Dr Ian J Whyte, Kruger’s experienced elephant specialist is a confident and accomplished scientist but if it wasn’t for a rather sedate sport, his career path could have been very different. Born in 1947 in Vereeniging, and an underachiever (by his own admission) at school in Joahannesburg the young Ian had to retake his Matriculation exam and failed to reach the required level needed for University.
Ian started his career in1970 as Technical Assistant with the Dept. of Agricultural Technical Services and proceeded to advance in the research field to the position of Program Manager.
When his parents retired to White River Ian joined them shortly afterwards and took a job in an orange juice canning factory. In his spare time he was a keen cricket player. While partaking in a match at Skukuza one day, he struck up a friendship with one of the Kruger game capture crew.
When a vacancy for a Technical Assistant came up in the Park sometime later, the cricketing bond meant Ian was recommended for the job.
Ian had always been interested in wildlife; devouring his father’s collection of books and enjoying time spent on his brother’s farm. Joining Kruger in 1970, he spent over three years assisting on the lion census. Spending every night moving from pride to pride, capturing and studying lions, was the fulfillment of one of his boyhood dreams. The other was to come later.
Catching up on his education while working, Ian took a Certificate of Field Ecology at the University of Rhodesia and completed his Masters on the predator/prey relationship between lions and wildebeest at the University of Natal. By now responsible for Kruger’s lion studies, he offered to ‘swap’ jobs, for the rather less glamorous sounding buffalo post, when an experienced colleague from the Kalahari moved to Kruger.
There are many parallels between the study of buffalo and elephant so, when Kruger’s famed elephant scientist Anthony Hall-Martin moved on to Pretoria, it seemed sensible for Ian to combine his work on both animals.
A further resume of Ian’s work:
Large Herbivores: Kruger National Park, from which he retired in July 1997. His many talents did not stop there and as a pilot he became involved in annual fixed wing census in the Kruger National Park. As an avid birder, he has acted as Ornithologist in the Kruger National Park between 1985 and 1998 (Co-ordination of ornithological research and other projects – translocation of Redbilled Oxpeckers etc.).
He has had many other noteworthy influences on conservation such as co-authoring a book on the birds of the Kruger National Park. He has also been the sole or senior author of 16 scientific publications and co-author of 15 others, senior author of seven chapters in technical books, plus two as co-author. He authored 38 Scientific Reports to South African National Parks, and 28 articles in popular journals. Ian completed his Ph.D at the University of Pretoria with a thesis titled
“The Conservation Management of Elephants in the Kruger National Park.” His thesis bears none of the hallmarks of obscure, highly-specialised, abstract science. Instead it is a broad, readable account of the myriad factors that need to be considered when managing elephant populations in the confined area of Kruger National Park. As an acknowledgement of Ian’s work in Kruger, his colleagues recently motivated that one of Kruger’s impressive big tuskers be named after him. Living up to Ian’s Tsonga name, Masthulele, which means ‘the quiet one’, has only been photographed twice; both times by Ian on the annual elephant census. Despite falling into his 35 year career with Kruger by accident, Ian has been bowled over by the experience.
Ian retired recently after 37 years dedicated service to the Kruger National Park. He is married to Merle (née Retief) and has two children, Lorna (40) and Neil (39), who followed his father’s example in the conservation industry. Ian and Merle currently have five grandchildren.
The Whytes relocated to the quiet quaint village of Graskop some time back where Ian is now involved with the Graskop Grasslands Conservancy.
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