Spirit of conservationist Ian Player lives on

Dr Ian Player, (89) well-known and respected conservationist, died at his home in the Karkloof (KZN) last week after a short illness.

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A number of global authorities in the conservation field have come from South Africa, but Player has been among the best known of this group alongside his great friend and mentor Magqubu Ntombela.

Athlete as well as conservationist, he started the Dusi Canoe Marathon in 1950 to get young South Africans interested in the ravages of soil erosion and Natal’s dwindling wildlife resources. He won this 110km canoe race, now considered to be one of the toughest in the world, three times, once despite being the victim of a venomous snake-bite.

Player was educated at St John’s College (Johannesburg) and served with the 6th South African Armoured Division in Italy during the last war. His conservation career started in 1952 with an appointment as a game ranger in the Natal Parks Board (now Ezemvelo Wildlife). He retired as Chief Nature Conservator.

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During his career he led a successful drive to save the white rhino from extinction, established a training programme for rangers and set up an extensive and effective anti-poaching network in the KZN game reserves.

As father of the wilderness trails concept, he founded the Wilderness Leadership School a programme combining the development of leadership with wilderness values.

Player travelled extensively, lecturing and promoting conservation, raising funds for conservation projects, and establishing breeding white rhino in zoos to ensure species survival.

He played a leading role in the foundation of the International Wilderness Leadership Foundation (US), the Wilderness Foundation (UK) and the World Wilderness Congress and wrote a number of books, papers and popular articles. He continued with a punishing schedule of work well into his 70s.

A man of presence and authority, Player was nevertheless humble, soft-spoken and approachable. He preferred to stay out of politics but in the interests of getting the conservation message across he established sound personal relationships with leaders across the political spectrum.

Player was quietly optimistic about the future of game ranching and hunting as a form of land use in South Africa and said that it had established a relevant niche.

South Africans are indebted to his farsightedness, wisdom, energy and dedication.