About Ian Player

Ian Cedric Player (born March 15, 1927) is a South African environmental educator, conservationist, sportsman and activist.

Early Life

Ian Player received his education at St John’s College, Johannesburg and served with the 6th South African Armoured Division attached to the American 5th Army in Italy 1944 – 1946. Ian Player is also the brother of world renowned Grand Slam winning professional golfer Gary Player.

Msunduzi Canoe Marathon

In 1951 Ian Player initiated the Dusi Canoe Marathon, between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, South Africa. The race now attracts over 2,000 competitors each year from around the globe. Ian Player won the first six-day race in 1951 despite being bitten by a night adder during the course. Two more victories followed in 1953 and 1954. He is a founder member of the Natal Canoe Club. Canoeing is now acknowledged as an important competitive sport as well as raising conservation awareness.

Natal Parks Board

His conservation career started under Col. J.Vincent with the Natal Parks, Game and Fish Preservation Board in 1952. By 1954 he was promoted to Senior Ranger and in 1962 Senior Warden of iMfolozi Game Reserve. Whilst Warden of the iMfolozi Game Reserve, he spearheaded two key initiatives:
·    Operation Rhino – which saved the few remaining Southern race of White rhino
·    Wilderness areas in iMfolozi and St. Lucia – The first wilderness areas to be zoned in South Africa and on the African continent.
In 1964 he became Chief Conservator for Zululand. His final promotion was Chief Nature Conservator for Natal and Zululand.


Ian Player is well known as being the initiator and team leader of an innovative project ‘Operation Rhino’. This successful effort resulted in numerous independent research papers. He also initiated a number of documentaries and acted as a technical advisor to Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, who made the movie ‘Rhino!’ This resulted in an invitation to visit the United States as a guest of M-G-M.
He went on to establish a program of selling breeding colonies of White Rhinoceros to many zoological gardens and safari parks outside of the Republic of South Africa in order to assure their survival as a species. Some of the initial sales were to the San Diego Zoo and Orange County Zoo in the United States and Whipsnade Zoo in the U.K.
In addition he established a successful anti-poaching network in South African game reserves which resulted in an impressive reduction in poaching and predation.
During the 1960s, Ian Player conducted eco-surveys of crocodile and hippopotamus populations and of the avifauna at the Ndumu Game Reserve.  He conducted “Operation Crocodile” at Lake St. Lucia, which saw the first helicopter airlift of crocodiles from the high salinity area of the Mkuze River, to the fresher regions of the southern part of the Lake.


Ian Player has lectured, promoted conservation films and raised money for environmental projects both within the Republic of South Africa and internationally. He has founded and influenced international conservation links and relationships throughout Africa, Europe and the United States of America. Organisational membership is as follows:
Wilderness Leadership School (W.L.S.) South Africa. (founder)
World Wilderness Congresses (W.W.C.). (founder)
Wilderness Foundation, U.K. (founder)
Wilderness Foundation, Germany. (member)
Wilderness Action Group (W.A.G.). (member)
Game Rangers Association of Africa. (member)
South African Association of Jungian Analysts (formerly Jungian Society). (founder member)
Dusi Canoe Marathon. (founder)
Natal Canoe Club. (founder member)
Magqubu Ntombela Foundation. (founder)
Wildlands Conservation Trust. (member)
Wilderness International Leadership Development. (W.I.L.D) (formerly International Wilderness Leadership Foundation IWLF) ,  United States of America. (founder)
Ian Player Established the first World Wilderness Congresses, which convened in October, 1977 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Over 2000 of the world’s leading scientists, politicians, financial leaders, poets, artists, etc., shared the platform to focus attention on the need for conservation and protection of wilderness areas and how such goals can be accomplished.  Now an established triennial event, the 2nd Congress was held in Australia (1980), the 3rd in Scotland (1983), the 4th in the United States (1987), the 5th in Norway (1992) , the 6th in India (1997),  the 7th in Port Elizabeth, South Africa (2001) and 8th in Anchorage, Alaska (2005). The 9th will be held in Merida, on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico (Nov 6th – 13th, 2009). www.wild9.org
Ian Player travelled extensively in the Far East, Europe, Australia and the United States, lecturing and raising funds for worthy conservation projects.  Significantly, he was asked by President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines to help conserve the endangered Tamaraw, a miniature buffalo, and travelled to that country seven times while implementing a Tamaraw conservation programme.

Laurens van der Post

As a young game ranger, Ian Player read van der Post’s book Venture to the Interior. It was to have a profound effect on him – “Laurens had evoked the soul of Africa and given me a glimpse of my own soul’s link to it.” They were to become firm friends and allies in the fight for conservation and the wilderness, and were united further by their fascination with the work, especially on dreams, of the great psychologist, C.G. Jung. This eventually led to the founding of the Cape of Good Hope Centre for Jungian Studies. Now South African Association for Jungian Analysts.  (insert the page on VDP’s books plus a shot of him and ICP)

Wilderness Training

Ian Player introduced Wilderness Trails to the game reserves of the Natal Parks Board. As a result of being introduced to the concept by ranger colleague, Jim Feely, he founded the Wilderness Leadership School; a unique conservation education programme to develop leaders and preserve wilderness, with Magqubu Ntombela.  More than 50,000 people of all races and many nations have passed through this school and have made a great impact on conservation matters in their communities and countries. The school has also used walking trails as a platform for reconciliation between races in South Africa and traditionally adversarial groups within Northern Ireland.
Established a training programme for rangers and trained many young game rangers who are now known worldwide.
Established facilities in the remote game reserves of Ndumu, iMfolozi, Mkuzi, Lake St. Lucia and Mtunzini for the Natal Parks Board. This opened these wild areas to the public for enjoyment and nature appreciation.
Raised the initial funds for and was the co-founder with Sir Laurens van der Post of the Wilderness Foundation (United Kingdom) (formerly the Wilderness Trust) in the British Isles.  This Foundation currently takes British people on foot into the wilderness areas of Africa and Scotland.  Participants from Northern and Southern Ireland now regularly go on trail into Scotland and learn to reconcile their differences.


