Reconnecting Man and Nature

Since 1957


"Wilderness Area" means an area designated in terms of section 22 or 26 of the South African Environmental Management Act for the purpose of retaining an intrinsically wild appearance and character or capable of being restored to such and which is undeveloped and roadless, without permanent improvements or human habitation"


Protecting the last of our wilderness areas is central to our mission. We do this by exposing people from all walks of life to a deep Wilderness Experience. An experience that inevitably creates environmentally conscious leaders and ambassadors for our wild spaces. “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit" ~ Edward Abbey

About Wilderness Leadership School

The Wilderness Leadership School was the first non profit organisation in Africa dedicated to providing a pure wilderness experience for people of all backgrounds, races and nationalities. Steeped in a rich environmental history, The Wilderness Leadership School was founded in 1957 by the legendary Dr. Ian Player who, together with his friend and mentor Magqubu Ntombela, recognised the necessity for people to connect with the environment. Long before ecology had become a vogue catch-word, the Wilderness Leadership School foresaw the urgent need for a large body of well-informed, conservation-oriented leaders, capable of and dedicated to the defense of our planet’s irreplaceable natural resources.


In the annals of South African conservation, the story of the Wilderness Leadership School and Dr Ian Player is a very profound one.

Its origins date back to 1955 when the American concept of wilderness was first introduced to the school's founder Dr. Ian Player by a senior game ranger Jim Feely. By 1958 half of the iMfolozi Game Reserve (now the iMfolozi-Hluhluwe Game Reserve) and a part of Lake St Lucia had wilderness areas proclaimed. These areas of wilderness allowed people to go into them only on foot, horseback or canoe.

These were the first official wilderness areas in Africa. 

The first group of schoolboys (from St John's College) to be taken on a wilderness trail dates back to 1957 at Lake St Lucia. While the school was only formalised as such in 1963, trails of young people were being taken out in the late 1950's by game rangers in both reserves. This was the time that Dr. Player came into contact with Magqubu Ntombela, an extraordinary game tracker for the then Natal Parks Board. He was to prove to be one of the greatest influences on Dr. Player's life and one of the foremost sponsors of the Wilderness Leadership School idea. 
In 1959 Dr. Player and Magqubu Ntombela took the first official Natal Parks Board trail,  into the iMfolozi wilderness area. A trail is a unique experience to experience wild areas on foot, areas where man has not left an impact, no roads, no facilities, just wilderness.  It was the beginning of something very special. 
Apart from all else the hike was being traversed over particularly historical ground. The area between the White and Black iMfolozi rivers was an area that had been occupied by the famous Zulu King Shaka, who undertook controlled hunting in this very area back in the 1860's. 
In other words this iMfolozi wilderness area lay at the heart of the early Zulu Kingdom.
In fact Magqubu Ntombela's grandfather had been one of King Shaka's indunas (a chief) and Magqubu carried with him the oral history of the time, perpetuating the venerable Zulu ritual of vivid storytelling. Enshrined in tribal tales were also the old conservation practices of the Zulus, vital for an understanding of the culture and the land. 
And the significance of iMfolozi was enhanced even further as one of the greatest scenes of global conservation history when a collection of select game rangers saved the White Rhino from extinction. It was right here that white rhino numbers had plummeted to such a degree that unless they were captured and relocated it was conceivably they would have been wiped out. 
And so when one talks about the origins of the Wilderness Leadership School one situates it amongst these crucial events. 
Hundreds of people and many local and international bodies have since been involved in the growth of the school. But it was the friendship of these two men, Dr. Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela and all that they stood for that infused the school with its significance and helped unfold the enduring lessons that the wilderness has on people.

We strive to restore a balanced relationship between humanity and nature by providing a direct experience of wilderness for the leaders who shape society. In wilderness we find a place where the full range of natural processes are in balance.

The Wilderness Leadership School works towards our mission through providing a direct experience of nature on a Wilderness Trail to provide a direct experience of wilderness through an on-foot trail opportunity in some of the wildest areas of southern Africa.    

The trail philosophy is one of ‘leave no trace’ and the trails are conducted according to the original principles which the founder enshrined in his vision that people of all ages and cultures need to re-connect with their roots through a guided walk in areas accessible only on foot where there are no roads, and where the guides lead the groups along the paths made by the wild animals. Unfettered by connection to the outside world, no cell phones or watches, the experience allows the trailists to exist in this sacred space.

