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Dr Ian Player: Tributes pour in for legendary rhino warrior

Dr Ian Player: Tributes pour in for legendary rhino warrior

Tributes have been pouring in for legendary rhino warrior Dr Ian Player who passed away at his Karkloof home in northern KwaZulu-Natal on Sunday following a short illness.

Dr Player, 87, had suffered a severe stroke early last week.

In his career, Dr Player served on a number of Parks Boards including that of SanParks. He also established a number of conservation organisations such as the Wilderness Leadership School, the first organization in Africa dedicated to providing a pure wilderness experience for people of all backgrounds, races and nationalities.

Started during the troubled days of apartheid, this multi-racial education and experiential programme spawned a global network of conservationists from all sectors of life who are committed to saving wilderness and wildlife.

Many will remember his emotional words at the World Youth Rhino Summit held at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in September this year.

“This is where man evolved; this is where we walked on the path with the animals. And Ntombela used to say the animals were our brothers and sisters and that's why we had to honour them and this honour is something we have to consistently keep in mind,” he told delegates.

“Honour the spirits of everybody that worked here, men who came here and worked and died looking after the animals. It is a wonderful place - the landscape of the human soul.”


President Jacob Zuma, in his condolences to the Dr Player’s family, said that; "Dr Player played a significant role in the preservation of nature.  His name is synonymous with conservation and the preservation of the environment for future generations. He did exceptionally well in this field, consistently, for decades, and managed to put South Africa on the map.

“His passing is a great loss for the nation and for the nature conservation community worldwide. We extend our deepest condolences to his family, colleagues and friends in this country and all over the world.”

“Despite physical challenges that hounded him all his life, Ian worked tirelessly, fully committed to his life’s work of nature conservation and his quest to understand the human spirit and psyche,” the Wilderness Foundation said in a statement.

“His legacy is without parallel, his example without equal.”

KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Mike Mabuyakhulu, called Dr Player a son of the soil whose legacy should be celebrated.

“We have lost one of the leading pioneers in the field of environmental protection but also a well-known activist in terms of conservation and biodiversity. He has played a pioneering role for many years.

“We will remember him and [his friend, mentor and wilderness guide Magqubu] Ntombela as well as for having played the biggest role as pioneers in our province and our country but also being a global activist for conservation as well as environmental protection. But also over and above that we want to celebrate a heroic action on the part of Dr Player who indeed has left behind a living legacy for all of us to emulate,” he said.

The Professional Hunters' Association of SA, in a statement paying posthumous tribute to Dr Player, said that; "Dr Ian Player is without a doubt the grandfather of conservation in South Africa."

Sheelagh Anthrobus from Project Rhino KZN, a group of organisations that work together to facilitate rhino conservation interventions, said that; “We've lost a great man, a wonderful friend, a great mentor and a champion for the cause of the rhino.

“A feisty soldier for everything to do with bio diversity and his beloved iMfolozi Game Reserve, we will champion on at the World Youth Rhino Summit in September where he came and inspired the delegates and the conservationists. Handed over the baton then and told us that determined leadership is needed this time like no other time in history.”

The Game Rangers Association of Africa's Chris Galliers said that Dr Player’s death was a great loss to the nation.

“Player was an absolutely passionate person, also a remarkable person in being able to gauge so well with the diversity of people. It’s a case of being thankful and also he set a benchmark for all conservationists to aspire to as much of a loss as it is he served an immense career for which all of us today are hugely grateful for.

“From all of us in the sector we will always appreciate what he's done not just for this generation but for generations to come,” he said.


Dr Player wrote several books, including one about his passion for canoeing, titled "Men, Rivers and Canoes," and a biography titled "Into the River of Life".

He is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.

Photo caption: Dr Ian Player. Image: the Wilderness Foundation via Facebook.