Prof Fritz Eloff
20 August 2008

He was a man between the lions and a lion between men. That is Prof Fritz Eloff in a nutshell.

Prof Fritz was President of Northern Transvaal Rugby Union for 26 years and he was a member of SA Rugby's Executive Committee for 30 years. He was the Chairman of the IRR from 1989-1990 and is also an Honorary Life Member of the SA Rugby Union as well as the Blue Bulls Rugby Union.

Prof Fritz, who is currently 88 years old, was head of the Department of Zoology at the University of Pretoria for more than 42 years and he was Chairman of the National Parks Boards for 16 years.

Tell us something about your early days.

I grew up on a farm in the Pietersburg district and I think that is where I developed my love for nature and wild life. I spend hours on end in the veld and to sum up my youth I think about the words of William C Bryant "the visions of my youth are past – too bright, too beautiful to last."

When did you go to University?

I enrolled at the University of Pretoria when I was 16, because at the farm school one could easily 'jump' a grade if your progression was good. I stayed in Sonop Men's residence for three years and received my B.Sc degree in 1939.

Did you play rugby at Tuks?

O yes. I captained Tuks' first team for three years and in the late 1940's I played a few games for Northern Transvaal. At Tuks I never settled into a position because as captain I told the coach that I will play wherever the team needs me. That meant I played prop, lock, flank and number 8, but looking back now, I think it wasn't the best for my rugby career to switch positions so often.

What did you do after you obtained your B.Sc degree?

I started working at the Pretoria Zoo as a technical assistant and after three years in Sonop I had to get other accommodation. I moved into a room in Park Street and ate at the well-known boarding house in Hamilton Street.

Where did you meat your wife, Valerie?

Valerie also enjoyed her meals at the boarding house and that is where I saw this beautiful young girl for the first time. I tried various ways to get her attention, but nothing worked. I almost began to feel inferior. She did not even notice me.

Later on I saw her again at a University dance and maneuvered myself into position to dance with her with the first "wisseldans". I was a terrible dancer but that night our paths crossed and we are still happily married to this day.

When did you start to work at the University of Pretoria?

I worked at the Zoo from 1940-1942 and started as a lector at Tuks in 1943. I finished my M.Sc in 1942 and obtained my D.Sc in 1946. I was the head of the Zoology Department from 1954 – 1985.

What are some of your career highlights?

The establishment of an Honours degree in Wildlife Management stood out. It also lead to a Master's and a Doctorate degree. The course was made possible by a generous donation by Dr. Anton Rupert, at whose request the Chair was named the Eugene Marais Chair of Wildlife Management.

The establishment of The Mammal Research Institute in my department to promote and co-ordinate research on the mammals of South Africa was also very special to me.

The establishment of several national parks during my 16 years as Chairman of the National Parks Board and the development of our national parks system to a model of wildlife conservation.

My 27 years as Chairman of the Transvaal museum and my contribution to the development of this institution to one of the finest and most dynamic natural history museums in the world with exceptional scientists like Drs. Robert Broom, Austin Roberts, Vivian Fitzsimons, Robert Koch, Bob Brain, Waldo Meester and numerous others.

Tell us about your work on the Kalahari lion

My 40 years of research on the Kalahari Lion culminated in the publication of Hunters of the Dunes - the story of the Kalahari lion.

I loved the lions and drove thousands of miles to tract them down. They are the most beautiful animals and doing research on them was a massive privilege.

I was never scared to work among the lions because I knew how to handle them. You can talk to a lion, but there is no way that you can talk to an elephant, buffalo or hippo.

The most important thing to remember when you unexpectedly meet a lion is to look him straight in the eye. You must also never turn your back on a lion - if you do that you are dead. Just look him in the eye and talk to him.

How do you manage to stand out in every single area of life?

I think one must be 100 percent committed to what you do. That was always my motto and that is also what I expected from the rugby players. Be 100 committed and give yourself fully to the task at hand.

You were involved with rugby for more that five decades. Who were the best of the best?

Three players stand out for me: Naas Botha, Hansie Brewis and Frik du Preez.

Do you still follow the Blue Bulls?

Yes. I do not want to get involved because I had my time, but it is very good to see that the team is performing so well in the Currie Cup. I wish them all the best!

Highlights of the Super Rugby match between Brumbies and Vodacom Bulls from Canberra Stadium.

Select your Fantasy team | Play the Prediction game

25 Maart Richard Bands
26 Maart Chris le Roux
27 Maart Graeme Bouwer
28 Maart Rehan Roux
29 Maart Bart Heyneke
29 Maart Dirk Hoffman
29 Maart Piet Steyn
29 Maart JJ van der Walt
29 Maart Jan Volschenk
30 Maart Hansie Dirksen
30 Maart Adrian Foster
30 Maart Corne Korff
30 Maart Ruben Kruger (Oorlede)
31 Maart Jack Conradie
31 Maart Ettienne de Bruyn
31 Maart Cornel Labuschagne
31 Maart Brent Moyle
31 Maart Jack Conradie
31 Maart Abel Ras
31 Maart Ralf Schroeder