From its portfolio of wilderness areas in which it operates, the most popular trail area is the iMfolozi Game Reserve an exclusive area of which has been conceded to the Wilderness Leadership School.

Here the groups, a maximum of eight people hike through the African wilderness amid the “big five”. The intention of the trail is not to interact with the animals but to afford the trailists the opportunity to appreciate sightings  of these magnificent  creatures in their wild habitat and to understand the delicate balance and connectivity of man to the natural environment.

The experience of a trail that remains indelibly etched on one’s psyche and perhaps it is for this reason that people remain linked to the Wilderness Leadership School for a lifetime often referring to their experience as “life changing”.

Each person has a differing view of the trail: for some it is the time to overcome fear. For another it may be the chance to find connection to the primitive earth  that no matter how sophisticated one is, the connection is imprinted on all of us and it the recognition of that unconscious link that is a revelation. For others it is the sheer adrenaline of the wild – the animals and the open spaces and for those who return again and again – it is the simple “being” in wilderness that calls.      

Our Work

The Wilderness Leadership School Is Constituted As a NPO and PBO Entity ~ NPO 0222 67 PBO 18/11/13/674. Funds generated from public trails and donations are invested into a range of community conservation related projects, these include:


Community trails are aimed primarily at communities surrounding the reserves in which Wilderness Leadership School operates in order to create an atmosphere of appreciation for the value of wilderness areas and the need to conserve the biodiversity of these wild space. These trails include trailsists from

  • Wilderness Leadership School partners such as park authorities -  Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, North West Parks and Eastern Cape to provide context to Parks strategic and development plans in particular the Parks conservation programmes
  • Disadvantaged communities from urban schools and other areas of southern Africa.
  • Opinion leader trails and programmes around advocacy and awareness programmes


We help add value to nature through the training, mentorship and development of individuals in the tourism sector. Youth 21-35 are selected from disadvantaged communities are afforded the opportunity to be trained as nature guides and earn a NQF National Guiding Certificate which includes intensive training in first aid, weapons handling, Leave no trace, Wilderness Ethics and all aspects of conservation and bio-diversity.


Around 1500 local school students attend a one day entry environmental education programme in the Kenneth Stainbank nature Reserve each year. The Programme consists of an entry level “trail” experience with Wilderness Leadership School guides - flora and fauna identification and council

For well over 60 Years, the Wilderness Leadership School has been at the forefront of conservation and especially the conservation of Wilderness Areas in South Africa, what makes our approach different and how do we make a difference for a better planet, better people and better conservation?

We Focus On People

Every conservation challenge on earth, from climate change to rhino poaching to deforestation to the plundering of our oceans is not a "real environmental problem" these are merely symptoms of a bigger problem, mans disconnect with nature. Only when man learns and accepts that we are part of the ecosystem, we need nature for our own survival and most importantly, being in touch with nature is our original state. When we reconnect with nature, we do things differently, ego, greed and apathy are no longer options. We find ourselves, our place in nature, nature is valued and protected as a inevitable result.  

On trail we are guests of the natural world, we are humbled by wilderness, in awe of its complexity, power and beauty. Outside of this our egos rule” ~ Dr. Ian Player, founder of the Wilderness Leadership School

We Give People Direct Experience 

For many of us, our busy urban lifestyles have led us into the false sense of belief that nature, wilderness areas, animals are something that is "out there" but not part of our day to day lives. With this constant buffer between us and the wild, man's connection with nature gradually dwindles. Wilderness Leadership School Trails provide a direct opportunity for man to reconnect with nature in the most dramatic way. Time and time again, people leave our trails with a sense of awakening, rebirth, enthusiasm and most importantly a direct experience of nature at her most primitive, an experience that makes it impossible to not appreciate the intrinsic nature of wilderness. 

We Grow Leaders, Ambassadors, Change Makers

Only man can change the destructive course that mankind is on. We need leadership, we need influencers, we need to change the way we do business, politics, the way we go about our day to day business in order to lessen our footprint on the planet. Without artifice, a wilderness trail serves to connect the trailists to their natural element and this connectivity is often accompanied by a shift in consciousness that enlightens the individual to the interdependency of natural life and need to lessen ones footprint on this planet. Thousands of business leaders, future leaders, community leaders and members of the public like yourself have been on our trails, experienced nature at her most basic, connected and returned home as ambassadors for positive environmental change. We need a lot more of these leaders and ambassadors. 

