A response to McCullum Statement at UCT “Wildlife in Crisis” conference.

A shorter version of this article was published in the Cape Times on Tuesday 2 June 2015.

During question time, following a presentation by Dr. John Hanks at the recent conference “Wildlife in Crisis “ held at UCT , Dr. Ian McCullum speaking on behalf of the Wilderness Foundation stated in what he described as a bid to set the record straight that the late Dr. Ian Player “ considered trade in rhino horn as “purely an option” in the fight to save the rhino from poaching but was in every other sense completely opposed to legal trade.

McCullum then went on to describe a certain meeting held with Dr. Player some time ago and the fact that following the latter’s death in Nov. 2014 he was invited to deliver the eulogy at the official memorial service on the 14th. January, 2015.

The fact of the matter is that Dr. Player was a committed supporter of a legal trade in rhino horn right up to the time of his death. To say otherwise is not only untrue – it dishonours the legacy of a man whose contribution to nature and wildlife conservation is unparalleled. But that aside, irrefutable evidence of Dr. Player’s position on trade is to be found in his emotional , hard hitting pro trade statement made in the film “Rhino in Crisis: A Blueprint for Survival”. McCullum should know this because he was present as a guest at the screening of this same film at SANBI in January this year. Dr Player also happened to be the patron of the organisation ( The Conservation Imperative) which produced this film , was directly involved in its production and went as far as to secure financial assistance for its making , such was his profound conviction that the time had come to lift the CITES ban and apply an economic intervention using legally acquired horn in the fight against poaching. (To see the short version of the movie click on this link.  Rhino in Crisis: A Blueprint for Survival.)

Turning to the second claim by McCullum in regard to a meeting held some time ago between Colin Bell, Dr. Player and “ another person” (unnamed), he referred to as being present someone fully committed to legal trade , that other person was myself, the undersigned. To claim that I confessed to personal reservations about legal trade and in the same breath refer to me as a” fully committed” pro trade activist is not only an absurd contradiction it also gives lie to the manner in which peddling spurious half truths has become a way of life for many anti trade advocates. In a career in wildlife conservation spanning 53 years I have never been anything other than pro sustainable utilisation and in the context of rhino, pro trade in horn . In all this time Dr Player has first and foremost been my mentor and inspiration.

Our close friendship goes back 48 years starting with the early days of rhino capture and rhino translocation . I ,too, spoke at the memorial service as a friend and colleague in response to a special request made by Dr. Player before his death. In that address I emphasised his very pragmatic approach to wildlife conservation and his consistent adoption of realistic sustainable utilisation management policies , policies that included trophy hunting , selling live rhino and commercial farming of rhino, in preference to persisting with a failed preservationist ideology that has seen thousands of rhino – the species he had saved from extinction back in the 1960’s , slaughtered.

The attempt by Bell and McCullum at the meeting with Dr, Player was patently aimed at converting Dr. Player to an anti trade position using irrational , clumsy and moralistic rhetoric. Needless to say this crude attempt failed rather miserably. The record is now straight. Rather than my experiencing difficulty in sleeping at night I would suggest it is McCullum who is the one courting insomnia!

David Cook

Chairman;The Conservation Imperative.