Click here to read tribute by Jo Roberts
By John Battersby
The South African High Commissioner, His Excellency Obed Mlaba, led the tributes to the late Dr Ian Player, world-renowned conservationist, humanist and spiritualist at St James Church, Piccadilly this week.
Dr Player, who died on November 14 last year aged 87 and was remembered at a packed memorial in Durban earlier, was well known in the United Kingdom and had given many talks on conservation and his insights into the wilderness of KwaZulu/Natal where he developed a unique life-long relationship with his friend and mentor Magqubu Ntombela.
At the end of the 90-minute memorial at St James’s church on Tuesday, Jo Roberts, director of the Wilderness Foundation, announced the tragic death following a long illness of Dr Player’s son, Kenneth, on the morning before the London memorial.
Moving tributes at the memorial in London included one by Lucia Crichton-Miller, daughter of the late Laurens van der Post, author, philosopher and spiritualist and mentor to HRH the Prince of Wales, and from Louise Aspinall, former daughter-in-law of the multi-millionaire zoo keeper, the late John Aspinall, who admired Zulu culture.
The unique tribute in St James Church began with a recording of the sounds of nature and concluded with the plaintiff cry of the fish eagle.
Singer Sasha Herriman (aka Lily Marlene) sang two songs including an evocative rendition of Born Free.
In her eulogy to an extraordinary South African, Jo Roberts quoted extensively from the profound eulogy delivered by Dr Ian McCullum, former Springbok rugby player, author, psychiatrist and wilderness trail leader who delivered the eulogy at Dr Player’s memorial in Durban.
Dr Player was the founder of the Wilderness Leadership School (1957), the Wilderness Foundation Africa and UK (1974) and the internationally acclaimed Wilderness Congress (1977).
He led an unprecedented campaign in the 1950’s, while a game ranger for the Natal Parks, to save the white rhino in the Umfolozi which were critically endangered with a total population of only 437. The campaign was an extraordinary success and the numbers climbed year after year to reach a peak of some 20 000.
“Ian Player began to see wild animals and wild places not only for what they are but for what they represent in the human psyche,” Jo Roberts said.
“If for instance, a wild animal becomes extinct then the human psyche suffers,” Roberts said in elaborating on the insights of Dr Player.
“If a wild species dies, then something in the psyche dies as well. He understood the deep reciprocity of nature. The fight for the natural environment could be understood as the fight for human sanity,” said Roberts.
“Deep down, he knew it and so do we.”
She said that Dr Player had, ahead of his time, believed that environmental issues would eventually become leadership issues.
Fifty years on more than 40 000 young men and women of all ages and cultures had been on a Wilderness Leadership School trail.
“For many these trails were life-changing,” Roberts said.
“The wilderness was a ‘sacred place’… a church without dogma, an inner and outer journey, a space in which, if you were open to it, you could hear that ‘still, small voice’ of God.”