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The Grandfather of Conservation in South Africa

A globally recognised conservation legend, Dr Ian Player was a pioneer, a visionary and an activist who has profoundly influenced conservation and changed the lives of countless people.

We will remember the passing of this South African legend. It was Dr Ian Player who is credited with initiating operation Rhino and saving the few Southern white rhino which were on the brink of extinction over 60 years ago. In the 1960s there were an estimated 650 white rhinos in Africa; by 2010 the population numbered 18 800. It is because of Dr Player, who initiated and led Operation Rhino along with his right-hand man, Magquba Ntombela, that there are still rhinos around for us to save. Had it not been for this incredible man our South African heritage would not have rhinos today.

Dr Ian Player had a distinguished career both in the formal and private conservation sectors. He believed that if protected areas, including wilderness areas and wildlife, are to survive then people must be brought into the conservation arena. Together with his colleague and mentor, Magqubu Ntombela, he brought people from all walks of life and parts of the world together to experience how wilderness and conservation of our natural resources are an integral part of living.

Dr Player’s recognition of the value of wilderness for the human spirit and for biodiversity conservation led to the designation of the uMfolozi and St. Lucia Wilderness Areas in the late 1950s. This was the first wilderness area to be zoned on the African continent. Once again, had it not been for this incredible man this area, which is now called iSimangaliso Wetland park and is the largest estuarine system in Africa, would not now be included as one of the UNESCO Wold heritage Sites.

Dr Player also fired his personal quest to understand the human psyche through dreams and drawing on the work of Swiss analyst Carl Jung, which he explored assiduously for decades with the late Sir Laurens van der Post. Dr Player was one of the founding forces for the Cape Town Centre for Applied Jungian Studies, the first such centre in Africa.

His sporting passion was canoeing. After initiating the Duzi Canoe Marathon, he went on to win the race three times. The annual race, which winds from Pietermaritzburg for 125km through the Valley of a Thousand Hills to Durban, is said to be the largest canoe race in the world. His exploits are well documented in his book Men, Rivers and Canoes.

Dr Player received numerous awards, both locally and internationally for his work and was awarded two honorary doctorates (Doctor of Philosophy, from Natal University, 1984 and Doctor of Laws (LLD) from Rhodes University, 2003).

Ian Player has written many books of which White Rhino Saga and Zululand Wilderness Shadow and Soul are probably best known. His biography Into the River of Life was published towards the end of 2013. Ian Player committed his life to conservation and, in particular, to the preservation of the rhino through his services as a consultant to many organisations sharing this common interest.

We salute you Dr Ian Player. What a legacy you leave have left.