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Indeed, Rudi’s life story could have been written by the author of boys’ adventure books. He was born on a ship off the coast of Africa at the height of World War II. His Scottish mother was fleeing France, where his French father had just been killed in combat. When the boat docked at Cape Town, Rudi became, by default, a citizen of South Africa, which was still a member of the British Commonwealth. To this day he says he knows nothing of his father or whether he has relatives in France. Of his parents’ marriage he says only, "He was a frog and the war came and screwed it all up."

Rudi grew up among the British on the southern cape as the character of the country was changing. In 1948 the Afrikaner National Party swept into power and began instituting apartheid, and in 1961 South African whites voted to become an independent republic. Rudi resented the Afrikaners and being forced to learn their language. After getting a degree in accounting and finishing his mandatory military service, he traveled to Europe. But holding a passport from what he called "the most hated nation on the planet," he wasn’t allowed to work abroad and couldn’t enter many countries. His application for British citizenship was denied. He returned home to South Africa hoping to support his aging mother. In the early 1970s he met his wife, Blythe, another British South African, and they moved to Angola, looking to settle in what was then a Portuguese colony. She was a free-spirited botanical artist, three years his senior, who’d grown up on a farm and longed for open spaces and wilderness. But when the Cuban-backed revolution erupted in 1975, most whites beat a hasty retreat from Angola, and Rudi and Blythe crossed the border into South-West Africa, now Namibia, which was then a remote territory of South Africa. Rudi joined the wildlife ministry as a ranger at Skeleton Coast Park, a career that would last 30 years.

It was then, and is now, one of the most inhospitable places on the planet, a barren stretch of coastal desert hemmed in by constant fog on one side and sand dunes on the other. The Bushmen called it "The Land God Made in Anger," a place littered with the wrecks of ships lost in the fog, a hell for marooned sailors, who could walk for days without encountering shade, water, food, or people.

But Namibia’s uselessness for humans has proved the savior of its wildlife. It has been inhabited by various nomadic tribes for centuries, but due to its lack of water—there are no year-round rivers in the country’s interior—the settlements have remained small. Its brutal coasts deterred European settlers, and the first colony was not founded until the late 19th century by Germans. Realizing that this wasteland, more than twice the size of their home country, allowed only the most hardscrabble ranching, in 1907 they put a positive spin on it by creating an enormous national park from the savanna of Etosha to the Skeleton Coast. Encompassing 38,500 square miles, it was the world’s largest game reserve.

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  • Would give anything to do and see such wonder.
  • Rudi and Blythe are true conservation heroes whom I greatly admire and your story perfectly encapsul…
  • OMG this article made me miss Rudi so very much. Thank you so very very much.
  • Amazing story! I love it all. I wish that I could have seen it all!
  • Great story! Sundeen comes through again.
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