Monday, 11 May 2009

Old Young Man & His Rhinos (Trilogy 2)

I visited the second Old Young Man I am going to talk about at his farm in Howick (SA) recently. He is also my idol, that is, if ever I do have celebrity worship. Dr. Ian Player is a controversial figure, who was instrumental in saving the white rhino from extinction in South Africa by selling them to open parks around the world in 1970s. By establishing gene pools outside of the country this ensured that even if the rhinos suffered due to political instabilities of the country at that time, the animal could be reintroduced when the country becomes stable again. Almost all the white rhinos in the world are descendents of the rhinos that he brought out of KwaZulu Natal's game reserves. Ian also led the long political battle to get some additional land added to the Umfolozi Game Reserve in order to save the rhino.

Two years ago we celebrated his 80's birthday in London. Two years on, he is still fighting tirelessly for conservation of the wild, despite that his left eye has lost sight, and his left leg has given in. A search of his name on google yields many results so I won't go into details about all the remarkable work he has done throughout his life, such as his pivotal role in making St. Lucia wetlands the first wilderness areas to be zoned on the African continent; establishing the Wilderness Leadership School and Wilderness Foundation, etc.

What I would like to say about him, is that he is a man of many talents and iron wills. For example, he was credited for having pioneered the great Dusi Canoe Marathon in December 1951. Although eight men participated, only Ian finished the 140kilometer journey between Pietermaritzburg and Durban in a time of six days, despite having being bitten by a night adder during the race. The canoe that he used to complete the race, in this fierce water where Umgeni River meets the Umsundusi River, was made from wood and canvas and weighted roughly 70 pounds. It also held all the supplies he needed to complete the race.

He is a wonderful writer with six books to his credit, such as "Zululand Wilderness: Shadow and Soul". I have learned a great deal about conservation in South Africa, and about his great Zulu friend - Magqubu Ntombela.

He is an eloquent speaker, full of humor and wisdom. He is a generous soul, lending a hand to newcomers to conservation such as myself.

I feel inspired by him, particularly when I face challenges and difficulties. I know how he would encourage me and what he would say to me: "Tiger, go for it! You are a fearless tiger!"

During recent visit, he said to me and my friend & advisor Dr. Hector Magome: "Do you know when you feel old? When people give their seat to you. Traditionally it is men who give seats to women and children. I now know I am old".

But Ian, I would like to say to you, "You are an old Young Man, and a great one! You continue to inspire people around the world to become conservationists. And we will see you around for a long time to come!"

-Li Quan at Laohu Valley Reserve
Photos Credits: (top left) Dr. Ian Player (top right) Wilderness Foundation UK