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RIP – Rhino Man (Dr Ian Player)

November 30, 2014


I never met Dr Ian Player. I did however, get to chat to him last year as I worked on THE SATURDAY STAR’S year-long Towards 20 Years of Democracy series. He was a gentleman and graciously made time to chat to me. I expected to have to do a lot of explaining about a rather unusual piece I wanted to write for the “I am a South African” topic that we were running as part of the series. I wanted to make the rhino, a South African that needed to have a voice but I need Dr Player to highlight the problems and the context that he felt was most important at that time. After I wrote the piece, I emailed it to him, I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be. He wrote this back to me:

“Your article was outstanding and brought tears to my eyes.   I would just add one more thing somewhere in your text.  ‘You call yourselves homosapiens “.  You are not. You are homo-non- sapiente, ferocious destructus.’

I was struck by the emotion he felt and the big heart he had for the creatures that share our planet. I was struck too by his words of what makes us humans and what should make us hang our heads in shame. 


This is the piece that was published in THE SATURDAY STAR in December 2013.


Rhino don’t talk, they don’t have a human voice. If they could speak, men like Dr Ian Player(conservationist, author and the pioneer behind Operation Rhino, which bought back the white rhino from the brink of extinction in Southern Africa in the 1950s) would know better than most that a rhino’s message to us today, would look something like this. (Written by Ufrieda Ho)  


I have walked this earth for millions of years and watched a million suns rise on the grassy plains that are my home.

I have called the ancients – the elephant and the baobabs – my brothers, like I called you brother when your time arrived to be among us. We grew up together in our evolution story and for a time we shared this Eden. My kind kept to the grass and bushlands, satisfied with the sure rhythm of the seasons, knowing lean times would pass to times of plenty and we rhinos would flourish – also die – in the equilibrium nature knows best. We stayed on this path, you though raced along another evolutionary track.

Now millennia have put distance between us, we are further apart than ever. You call us, the rhino, one of your “Big Five”, you put us on the back of your R10 note and I am part of what you parade as proudly South African. But you keep us in your cages and your fenced parks. You’ve annexed our habitats but you are no custodian of our wild places. Our rivers and waterways are choked, our soils are depleted or washed into the oceans and the air we breathe fills us with toxic chemical cocktails – the byproducts of your progress. The less space we have the fewer of us survive, not just rhino, but all who are left to hold up the web of life, the birds in the sky, the fish and coral in our sea, the smallest of the small insects everywhere.
You tear at our web, you tear at my heart too as you’ve butchered my kind (more than 900 of us died in last year’s annual death count). Our horns of compacted keratin have become a commodity that drives your trade in aspiration and mythical medicines.

It makes me cry. Have you ever heard me cry? Have you heard me cry out as you’ve come with your guns and your hacksaws? Have you heard me cry as I have watched calves unable to separate from the butchered carcasses of their mothers? If you have heard me cry, you’ll never forget – you’ll know it to your primal core, it imprints on your psyche and find you in your dreams and your quiet moments.

Now hear my last cry because my time is running out. Your gods of politics, big profits and self-interest have served you poorly.  We don’t need your grand gestures, not even your rage. We need you to walk among us with light footsteps, treading mindfully showing that you are relearning that this earth is our home too.

Then into the future maybe you will remember that once we walked closer to each other. Once we were brothers.




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