The Intrepid Explorer
Goodbye to the Grandfather of Conservation...
We were saddened to learn of the passing of legendary conservationist Dr Ian Player at the end of last year, aged 87, after suffering a serious stroke.
Dr Player had written for The Intrepid Explorer on a number of occasions and we were very proud to have his contributions published.
He was well known as the initiator and team leader of Operation Rhino, which helped bring back the southern white rhino from the brink of extinction in South Africa’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. With his team, he spearheaded the successful initiative that saw excess rhinos in the iMfolozi Reserve being captured and sent to restock reserves throughout the country; most went to Kruger National Park to create what is currently the largest wild rhino population in the world. Rhinos were also sent to other African countries, as well as many zoos across the world, in order to assure their survival as a species. The actions taken by Dr Player and his team back then have led to white rhino numbers increasing to more than 20 000 today.
Ian started his career under Colonel Jack Vincent with the Natal Parks, Game and Fish Preservation Board in 1952. By 1954, he was promoted to senior ranger and, in 1962, senior warden of iMfolozi Game Reserve. It was while he was warden of this reserve that he spearheaded Operation Rhino as well as the key initiative of zoning the wilderness areas of iMfolozi and St Lucia, which were the first such areas to be zoned in South Africa and on the African continent. In 1964, he became chief conservator for Zululand. His final promotion was chief nature conservator for Natal and Zululand.
During most of this journey, he was accompanied by his mentor and friend, Zulu game guard Magqubu Ntombela.
Ian Player was not just a rhino hero; he had a vast list of achievements including being the founder and inaugural winner of the Dusi Canoe Marathon in 1951. Another prime example was his work to save the crocodiles of Lake St Lucia. He conducted Operation Crocodile, which saw the first helicopter airlift of crocodiles from the high-salinity area of the Mkuze River, to the fresher regions of the southern part of the lake.
After leaving the government service, he founded the Wilderness Leadership School—the first organisation in Africa dedicated to providing a pure wilderness experience for people of all backgrounds, races and nationalities. With a group of American colleagues, he established The WILD Foundation in 1974, and also created or inspired other organisations in The Wilderness Network.
With rhino poaching currently reaching record levels in South Africa, we must ensure Dr Ian Player’s incredible efforts in rescuing the southern white rhino are not undone.
The Intrepid Explorer and Klipdrift are hosting the GOLDEN Awards at the end of February and we had been in contact since mid-2014 with Dr Player, regarding our intention of honouring him and Ntombela with lifetime achievement awards.
We are sad that he will not be with us to receive the award himself, but we are deeply touched that a number of his family members will be attending the event and accepting the award on his behalf.
The Intrepid Explorer salutes you, Madolo.
Yours in adventure,