The passing of Dr Ian Player
should remind us of what the man stood for. Ian Player dreamt of an Africa
where large areas had been set aside. Where wild animals would be
safe and free to live out their lives as nature intended. These large areas should be
protected by law in the constitution of the country i.e. National
So let's examine how Ian
Player's dream under the onslaught of 7 billion human beings on the
planet, of which 1.23 billion are in Africa, is faring:
Starting with Tanzania's famous
Serengeti: The Serengeti has recently been threatened by a highway
through this great wilderness. Richard Leakey has suggested
that the highway should be raised above the ground to allow the
animals to move underneath. Either way the wilderness is
invaded and it will never be the same. It is compromised in the name
Tanzania's other parks Selous, Ruaha and Tangire are rife
with poaching and Tanzania is reputed to be losing 30 elephant per
day or 22 000 in the last 2 years.
Rumours of collusion between
Tanzania Government officials and Chinese ivory dealers abound.
Kenya too is under attack from
elephant poachers. The worlds largest elephant bull Satao, was
recently poached in Tsavo National Park. His tusks measured more
than 6.5 feet long.
Despite much talk, Uhuru
Kenyatta, the new president, has yet to get a handle on corruption
and poaching in his country.
The famous Masai Mara is
trapped by its own success. It is not uncommon to see 20 cars
pursuing a hunting cheetah or 60 vehicles jostling for position on a
wildebeest crossing. Greed and money have overtaken the wilderness.
Zambia has 22% of its surface
area protected by national parks. Sadly, many of these parks are
dysfunctional. Luangwa Valley once had 100 000 elephant and 6 000
black rhino. The rhino are gone and the elephant greatly reduced.
Despite attempts to introduce the lion back into Luawa plains, the
lions have all disappeared.
Once one of the richest countries in
Africa, there are frequent times when the game scouts in Zambia
parks, who are supposed to fight the poachers and protect the
wilderness, do not even get paid.
Zimbabwe’s national parks came
under enormous pressure during the 15 year Rhodesian war. President Mugabe
has frequently allowed his army to use the wildlife in the national
parks to feed the troops.
Recently 50 elephants were
poisoned by cyanide in a waterhole in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National
Park, making it the largest poaching incident in the history of
Botswana lost all its rhino,
black and white, but is now confident that Ian Khama’s shoot to kill
policy will keep the rhino safe. South Africa is giving Botswana
large numbers of rhino.
Vetinary fences aimed at protecting the
cattle industry in Botswana, are responsible for the death of
millions of wild animals.
The great wilderness area of the Okavango
has been frequently bombarded with D.D.T to combat the tsetse fly
which is fatal to cattle.
South Africa’s Kruger National
Park has been turned into a war zone as poachers from Mozambique
invade into Kruger, killing rhino for their horn.
Despite these invasions, Kruger
have still granted permission to hotel groups to construct large
hotels inside the park on the premise that Kruger Park must be
financially viable. The message is clear. Kruger is no longer a
wilderness set aside for animals and people. Kruger must make profit
in the harsh commercial world.
South Africa has far more lions
in captivity than in the wilds. Some 8 000 lions are bred in captivity
to supply the canned lion industry to be shot in an enclosed area by
a wealthy overseas hunter. This is a multi-million rand industry,
but it has nothing to do with wilderness and everything to do with
On game ranches in South
Africa, rare animals like disease free buffalo, roan antelope and
sable walk around with tags in their ears, proclaiming the
exorbitant prices they command. These animals are a far cry from the
wild herds that once roamed across the African veld.
However, the private
enterprise, seen as the shining light of conservation in South
Africa, have found other ways to make money. They are breeding
gimmicks. A copper springbuck fetches R25 000, a golden wildebeest
R400 000, a black impala R530 000, a buffalo bull with 53 inch horns
R40 million. Clearly this is not about wilderness and all about
Inspired by his lifelong friend
and game scout, Magqubu Ntombela, Ian Player greatly admired the
great keepers of wilderness. Those who have lived successfully in
harmony with the land and the wild animals.
