Ian Player, brother of the famous golfer, Gary Player, in the 1960s. with a white rhinoceros.
In 1952, Ian Player was a newly minted 25-year-old game warden assigned to the Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa. It took his breath away when he first saw prehistoric-looking white rhinoceroses solemnly pad out of a grove.
That evening he sat alone by a campfire. “I could think of nothing but the white rhino,” he wrote in his 1972 book, “The White Rhino Saga.” “Never had I been so impressed and at the same time strangely involved with an animal.”
The reserve was established in the 1890s to protect the two dozen or so white rhinos thought to be alive. In an aerial survey in 1953, Mr. Player found that their numbers had grown to 437. But these were being steadily killed by farmers, hunters and poachers, and a disease outbreak could easily have exterminated such a concentrated population.
The young game warden devised a plan to capture rhinos, put them in crates — a task exactly as hard as it sounds — and ship them to other reserves, parks and game farms throughout Africa, as well as to zoos and safari parks around the world. By 1965, international authorities ruled that the white rhino had been “saved.” Today, there are as many as 20,000.
Although a new wave of poaching is killing rhinos at the rate of three a day, Rachel Long wrote in Africa Geographic in 2012, “It is because of Dr. Ian Player that there are still rhinos around for us to save.”
Mr. Player, a high school dropout whose doctorate is honorary, died at 87 on Nov. 30 at his homestead in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, his brother, the golfer Gary Player, announced. The South African Press Association reported that he had a stroke several days before his death.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mr. Player led a successful campaign to designate two wilderness areas in South Africa, the first two on the continent. He started a wilderness school to promote skills for living in the wild that more than 50,000 people have attended.
He also helped found the World Wilderness Congress with his Zulu mentor Magqubu Ntombela, to bring together thousands of scientists, politicians, bankers and others in international meetings every three years geared towards conservation of the wild. He was a leader in starting foundations in Africa, Britain and the United States.
His efforts have had the practical effect of attracting ecotourists to the South African wild, where their spending generates income for native people, reducing their incentive to kill big game. By selling animals abroad, Mr. Player raised money for conservation and helped start a new business: safari parks, which mimic the African experience. Meanwhile, the genetic base of white rhinos has grown and diversified.
Ian Cedric Player was the son of Harry and Muriel Player, was born in Johannesburg on March 15, 1927. He laid the foundation for the famed physical fitness of his brother, Gary, who was eight years younger, by making him climb a rope and lift weights. “He made me promise I would exercise for the rest of my life,” Gary Player told Golf World magazine in 2013.
Ian left school at 16 and joined the South African Army. After his discharge, with jobs scarce, he worked as a gold miner like his father but he hated being shut in and went on to jobs on the Durban docks, as a fisherman. Later he became an accountant’s clerk.
As a soldier in Italy during World War II, he had the idea of a 75-mile canoe race from the city of Pietermaritzburg to Durban. It materialized in December 1951 (remembering that they are in the Southern Hemisphere and that is their summer) and of eight entrants, he was the only one who finished the race, despite being bitten by a poisonous snake. Since then, 12,374 people have competed in the annual race, the Dusi Canoe Marathon, according to its sponsors.