Conservation Legend – Paul Dutton

By: Dr Judy Mann

A STORY OF HOPE

Last week Paul Dutton – pilot, conservationist, story-teller, scientist and game ranger – treated the SAAMBR audience to a fascinating presentation. Spanning almost 60 years in conservation, Paul took us on a virtual tour of the history of conservation in KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique. From a stint in a jail in Mozambique to idyllic time on the Island of Bazaruto, from his first tentative (and rather disastrous) attempts at flying to his purchase and use of his plane ‘Spirit of the Wilderness’ for conservation, Paul’s talk was a wonderful mix of serious information and light anecdotes. Stories of his flights over the magnificent Gorongosa Game reserve counting wildlife were spellbinding, although the later destruction of the wildlife during the war was a sobering reminder that, during a war it is not only people who suffer.

With a life-time of experience in conservation and consultancy work in Southern Africa, Paul shared with us some of the highlights of his career. Working with such conservation greats as Mdiceni Gumede from the Natal Parks Board was a definite highlight. The time they spent, and continue to spend, telling and recording stories feature high on Paul’s list of special times.  As one of the founder members of the Game Rangers Association of Africa (GRAA), Paul has been intimately associated with the changes that have occurred in conservation over time. He is also a founder member of Bateleurs, who do voluntary flying for conservation projects in Africa. He was a nominee for the 2000 AUDI TERRA NOVA AWARD and has been widely acknowledged for his role in the GRAA and Bateleurs.

It is inevitable that, with such a long history in conservation, Paul has seen many special areas destroyed in the name of progress or to feed hungry people. However, Paul’s presentation was one of hope as he ended with the story of the recovery of Gorongosa, a reserve whose population of animals was once almost decimated. Now, with careful management and appropriate funding, the reserve is slowly being restored to its former glory. The celebration of Paul’s 85th birthday in Gorongosa later this year will be a fitting tribute to this Conservation Legend.

If you missed the presentation you can always purchase a copy of his book ‘Spirit of the Wilderness’, which recounts many of these stories.

By: Judy Mann