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Lawrence Anthony: The all-action conservationist

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African Voices: Lawrence Anthony
  • Conservationist has rescued animals from Iraq and negotiated with rebel armies
  • Owns and runs a game reserve in South Africa
  • Set up "The Earth Organization" in 2004 to promote conservation efforts

(CNN) -- Lawrence Anthony is an all-action conservationist. The 60-year-old South African grew up in small towns in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia and developed an affinity with nature from an early age.

"I grew up in the African bush and I formed an early relationship with the African bush which has stayed with me," he told CNN. "As I've grown older I've watched the deterioration [of the natural world], and it really concerns me."

He took action to become a conservationist and created his own game reserve in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal region, but he's also taken his passion across borders.

Hiring a car from Kuwait he drove into Iraq during the war there in 2003 to rescue animals from Baghdad zoo. He admits it was more naivete rather than bravery, but once he had managed to get the zoo under some sort of control (which had only around 30 animals left), he ventured out to save even more animals.

"Uday Hussein had lions that were rumored to be man-eaters, that he'd fed them love rivals and things like that. The whole of Baghdad was talking about it back then. It was very difficult. It wasn't the lions' fault; they're just lions. I refused to let anyone harm them, and thankfully they are still alive today," he said.

Returning to South Africa in 2004 he set up The Earth Organization and expanded his international conservation efforts. He prepared a document that was presented to the United Nations as a draft resolution to make all wildlife parks and conservation areas protected in times of war and their abuse classified as a war crime.

In 2006 he reportedly met with the Ugandan rebel organization the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in 2006 while they were involved in the bitter civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Anthony reportedly persuaded them to protect endangered species such as the northern white rhinoceros.

"They were very hospitable," Lawrence said. "I found out that the rhino was the spiritual totem of the tribes that they came from and they thought there were hundreds and hundreds of rhinos, and there weren't."

Creating relationships with people has been just as important as cultivating refuges for animals. After years of negotiation with the local chief of the land next to Anthony's reserve, he was able to persuade the local community to convert their own land into conservation areas, so they too could benefit from eco-tourism.

"I don't think I have a mission in life," he said. "I just want to hold together the values that are important to us as human beings. The name of the game is to survive and we can't survive without the plant and animal kingdoms."