Ian Player wrote a syndicated column, Voice from the Wilderness, for the Daily News South Africa from 1976 – 1993.

15 Replies

  1. Tracey Johnson May 20th 2010

    What a remarkable man – thank you Ian for your passion and contribution to our wildlife.

  2. Thanks to Dr Player we still have Rhinos to protect, but the escalating threat from poachers could make all his efforts futile.
    We are a small local film production company in KZN, and are making a documentary on this subject. We would much appreciate some advice from Dr Player himself. We hope that this film will be broadcast internationally, to inform the public and influence the decision-makers to take the necessary steps to ensure the long-term survival of this magnificent animal.

  3. P.R. la Grange May 23rd 2011

    We at Rondebosch Boys’ High School are greatly indebted to Dr Ian Player and the Wilderness Leadership School for the life-changing impressions that scores of our boys could experience over an uninterrupted association of more than 30 years. I watched the programme 50/50 tonight and listened to Rondebosch Old Boy Braam Malherbe interviewing Dr Player whilst alluding to the fact that he himself had the privilege of attending the White Rhino Trail as a schoolboy, an experience that left an indelible impact on him.
    We at Rondebosch Boys’ High salute you, Dr Player!

  4. Both of you, Ian & Magqubu, heard the calling, listened and carried out the mission. Many times you felt discouraged, but you continued nevertheless.

    A message has gone out amongst the hills – “uKhokho enamisa”

    We share the same ancestors, Ian. James Player Snr & Sarah Elizabeth. They must be smiling quietly to themselves.

  5. Pat McKelvey Jul 8th 2011

    Ian’s story is truly inspirational, what one person, with passion, drive and inspiration, can achieve. Now we need similar people with the passion, drive and inspiration to save our children through education, our environment through conservation and smart choices, and lift up the people in poverty and despair.
    Thank you for sharing Ian’s story. I challenge you to find an Ian in children’s education, an Ian in environmental stewardship and an Ian in lifting up the under priviledged and tell their story.
    Pat McKelvey

  6. i am a Nature Conservation student at CPUT and i am busy doing an assignment on the greatest heroes in Conservation and i am pleased to do mine with Dr. Player, the more i read up about his history the more i am eager to know more. i have just read his book The White Rhino Saga and i am loving it.

  7. radha Pather Nov 10th 2011

    I remember Ian Player in the 60’s active in saving the white rhino. I visited Hluhluwe in 2007.

  8. radha Pather Nov 10th 2011

    I remember the drive of Ian Player in saving the white rhino in the 50’s and 60’s. Visiting Hluhluwe in 2007 was just majestic testament to Ian and his fellows at the Natal Parks Board.

  9. Dear Dr Player

    Please provide me with an email address so that I may email and attach a document to you regarding a possible educational film I wrote 2 years ago for rhino conservation education.

    Thank you and kind regards
    Ritchie Morris
    021 – 7905793 or 083 381 4560

  10. Sean Martin Oct 6th 2014

    Deer Dr Player, Thank you on behalf of all the animals you have saved and for all that you have done for conservation in our beautiful country and around the world.

  11. Thank you dr Player

  12. Anne Paterson Owen Nov 30th 2014

    To the Player family,
    It is with great regret and sadness I have just read about Dr. Player’s passing. In the early 1970’s my mother and I were staying with the Widow of Dr. Piet Pretorius on her farm in Zululand. She took us to visit the Zululand Game Reserves. We met Dr. Ian Player there and he invited the two of us to accompany him on the darting of two White Rhino for the San Diego Zoo. That evening he had dinner with “Aunty Bea” Mom and myself and took us to a new water hole. It was a most remarkable day for all of us. One I shall always remember. He gave us a list of his books, all of which we read. I lived in Puerto Rico for about 10 years, where I had the pleasure of meeting his brother, Gary and then also was able to visit the zoo and see the Rhinos there.
    Two men who have excelled in their different fields and have touched so many people. Thank you and God Bless you,
    Anne Owen,
    Tyler, Texas.

  13. martin greenspan Dec 1st 2014

    A great man is going to be sorely missed.
    I got my “wings” from Dr. Ian @ the Wilderness leadership school in Cape Town and a victor ladorum trophy from his brother gary at High School.
    The brothers are simply a remarkable pair of men.
    His compassion and love of all of us is legendary and they are both in their own right South African heroes.
    My time with these great men was a priviledge and I wish their families ‘long life’
    With love from Martin Greenspan

  14. Peter Morris Dec 3rd 2014

    Dr Ian Player, you worked so hard to leave a living legacy for all of us to follow in your footsteps. This will be a hard act to follow. May you rest in Eternal Peace.

  15. Heidi Morgan Dec 3rd 2014

    Dear Sirs,
    My condolences to the family of Mr Player.
    I would like to email you a letter submitted to the newspaper ‘Rapport’ in October (about hunting and referring to Mr Ian Player) which they never published…
    Can you supply me with an email address please?
    Kind regards


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