Ian Player – was a friend, mentor and an inspiration to many people around the world.
He died peacefully, with family, at home in the Karkloof Valley of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, on 30 November 2014. In long obituaries, Ian’s life and work was recognised on many continents and throughout the global conservation community, a few of which were: The New York Times; The Washington Post; The Times of London.
Here is a small part of his remarkable personal story:
Ian Player is one of the world’s outstanding conservationists and environmental statesmen. Born in South Africa in 1927, he “earned his stripes” in the rough and tumble era during which Africa’s protected areas were being created and tested. With his team, he also pioneered the saving of endangered species when they saved the white rhino from extinction (Operation Rhino).
He served on the Natal Parks Board and also later on the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Services Board as well as the South African National Parks Board. He was a recipient of many awards and two honorary doctorates throughout his career.
He was also instrumental in the zoning of the first wilderness areas, iMfolozi and St Lucia, in South Africa in the late 1950s and along with his Zulu mentor Magqubu Ntombela, in 1974 founded the World Wilderness Congress, which is the best-known and most effective global platform for debating and acting on wilderness issues.
On 5 April 2012, the inaugural Anton Rupert Award for Lifetime Achievement in Conservation was presented to Dr Player for the exceptional contribution that he has made in conservation.
His name is inextricably linked with the saving of the White Rhino from extinction and the establishment of Wilderness areas in iMfolozi and iSimangaliso. Amongst a long list of extraordinary and diverse achievements, Dr Player is remembered as the founder of the Duzi Canoe Marathon and of the Phuzamoya Dream Centre, a monthly event that has been running for 9 years and meets once a month.
It is not possible to pay tribute to Ian Player without mentioning his close Zulu friend and mentor, Magqubu Ntombela, who came from the Somkhele community neighbouring HiP, the community devastated by the ever-expanding Tendele open-cast mine. Through the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), the community’s lawyer, Kirsten Youens, recently applied to the High Court in Pretoria for a review of the 30 year 222km mining right approved by minister Gwede Mantashe on 15 June this year. It is unimaginable to think of a noisy, polluting open-cast coal mine operating until 2046 on the boundary of the Park, affecting the wildlife and displacing and destroying the lives and livelihoods of thousands of rural farmers. Does this possibility also disturb the well-earned, peaceful sleep of Ian Player who was laid to rest at the age of 87 years, having lived a life dedicated to safe-guarding sacred natural places and precious species to ensure that future generations inherit a healthy, diverse and vibrant world?