In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia. ~ Charles Lindbergh

We Advocate For And Protect Wilderness Areas 

Wilderness Areas represent the very core of our conservation efforts, the very last few untouched remnants of nature, these are special places where we can be buffered from the impacts of our growing human population. Wilderness Areas represent the highest level of conservation, a world where nature is still in balance. These Wilderness Areas are not only critical for man's own deep, ancient spiritual needs but also serve critically important ecosystem functions. The clean air we breath, the water we drink, the things we take for granted are largely still in tact due to existing conservation efforts. 

On the mountains mistakes are fatal. In politics, mistakes are wounding emotionally, but you recover. Personally, wilderness helps me get back in touch with natural rhythms, helps me reflect and, in the process, restore my creativity. ~ Mark Udall

We Nurture Future Conservationists 

The Wilderness Leadership School has a plethora of projects and initiatives that focus on environmental education and creating careers in conservation. This includes our accredited Guide Train program and specialized environmental education programs focused on younger school children and community trails. Our community trails are the most exciting as it has one of the biggest positive impacts on anti rhino poaching initiatives. Community members living in close proximity to protected areas and wilderness areas are essentially fenced out and seldom have the opportunity to actually experience these areas for themselves. By reconnecting to these wild areas on their doorsteps community members rediscover the respect and awe that their ancestors once had for the wilderness. Out of this experience comes new sets of "eyes and ears" on the ground, community members actively protecting the wilderness and engaging in ecotourism activities. In many instances, tip offs from community members has been one of the most successful interventions for catching Rhino Poachers.

Our Network

The Wilderness Leadership School is part of a global network of partners working for conservation and appreciation of wild areas.

Wilderness Foundation Global

The Wilderness Leadership School is the patron partner of the Wilderness Foundation Global (WFG). WFG an international alliance of action-oriented, like-minded organizations who understand that wilderness areas have local meaning and global significance, with direct importance to human well-being and inspiration. Founding members are Wilderness Foundation Africa, Wilderness Foundation UK, and the WILD Foundation (USA), with the Wilderness Leadership School the patron partner.

WFG is also a founding member of and an active proponent for Nature Needs Half, a science-based, culturally relevant, open-structure public movement to protect and interconnect at least half of the earth's lands and seas for the well-being of all life.

The Wilderness Foundation Africa:

The Wilderness Foundation is a project-driven conservation and leadership organisation that encourages, plans and projects wild lands and wildness, uplifts the knowledge and lives of our citizens and stimulates an environmental ethos among current and future leaders. We strive for ecosystems and wilderness areas that are valued and effectively protected for benefit of all species.

The Wild Foundation (USA):

Works to protect and sustain critical wild areas, wilderness values and endangered wildlife throughout the world with special emphasis on Southern Africa, by initiating or assisting environmental education, experiential and "hands on" projects and programmes.

The Wild Foundation also convenes the World Wilderness Congress.

The Wilderness Foundation, UK:

The Wilderness Foundation (UK) is one of WILD’s sister organizations, founded by Dr. Ian Player and Sir Laurens van der Post in 1974.

An established and successful organization located in the United Kingdom, The Wilderness Foundation UK works to preserve the world’s last remaining wild places and highlight their impact on the health of the individual, society and the planet.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is the provincial agency mandated to carry out biodiversity conservation and associated activities in the provinceof KwaZulu-Natal

The Human Elephant Foundation

The Human Elephant Foundation is a visionary and collaborative organisation that initiates, co-ordinates and facilitates discussion and innovative problem solving to create a better, respectful and sustainable world.

Foundation For Natural Leadership:

At the Foundation for Natural Leadership, we believe that the 21st century needs a new form of leadership. The way in which our society and private sector use the Earth’s limited resources has proved unsustainable.

Under pressure from countless new developments in society and technology, as individuals and employees we have drifted further and further from the key to our existence: living together with each other and with nature. Furthermore, most of the potential we possess as human beings remains untapped. This creates incredible opportunities!