Sadly these too are under
The Kalahari bushmen were
marginalized by the South African Apartheid Government when they
took their hunting grounds for national parks. The ANC government
has done little to improve the situation for the bushmen.
The North American Red Indian
remain in reservations. Some of them have made money from oil and
casinos but they are far removed from the naturalists that once
lived off the great herds of American buffalo on the prairies of
North America (The estimate for the American buffalo that once
roamed across the prairies, is 63 million).
A low tolerance to alcohol, the
Australian aborigines are still waiting for the Australian
Government to restore their former hunting areas to them.
In short, Ian Player's keepers
of the wilderness are today scattered and marginalized. With their
passing, great wisdom is lost to mankind.
Nelson Mandela said: "I have
dreamed of a just and fair, non-racial, non-corrupt democratic
South Africa". Mandela's dream is fading in South Africa today.
Ian Player's dream of vast
wilderness areas where rhino and elephant and all wild animals are
safe from human beings is fading too.
If we are to save the rhino and
elephant and by extension all wild animals, it will be done by those
who can win the war. History has proved that large numbers of soldiers operating in National
Parks, creating war zones, are not compatible with wilderness.
Rest in Peace: Doctor Ian Player
Tread Lightly on the Earth
Response to newsletter:
ATTENTION JOHN VARTY
John, thanks for the latest update on
what is going on regarding the wildlife in Africa. It is
Having been there 10 times, we grieve
for what has changed so terribly in just the last 3-4
Your Father would be turning over in
his grave if he knew what has happened.
We would live to come back, but
fear it would just not be the same.
Daryl, what say ye on this situation?
Response from Daryl and Sharna Balfour:
Hi Stoney & Jan,
I really think you are mis-reading and
over-reacting to JV’s newsletter. In fact, the very places I was
suggesting for your safari – Tiger Canyons, Tswalu, Phinda and
Londolozi, are all privately owned reserves that are in the
forefront of making a difference to conservation in South
Africa. While JV makes the point that Governments are neglecting
to preserve their heritage, it is very much the private
land-owners who deserve your support and that of others to
continue being able to make a difference. Should people such as
yourselves, regular visitors to Africa over the years, decide to
throw in the towel...well, the outcome for Africa’s wildlife
would be the same as the outcome for Europe had the Allied
forces decided to throw in the towel after the early setbacks in
Africa’s wildlife cannot survive (the
world’s wildlife in fact) without the tourist dollar. JV has
frequently made the point that Governments will not save the
tiger, private landowners such as himself and hopefully others
who follow his example, will. Without tourism, places like Tiger
Canyons, Londolozi and the many others scattered around Africa
will wither and die...they need your support, not your boycott
or avoidance. And in fact, not only the private reserves, but
the national parks and game reserves will also wither and die.
I can assure you that the problems facing
Africa’s wildlife are not things that should spoil your safaris
at all. In fact they are things that have been ongoing for
several decades now, under the surface and behind the scenes.
The best thing to help preserve them is for tourists to continue
to visit them...and speak out vociferously. In the USA you can
support and encourage efforts to ban the imports of wildlife
trophies from Africa & elsewhere of things such as rhino,
elephant, lion, cheetah, leopard, tiger and other endangered
Should African governments find the tourist
dollar from wildlife tourism declines, then wild places and
wildlife will be even more imperilled and these governments will
find alternative uses for both the land and its inhabitants.
Already the Chinese are eyeing the huge herds of east Africa as
a potential source of protein. The only way to stop this from
happening is for Africa to continue seeing wildlife tourism as a
major source of foreign income and employment for their people.
Likewise, my recent visit to the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge flies in the face of the wants of the
oil companies (who seem to have USFWS in their pockets) who
would rather that tourists do not visit places like Kaktovik &
the Alaska North Slope...so they can continue with their
nefarious oil prospecting & habitat destruction far from the
public eye. Only by people such as me and my clients and others
visiting and photographing and writing about these places will
our and future generations be stirred enough to act to save
A boycott mentality never helps anything –
should I and other potential visitors to the USA stay away
because of the lawless events and incidents in Ferguson and New
York surrounding the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases?
Come back to Africa Stoney & Jan...you will
not be disappointed!
Daryl & Sharna.