“The loss of Dr Ian Player is felt by all in the conservation community. His contribution to the preservation of our natural world and his leadership in saving the rhino from extinction in South Africa are achievements that cannot be beaten,” says the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa.
The Minister, Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, Barbara Thomson, the Chairman of the SANParks Board, Kuseni Dlamini, and newly-appointed SANParks CEO, Fundisile Mketeni, are saddened by the loss of Dr Ian Player.
Dr Player passed away at his home in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, on 30 November 2014.
Dr Player played a pivotal role in saving the world’s remaining population of Southern White Rhino, leading South Africa’s first Operation Rhino in the then iMfolozi Game reserve in the 1960s.
It was because of his vision and dedication of Dr Player and his team that the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve became the source population of Southern white rhino.
At the time, the rhino population in the Kruger National Park was locally extinct. Since the start of the relocation of 351 rhino from the Hluhluwe game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal to the Kruger National Park 50 years ago, the Kruger rhino population had increased to between 8 400 and 9 600 in 2013.
Translocation of 1 450 rhino from the Kruger National Park between 1997 and 2013 has contributed significantly to the growth of the South African rhino population. South Africa is home to 82% of Africa’s rhinos, 93% of Africa’s white rhino and 39% of black rhino.
“The reason that white rhino exist is because of this country’s exemplary conservation record – an achievement made possible by a ranger with foresight, Dr Player,” said Minister Molewa.
“His guidance and leadership will be missed by all in government, the Department of Environmental Affairs, and in conservation circles who had the honour to work with him,” the Minister added.
Mketeni, reacting with sadness at the news, said: “In his last days I was so humbled to receive a passionate email from Dr Player congratulating me on my appointment as CEO of SANParks. I had responded that I was humbled because he was my role model.”
The chairperson of the SANParks Board, Dlamini, said: “Dr Player was one of the giants of the conservation industry in Southern Africa. He, more than anyone else, was responsible for saving our rhino from the brink of extinction in the 1960s. We owe it to him to ensure that we do not allow the current onslaught on our rhino to succeed. Whilst we mourn his passing, we also celebrate his enormous contribution throughout his illustrious life.”