Mourning the passing of conservation pioneer, Dr. Ian Player

I personally had the privilege of meeting Ian in South Africa while I was at university in 2006.  I had read his book for a course, Zululand Wilderness: Shadow and Soul, and it brought to light the realization of our soul’s connection to and need for wilderness; wild space.  I spoke to Ian about how his book resinated within me and the importance of the concepts in forming my own conservation work and budding career.  Little did I know that the Jungian concept of “synchronicity” would carve a path of unfolding events, deep relationships, and meaningful accomplishments.  I feel very blessed to have had your influence in my life. – Britt Hosmer Peterson, November 29, 2014
June 10, 2011: “Vance (Martin) also tells me of the work he’s doing with Britt concerning Ian McCallum’s project In the Tracks of Giants. She is a fine young woman and professional, and a great asset for conservation and a better world. It is great to have her as part of our team.” – Dr. Ian Player, Vice Chairman of the Magqubu Ntombela Foundation (Yellowwood Park, South Africa)

Magquba Ntombela and Dr. Ian Player.

December 1, 2014

Conservation pioneer and legend Dr. Ian Player passed away peacefully on 30 November 2014 after a short illness. The 87-year-old was at home surrounded by his family. ICCF is deeply saddened by his passing and recognizes his immense contribution to conservation, including his extraordinary role in saving the white rhino from extinction. Our thoughts are with the Player family at this time.

A tireless champion for the conservation of nature in Africa and around the world, Dr. Player was fully committed to his life’s calling. His legacy is profound, and he will be greatly missed.

“Our fight for wilderness closely resembles what Churchill had to encounter in his struggle to save the free world.”

Ian Player to David Barron
January 3, 2014

“Dr. Player was exactly my age (62) when I met him 25 years ago. I thought he was an old man. And I guess he was in many ways, from the wear & tear of many miles and many battles, and in enlightenment – a certain wisdom that comes with peace of mind from having “fought the good fight”; lived a full life – much of it in the wilderness that he loved so much; the love of a good women; and, the highest admiration of his friends and of his foes. Ian was my mentor, in conservation and in life. ICCF was born from collaboration with the leadership of the International Conservation Caucus which came about from life changing field missions which all started with Ian, and then Ian and me, guiding leaders into the wilds to witness challenges of wild animals and wild places. And like many campaigns that he started, the work continues thanks in no small part to his vision, his passion, his leadership and his tenacity.”

David H. Barron
ICCF Founder

“One of America’s greatest gifts to the world has been its conservation ethic, which has been articulated by great men like President Teddy Roosevelt.  A visit to Roosevelt Island on the Potomac and the slabs with quotations from this remarkable man clearly illustrate the depth of feeling that he had for the natural world.   His hunting visits to Africa with Frederick Courtney Selous brought a new dimension to his life, as well as Selous.  When Roosevelt was tired with his years of onerous responsibility and contemplated giving it all up, he was urged by Selous to continue because he still had so much to contribute. Other giants in the conservation field, like Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and Aldo Leopold, were instrumental in broadening the understanding of the conservation ethic. Aldo Leopold’s books on game management have enabled scientists and managers from all over the world to expand their knowledge, but it was John Muir who brought to the fore the need of a spiritual depth to underpin all conservation activities. His work in the spiritual realm, like Thoreau, was a continuation of the deep beliefs of the Native American people, which were also expressed in the modern world by Stewart Udall when he was Interior Secretary at a critical period in the Presidencies of Kennedy and Johnson.  I had the good fortune of meeting him in May 1964 while on a tour publicizing a movie for MGM.  I sat in his office and he told me that when I visited the National Parks and the Fish & Game Commissions and spoke to the staff, I should listen carefully to the views of the junior staff because they were facing the day to day realities.  It was from him that I received a copy of the Proceedings of the Senate of the Wilderness Bill. A document of enormous importance which enabled me to have wilderness areas proclaimed in my home country, South Africa.  I was facing some very hostile critics of the wilderness concept, but those proceedings had every argument for and against wilderness, which enabled me to anticipate and have the right answer to the hostile questions and efforts to derail what I was trying to do.    He encouraged me in my work with the Wilderness Leadership School and the taking out of young people, as well as leading businessmen and politicians, into the wilderness for reconciliation in the natural world.”

