This is the story of Ian Player, internationally recognised environmentalist and conservationist. But Ian is a man of many facets and contradictions, not just a ranger: a man of culture and the arts, a deep thinker and Jungian, an irascible campaigner and a maverick. He is a writer, a lecturer and international diplomat and a deeply committed man to all he believes in.
Player, the brother of golfing icon Gary Player, was born in Johannesburg in 1927 and educated at St John’s College, he served with the South African forces in Italy in World War II and returned to South Africa at age 19 in 1946 with no idea of what he wanted to do with his life. When he pioneered the Duzi Canoe Marathon in 1950 he expected to see an abundance of wildlife along the river bank. To his dismay, he saw almost none. And so began an epic journey to fight for nature conservation.
He joined the Natal Parks Board in 1952 and spearheaded two initiatives. With his team they pioneered Operation Rhino, which succeeded in saving the white rhino from extinction and obtained protected status for the Umfolozi and St Lucia Wilderness areas – a first in South Africa and on the African continent. He also founded the Wilderness Leadership School during the troubled days of apartheid, a multi-racial and experiential program, which was to spawn a global network of conservationists committed to saving wilderness and wildlife throughout the world.
His work has been recognised globally and among his numerous accolades he has been awarded Knight of the Order of the Golden Ark and the Decoration for Meritorious Service, the highest civilian decoration in this country. He was also the recipient of two honorary doctorates – Doctor of Philosophy, Honoris Causa from the University of Natal and Doctor of Laws (LLD) from Rhodes University.
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