My motivation for a life in conservation was based on people that inspired me and my passion for kayaking and exploration of wild places. This list of references from the past supported the establishment of principles that underpins my philosophy towards conservation and my professional life.
My first memory of wild landscapes comes from a reading of the book Jock of the Bushvelt written by the South African Sir Percy FitzPatrick introducing wild Africa and the life in the wilderness to my soul as an emotional experience and this initiated my life in conservation.
Towards the end of my school life I became interested in exploring rivers. After building a kayak I ran away from school and spent a week paddling down the Berg River through the farmlands of the Boland in the Western Cape. On rivers one is not exposed to development in the valleys, each turn and bend in the river introduces a new visual experience and leads you on, day after day. This enthusiasm also led to an interest in kayaking and connected me with Dr Ian Player the famous conservationist and canoeist of and of the DUSI canoe marathon and Rhino conservation fame. We became very good friends through conservation and served on the South African National Parks Board for many years together.
While studying for a degree in Architecture at Cape Town University I spent my free time going on kayak expeditions down various rivers in Africa, such the Orange, the Pongola, the Limpopo, the Sabi, the Okavango and the Cunene. These expeditions introduced me to the various landscapes of Africa. Prof Lester King the geologist and his book on ‘South African Scenery’ taught me the geological backdrop to landscapes and also the geomorphological process shaping the landscape of the rivers. The valleys, the rapids and the waterfalls all had a reason for being there and they assisted me in this understanding. Prof King was also one of the first to understand the concept of continental drift globally.
After completion of the degree in Architecture, I realized that my life in Africa directed me to further studies in Landscape Architecture. I met Dr John Phillips, one of the first ecological thinkers and scientists. Dr Phillips supported Smuts in writing the influential book by Jan Smuts on ‘Holism and evolution’, one of the first publications on ecology ever. DR John Phillips suggested and arranged a scholarship to complete my Masters at the University of Pennsylvania in Landscape Architecture in 1973 with Prof Ian McHarg of the ‘Design with Nature’ fame. The basis of his teaching is that nature knows best and that the planner should be able to see and understand natural forces before planning within the constraints of nature.
Coming back to South Africa, I started to teach at the University of Pretoria in the Department of Landscape Architecture in January 1995. I became involved in GIS as a planning tool and developed the first South African GIS programs in Fortran. The basis to my approach was the same as that of Ian McHarg and the department of Landscape Architecture and its students became disciples of this approach to planning.
During this time I met up with Dr. Ken Tinley an ecologist from Natal and he became my mentor and introduced me to the Science of Ecology, based on the sequential understanding of all the components of Nature, driven by the importance of salient features. We spent many days together in the wilderness and produced a number of original planning studies for such as those for Maputuland, Pilanesberg Gorongoza in southern Africa.
During the year 2000, Dr Anton Rupert requesting a visit to Stellenbosch and an offer to develop and run the Peace Parks Foundation contacted me. This changed my life and for the next 10 years, I focused on the concept of conservation across boundaries. The boundaries of nature and that drawn by politicians are never the same and ecosystems should be managed across the boundaries. This philosophy was the driving force behind Dr. Rupert’s focus for the last period of his life. He had restructured his companies and handed control of his empire to his son Dr. Johann Rupert, he focused only on conservation and the creation of a network of Peace Parks in Southern Africa and the world.
He introduced his friend President Mandela to this philosophy and in turn all the presidents of the SADC countries supporting the establishment of these parks. With the weight of the politician support behind the foundation it grew quickly and with the sufficient funding support became one the most influential NGO’s in conservation. During this period of development of the Foundation we met often and once I was fortunate to accompany him to his farm in the Transkei, flying in the presidential jet, discussing landscapes.
One day I received a call from a Sir Richard Branson, at first I did not believe that it was his voice but after a while his enthusiasm and interest in our foundation led to our friendship and he joined the foundation as a patron. His enthusiasm for conservation and for the trans-transfrontier ideal was infectious. He introduced the idea of surrounding one with people more skilled than yourself and that became our philosophy.
Jack Dangermond from ESRI is the greatest figure in GIS and under his development of ARCINFO became the most powerful software in planning and management. It changed the science of Ecosystems and the methodology of research. His visit to the Kruger National Park and the Peace Park Foundation and the viewing for our 3d software gave me the Presidents reward at the conference in San Diageo during 2008. The science of GIS is still today the anchor platform of the foundation.