Ian Player to David Barron
October 25, 2012


Ian Cedric Audley Player was born on 15 March 1927, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Educated at St. John’s College, he went on to serve in the SADF – 6th South African Armoured Division attached to the American 5th Army, in Italy 1944 – 1945.

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. He grew up in the pioneering days of nature conservation in Africa, working for months on end in the wilderness.

His sporting passion was canoeing. After initiating the Pietermaritzburg to Durban Canoe Marathon (Dusi), he went on to win the race three times. His exploits are well documented in his book Men, Rivers and Canoes.

On his return from WWII he worked underground in the gold mines before taking a position in the (then) Natal Parks Board. He rose to the rank of Chief Conservator of Zululand by the time he took early retirement, in 1974. He was made a member of the Board on three occasions, the only Parks Board staff member to do so. Later in life he also served on the Board of SanParks (SA National Parks Board).

His list of awards is extensive, ranging from Knight in the Order of the Golden Ark (Holland), a decoration for Meritorious Service (Republic of South Africa civilian award) through to Doctor of Philosophy, Honoris causa – Natal University, South Africa, 1984 and Doctor of Laws (LLD) Honoris causa – Rhodes University, South Africa, 2003.

From 1952, as Warden of the iMfolozi Game Reserve, Dr Player spearheaded two important and far-reaching initiatives. The first was Operation Rhino, in which he led the team that pioneered the methods and drugs to immobilize and translocate large mammals. The team captured and moved many of the remaining population of southern white rhino to save them from the brink of extinction. As a direct result, white rhinos now inhabit their former distribution range within many national parks and game reserves, private game farms, zoos and parks around the world.

The second initiative was Dr Player’s recognition of the value of wilderness for the human spirit and for biodiversity conservation. Professionally, this led to the designation of the iMfolozi and St. Lucia Wilderness Areas in the late 1950s — the first wilderness areas to be zoned in South Africa and on the African continent. It 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.

Dr Player resigned from the Natal Parks Board (NPB) to focus his energies on the wilderness movement. He continued conservation work within the NGO sector, leading to one of his most notable achievements – the founding of the globally recognised Wilderness Leadership School (WLS). The WLS was the nucleus from which many other collaborative organisations have emerged, including the World Wilderness Congress (WWC) — implemented by Vance Martin and the WILD Foundation on behalf of the Wilderness Network — held every four years in various countries throughout the world.

Ian Player was also the founding force of the Wilderness Foundation (Africa) Wilderness Foundation (UK), The WILD Foundation (based in the USA and working globally), and the Magqubu Ntombela Memorial Foundation (in honour of his friend, colleague, and mentor). Under the auspices of Andrew Muir, who worked alongside and was mentored by Ian Player, the Wilderness Foundation SA has become one of the major conservation organisations in southern Africa.

Until very recently, Ian Player continued to serve on the Boards of these organisations that today play a significant role in conservation in Africa and globally. Despite life-long physical challenges that steadily increased with age, he nonetheless worked tirelessly on his life’s work for wild nature.

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.

He is survived by Ann Player, his life-long wife, sons Kenneth and Amyas, daughter Jessica, and their families. His younger brother is the famous golfer, Gary Player.

Originally posted on the ICCF website.

In the Tracks of Giants

Following ancient African elephant migration paths, In the Tracks of Giants, is a 6 month east-to-west journey connecting major conservation nodes to promote a greater awareness of conservation, human community and leadership issues specifically relevant to southern Africa. The journey aims to rekindle the rapidly declining indigenous knowledge base of the human – animal interface, and indigenous solutions to conservation challenges and issues.