An increasing number of conscious and influential people are wondering how to address the new issues of our times. FNL’s Wilderness Leadership programmes are devoted to developing leadership qualities that can help them find answers. Each programme focuses on four inextricably linked domains. The Personal, Private, Professional and Public domains: the four P's

The Ian Player Magqubu Ntombela Foundation

It is the belief of the Ian Player Magqubu Ntombela Memorial Foundation that the preservation of traditional knowledge, history and culture has become absolutely vital in Southern Africa if we are to prosper as a winning nation and respect the diversity of people and culture.

Kenchaan Foundation 

The Kenchaan Foundation is committed to preserving the unique South African nature and wilderness. Kenchaan Foundation finances and supports projects aimed at involving the local population in the development of KwaZulu-Natal's Wild Areas and a key partner and funder in our Unearthed Programme

North West Parks & Tourism

The North West Parks and Tourism Board is committed to the upliftment of the quality of life in the North West Province through the conserving of wild plants, animals and landscapes for the benefit of the people.

Pilansberg Trust

The Pilanesberg Wildlife Trust (PWT) was established in 1999 to provide a medium through which contributions can be made to further conservation and social upliftment. The PWT is a non-profit organisation and is registered with the South African Institute of Fundraising

Andries Botha Foundation

Ewing Trust   

Save Our Wilderness

The Save Our iMfolozi Wilderness (SOiW”) campaign was launched on 1 May 2014. It is a project of the Global Environmental Trust (GET) opposed to Ibutho Coal’s application for an open cast mine that threatens the world famous iMfolozi wilderness area, a sanctuary for the greatest concentration of rhino in the world. The mine also threatens the health of neighbouring rural communities.

Purely Wild Foundation

Purely Wild wilderness encounters provides a living space where you have an opportunity to encounter, confront and transcend the limits that restrict your sense of well-being.


The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) provides educational opportunities to promote the conservation and rehabilitation of the cultural and natural heritage of Southern Africa

Raimondo Family Trust

Chile Vertical

Chile Vertical, a company founded more than 16 years ago by Chilean professionals that conquered the summit of Mount Everest, who realized that the success of team work was based on technical skills, but most of all on personal and interpersonal skills

Gaia Foundation UK

The Gaia Foundation is passionate about regenerating cultural and biological diversity, and restoring a respectful relationship with the Earth.

Mary Stainbank Trust          

Project Rhino KZN

Project Rhino KZN was launched on World Rhino Day, 22 September 2011. It is a province-wide rhino-focussed association that brings together a provincial government conservation body, private and community-owned reserves, rhino owners, leading conservation NGOs and anti-poaching security specialists.

President's Award

The President's aims to empower young people between the ages of 14 and 25, by providing a balanced, non-competitive framework for self-development that will increase their self-esteem and enhance their capacity to achieve in whatever context they find themselves: enabling them to become responsible active citizens within their communities.

Rhino Tears

Rhino Tears wine is available for purchase in major retailers around the country, including Pick n Pay, Makro, Tops, Spar, Fruit and Veg City and major independent retailers.

Wilderness Foundation Global

The Wilderness Leadership School is a patron partner of the Wilderness Foundation Global (WFG) is an international alliance of action-oriented, like-minded organizations who understand that wilderness areas have local meaning and global significance, with direct importance to human well-being and inspiration. Founding members are Wilderness Foundation Africa, Wilderness Foundation UK, and the WILD Foundation (USA), with the Wilderness Leadership School as a patron partner.

WFG is also a founding member of and an active proponent for Nature Needs Half, a science-based, culturally relevant, open-structure public movement to protect and interconnect at least half of the earth's lands and seas for the well-being of all life.

Dr. Ian Cedric Audley Player

Founder Wilderness Leadership School

Ian Cedric Player (1927-2014) was a South African environmental educator, conservationist, sportsman and activist, widely known for saving the White Rhino from extinction through Operation Rhino. Ian Player received his education at St John’s College, Johannesburg and served with the 6th South African Armoured Division attached to the American 5th Army in Italy 1944 – 1946. Ian Player is the brother of world-renowned, Grand Slam golfer Gary Player.

Dr. Player had a long and successful career in environmental conservation and has inspired many who continue his legacy today by working to save endangered species and natural spaces.

Wilderness Leadership School Trust

Wilderness Leadership School Trust

c/o Ewing Trust Company (Pty) Ltd,

Mafavuke House, 28 Old Main Road,

Hillcrest, 3610

+27 82 335 2687

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