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The Phinda Private Game Reserve was established when Trevor Coppen, a property and timeshare developer, was driving from Durban to the little village of Mbazwana through an area known as southern Maputaland. The area was at that time covered with farms for cattle, pineapples, cotton and hunting. Coppen had the idea that the area could be restored to its original, natural state and thus exist as a prime game reserve. Coppen began by investigating the area and decided that it could indeed be done. By buying up adjoining farms and taking down fences, he gradually enlarged the area until Phinda was born.

In February 1991, the Phinda Private Game Reserve was officially established. “Phinda” means "return to the wild", which is what eventually transpired on the reserve. 120 kilometers of fencing had to be erected and thousands of animals had to be re-introduced to the area. The buffalo quarantine protocols developed at Phinda have become accepted as the national protocol for relocation of buffalo onto private land.

Through Les Carlisle and his team, Phinda was the first reserve to use sedation techniques to socialize animals from different prides before releasing them into the wild. The reserve was also the first to transport sedated lions by air. Their techniques and protocols are today recognized as excellent examples of predator reintroductions. The elephant reintroduction techniques developed by Les and the Phinda team have revolutionized the way elephants are captured internationally.

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