A team of trackers, conservationists and media will travel by foot, cycle (in regions outside of conservation areas and wildlife parks) and kayak in the Okavango Delta and Zambezi through eight major conservation nodes. Along the way, they will meet with local communities, work with partners, survey and document animal movements and conservation issues focusing on the following issues:

  • Climate change: potential impact on biodiversity and natural habitats
  • Water: The vital role of wild natural areas in supplying water to human communities
  • Human – animal issues: identification of conflict areas and possible solutions
  • Habitat fragmentation and loss of traditional animal migration routes
  • The importance of designated wilderness regions in Transfrontier Conservation Areas
  • Preserving indigenous wildlife knowledge – tracking skills, resource use, oral history
  • Linking environmental issues to leadership issues- biological, social, psychological

Get Involved

To stay up-to-date on In the Tracks of Giants, become a fan on Facebook!  If you’d like to get involved or are interested in sponsoring the trek, please send an email to WILD (info (at)  with the subject line “Tracks” with your contact information and how you would like to be involved.

The Big Picture

“We are all profoundly affected by ecosystem disintegration and biodiversity loss. The idea of “following ancient elephant migration routes” developed by Ian McCallum provides the opportunity to see this at ground level through the difficult choices that elephants face in a world where their horizons are rapidly contracting. Elephants, with their need for space, provide an inspiring and obvious example of how Nature needs large interconnected wild areas in order to continue providing the essential services and support for all life on earth – including humans! “How much” of wild nature should be kept intact is always a question, but increasingly science confirms that “nature needs half.” Ian McCallum’s project can bring light and awareness to this matter,” Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder, Save the Elephants.

Why the Elephant?

Many of the conservation challenges facing Southern Africa, and in particular wilderness regions within Southern Africa, can be highlighted or characterized through umbrella species – where protection of sufficient habitat and connectivity to assure viable populations of the umbrella species benefits other species more restricted in their range. For example, the challenges facing southern African megafauna are exemplified by issues facing southern African elephant (Loxodonta africana) populations in the region.

In this regard, the In the Tracks of Giants project has identified the African elephant as the charismatic mammal of the region and as the iconic species of this coast to coast traverse. Large charismatic wildlife, such as elephants, play an important role as ‘flagship’ species, both in terms of anchoring conservation initiatives and in attracting tourists to protected areas. Furthermore, as keystone species, elephants also play an important role in the broader landscape, through their influence on vegetation patterns.

Local distribution of elephants varies seasonally due to variation in resource availability, and the species is known to undertake long-distance movements. In the selection of the African elephant as the icon of the project, the In the Tracks of Giants journey route has been carefully selected to follow ancient elephant migration paths and to traverse current elephant habitat, thus highlighting the issues faced by southern African elephant populations (and other megafaunal populations) across their former range.

Key People & Partners

The WILD Foundation is the North American face of In the Tracks of Giants – which is a collaborative initiative spearheaded by members of the Wilderness Network (The WILD Foundation USA, Wilderness Foundation Africa, Wilderness Leadership School South Africa and the Wilderness Foundation UK) and including other non-governmental organizations, wildlife management authorities, parks and reserves management and other government, community and corporate partners.

Final participant lists are currently being addressed. The initiative will however be lead and hosted by three Conservation personalities; Dr Ian McCallum, Ian Michler and a top female African guide.

Ian McCallum, a medical doctor, psychiatrist, specialist wilderness guide, Jungian analyst and naturalist has a unique perspective on man’s relationship with the natural environment. Promoted in his highly acclaimed book Ecological Intelligence – Rediscovering Ourselves in Nature, his message is one of an urgent need to understand human history, position and responsibilities in the web of life. He is the author of an anthology of wilderness poems – Wild Gifts.

Ian Michler, a top wildlife guide, photojournalist and naturalist, has spent the last decade documenting the major conservation challenges facing Africa. An author of 6 travel books on various African countries, his work is well known to readers of the award winning magazines, Africa Geographic and Africa Birds and Birding.

Both McCallum and Michler have extensive guiding experience throughout Southern and East Africa and will be assisted be experienced local guides in each country.

The third full-time participant will be an African female guide trained and selected by the Wilderness Network.

The involvement of specialist participants is proposed as a major component of In the Tracks of Giants by providing the opportunity for their participation in the journey. Both Wilderness Leadership School and environmental seminars will be carried out within each conservation node.