sanctuary with the big cats, go for walks, read books, meditate and attend workshops/retreats where I consciously work on self-growth & -healing and inner peace.