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theLESSON of the SNAKE Originally published in 1997 by Dr Ian Player It was the month when grass covers the trails. The sun was high and bright, and the air around the two men blazed with the heat of a furnace. Ian, being a white South African game ranger, still thought of Magqubu as his subordinate. And so, when the older black man, demanded that Ian pause in their trek to honor an old Zulu shrine, Ian balked. In his world order, he owed nothing to his guide. For a white South African, the idea of taking part in what was considered to be tribal superstitions was simply not done.
But the old man was stubborn and would not budge.
Minutes passed in that miserable heat, the ever-present buzz of flies serving only to define the silence between the two men. It was Ian who finally broke. With a huff, he paid reluctant tribute at the Zulu shrine. Magqubu nodded. And the two men went on their way, deeper into the African wilds.
It was then that the Black Mamba rose with a rushing whir out of the tall grass. The Black Mamba is a snake of legendary ferocity, rumored to have waged lethal retribution on entire villages when disturbed. It now confronted the two men at eye level no more distant than an arm’s length. If it had chosen to strike, both Ian and Magqubu would have died within the hour. It is unlikely they would have been able to withstand its venom, one of the most poisonous in the world, on the trek back to civilization.
But it didn’t strike. After a long moment it sank back to the dry earth and slithered slowly away until it vanished between the blades of dry grass.
It was Magqubu who spoke first.
“That,” he told Ian, “was the spirit of this place. Had you not honored it, we would both be dead.”
The old man continued, giving Ian the lecture of his life. He told Ian that history is not a mere succession of events or people. It is the land. It is the trees. It is the birds and the animals and the rivers and the insects. They all form a part of history and you acknowledge them all the time by showing respect.
Magqubu spoke long on the subject of respect, saying that with it came understanding. Only then can we know that we are reflected in the landscape, and the landscape is reflected inside of us.
“This is the lesson of the snake,” he concluded. “If you live well with the animal world, then you live well within yourself.” A NEW ERA
From that day forward, Ian acknowledged Magqubu as his mentor. Together, the two men formed a partnership that would last until Magqubu’s death, decades later. Together, they would save the Southern White Rhino (the first large mammal to be delisted from the endangered species list) from the brink of extinction. Dr Ian Player, Operation Rhino After this accomplishment, it was Magqubu who realized that taking a species-by-species approach to the extinction crisis would win many battles, but ultimately lose the war. For this reason, he proposed assembling a great, global indaba (a Zulu word for a decision-making meeting among the tribes) to build respect for nature and promote greater coordination among leaders desiring to protect Earth’s wild places. Magqubu’s indaba became World Wilderness Congress. His idea was the birth of the WILD Foundation.