An apology to Ian Player

My heart bleeds for Ian Player, that grand old man of nature conservation in South Africa. Oom Ian, I’m so sorry for what they’re doing to the rhinos you and your band of brave men worked so hard for.

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I’m sorry that some people have been taken over by pure greed. And it seems to me as if these criminals are currently in a feeding frenzy to get to the few remaining rhinos that are left. Ian and his men were instrumental in saving the Southern white rhino in the 1960s and 1970s in Operation Rhino. They pioneered rhino capture and relocation and moved some of the animals as far as Zimbabwe – a gigantic logistic feat in those days.

I recently read Bush Life of a Game Warden, by Nick Steele, one of the game wardens actively involved in saving rhinos during that period. He describes how daredevils such as Jan Oelofse, Ken Rochat and John Tinley, to name a few, didn’t stop at anything and tackled the issue literally head on.

They were brave and rushed in where angels feared to tread. They were pioneers of the noblest kind, and the entire country stands ashamed before them today. I wonder what game guards such as Mzwabantu Masuku, Mbidli Sibiya and Philip Skakane are thinking about the wanton slaughter of the animals they risked life and limb for?

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Nick Steele describes their bravery and dedication in his book. We owe it to these people to stand up against this heinous crime. That’s the only way we can honour their work and turn the tide of rhino murders. In my mind a poacher was a heavily armed ex-military person operating in the deepest secrecy in the bush. Or a starving person who kills rhinos in order to feed his family, while the middle men walk away with the big bucks.

Not in my wildest dreams did I think that farmers, vets, nature conservationists and professional hunters would be so heavily involved. It just shows how far one can be driven by avarice. What can be done to stem the tide? I don’t know. But maybe there is something in legalising the trade in rhino horn. The SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association’s Dr Herman Els’ argument in favour of this makes sense – perhaps the time has come to listen to him.

Rhino murders cannot continue unabated. It is a crime against all that is good and decent. It is evil.

Annelie Coleman represents Farmer’s Weekly in the Free State, North West and Northern Cape. Agriculture is in her blood. She grew up on a maize farm in the Wesselsbron district where her brother is still continuing with the family business. Annelie is passionate about the area she works in and calls it ‘God’s own country’. She’s particularly interested in beef cattle farming, especially with the indigenous African breeds. She’s an avid reader and owns a comprehensive collection of Africana covering hunting in colonial Africa, missionary history of same period, as well as Rhodesian literature.