Paul Dutton is a remarkable man by anyone’s standards. In his seventies, he is still an active pilot, flying his beloved partner of forty years, a Piper Super Cub, ‘Spirit of the Wilderness’ for pleasure and for conservation. He has expressed a desire to return to the earth as a fish eagle, “They seem to fly just for the love of flying - soaring, calling, tumbling, enjoying themselves in their watery wilderness. Water and flying are two of my great passions.”
Last month the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa gave him special recognition, and in 2003 he was named as Game Ranger of the Year by the organisation. He has also been nominated for the prestigious Audi Terra Nova “unsung heroes of conservation” awards. In ‘Portraits in Conservation: Eastern and Southern Africa’ by Elisabeth Braun, he is described as “a very serious and complex man” who “has embraced his life enthusiastically and with the amiable ease of the multitalented, the dogged determination of the pragmatic, the forgiveness of the wise, and the knowledge of when it is time to move on.”
He started his career in conservation through the intervention of Ian Player, becoming a ranger at Lake St Lucia. While there he witnessed the amazing sight of a Zambezi shark chasing a herd of hippopotamuses, and was reluctant to leave what he believed was the ultimate in wetland wilderness. However, he went on to be a senior ranger at Ndumu Game Reserve, and believes the four years he spent there to be some of the best of his life.
Leaving Ndumu in 1972, he then moved on to Mozambique, where he developed a love of the land and its people. Not even being thrown in jail as a suspected South African spy for the American CIA could make him leave the country. His nine weeks in solitary confinement are testament to his internal fortitude – he took his one cigarette a day, converted the filter into a paintbrush and the ash into charcoal paint, and covered the walls of his cell with pictures of animals. Altogether, he has 25 years conservation and training experience in Mozambique.
He has worked in South Africa, the Transkei, Mozambique, Botswana, Congo, Kenya, Tanzania and the Seychelles. At the age of 54, when many people are considering their retirement, he got a master’s degree in coastal management. He has a special interest in integrating and involving local communities in conservation initiatives. He created a masterplan for the Bazaruto Archipelago, and with the help of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, created a community game guard system.
The community appointed guards protect the island’s wildlife, including turtles, red duiker, samango monkeys and red squirrels. He says, “Every project, to be successful, should be selfsustaining, through the communities who regulate the use of resources. When I leave a place I leave no physical signs of my presence. I leave a group of trained people.” He has a gift for words, and has used it to create awareness of an immense number of conservation issues. He currently works as a consultant ecologist.
He is a founder member of the Game Rangers’ Association, as well as The Bateleurs – Flying for Conservation in Africa. “I think the secret is whatever you do, you should derive enjoyment from it. Do it for integrity, not just for money. It has certainly worked for me.”