Vivian John Wilson

Researcher | Author | Conservationist

Affectionately known as Viv Wilson, his name is synonymous with the wildlife orphanage that he founded outside Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, called Chipangali.

Viv Wilson’s storybook career started, unlikely enough, at African Explosives and Chemical Industries , followed by 10 years in the Game Department in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley; then as Curator of Mammals, and later as Director of the Bulawayo Museum in Zimbabwe. In 1973, Wilson and his wife, Paddy, founded the Chipangali Wildlife Organisation – a world-renowned animal rescue and rehabilitation, breeding, research and educational centre highly focused on duikers.

Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage became his most outstanding achievement, and lasting legacy, and continues its good work to this day (although I have heard reports that the sanctuary has been forced to close due to the worsening economic situation in the country).

Chipangali is not a zoo. The primary function of Chipangali is to offer a home to orphaned, abandoned and sick wild animals. It is a pioneering achievement in its own right.


God blest a man to do his works

And tend his creatures all

And blest he was and love he gave

To creatures great and small

A guardian angel with warrior might

Whose strength did grow and grow

He he gave his all and all he had

The Chipangali hero

Built he a haven for them to dwell

To live a life of peace

A blessed live they well deserved

Where none could come to grief

A simple man with a dedicated heart

That seeds of love so grow

Take heads my friend of a might man

The Chipangali hero

by Graeme H. H. Westcott


Chipangali is not a zoo, or a game park, but rather a haven for wild animals which have little hope for survival in the wild – creatures which have been orphaned, abandoned, injured, born in captivity, or brought up unsuccessfully as pets.

Chipangali offers a home to orphaned, abandoned and sick wild animals and where possible rescued animals and birds are rehabilitated and returned to the wild. If safe release into their natural habitat is not possible, animals are cared for and kept for educational purposes and study.

Endangered species are helped with research and captive breeding programs.

Chipangali has been featured in countless documentaries and is now world renowned for its pioneering work and is famed as one of Africa’s largest and most successful wildlife rehabilitation / release centres with the Princess Diana Trust and Stephanie Powers serving as Patrons. The Wildlife Orphanage was established in 1973 by Viv Wilson and his late wife Paddy; sadly Viv died of kidney failure in September 2012.

Chipangali is Viv Wilson’s legacy and continues his work today with its original objectives:

- Wildlife Orphanage/ Animal Rehabilitation Centre: To provide a service to rescue and care for injured wildlife, thereby providing a home for the many injured, sick, orphaned, abused, confiscated, or abandoned wild animals from anywhere in Zimbabwe.

- Education: to educate the Zimbabwe public, especially young children, with the aid of live viewing of many species not easily seen in the wild. Chipangali provides relevant lectures, film and slide shows for visiting groups and provide a local resource centre for children to appreciate the important value of Zimbabwe’s natural heritage.

- Nature Conservation: to teach people and especially children, to appreciate the wonder and variety of indigenous wildlife and not to take it for granted that these animals, or their environment will not always be there for their enjoyment without the correct management of our natural resources.

- Research: to observe and record useful zoological information on captive animals such as body growth and development, nutrition, dentition and gestation periods. Other research and field surveys are undertaken in the wild, under natural conditions in National Parks and protected areas.

- Cooperation: To provide a link between local and governmental authorities and to offer assistance to organizations like the SPCA, National Parks, schools and private individuals where ever problem animals are found.


Born in Johannesburg South Africa in October 1932 and matriculated in Natal in 1949, Vivian Wilson joined the laboratory staff at African Explosives and Chemical Industries, Umbogintweni, Natal in 1950.

After four years at A.E. & C.I. (Ltd) he worked for a short time in Zululand with Dr. Ian Player in the Umfolozi and Ndumu Game Reserves before taking up an appointment in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) with the Department of Game and Tsetse Control in the Luangwa Valley. He spent 10 years in Zambia and was responsible for the organization of a very wide range of field activities and surveys. During his period in the Luangwa Valley he completed a thesis on the ecology and behaviour of tsetse flies in relation to wildlife and vegetation for a M.I. Biol. (M.Sc.) degree.

When Zambia became independent in October 1964 Vivian Wilson moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where he joined Dr. H. Roth with the establishment of the Research Branch of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. His research included eland domestication and reproductive physiology of game animals. In 1967 he transferred to the Natural History Museum in Bulawayo as Curator of Mammals and in 1972 was promoted to Director of the Museum.

With his wife Patricia he founded the Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage (Wildlife Trust) in April 1973 and he left the museum in 1975 to devote his entire efforts to the organization. This orphanage has become a world renowned centre for animal rescue and rehabilitation, wildlife research and especially an educational institute particularly aimed at children.

Vivian Wilson has written over 100 scientific publications and several books including a Checklist and Atlas of the Mammals of Hwange National Park and Orphans of the Wild. In 2002 after 15 years of field work throughout sub-Sahara Africa, he completed a major volume of 800 pages of the Duikers of Africa (see more on this below). In addition, a 26 half-hour television series was produced by Reville Productions based on his book “Orphans of the Wild’ which has been shown throughout the world. He is still actively involved in research and field work involving various species.

Vivian Wilson’s curriculum vitae is a most impressive account of his publications and books on wildlife, dozens of expeditions to over 20 African countries and honours and recognitions received dating back 40 years. These honours include the United Nations Environmental Award, Rolex Award for Enterprise, Meritorious Medal (Zimbabwe Government) and Civic Honours (City of Bulawayo).

In addition to mammals, especially duikers, Vivian Wilson is extremely interested in herpetology, the Carnivores of Zimbabwe and also the study of aloes and succulents. He is a member of several IUCN Specialist Groups, numerous international wildlife organizations and serves on many wildlife committees.



I have known the name Viv Wilson since I was a boy (I grew up in Zimbabwe myself), but only in recent years did I stumble upon his incredible research work on the duikers of Africa. This is not a species that features high up on most people's list of 'big names', being somewhat small, secretive and seemingly dull. But Viv saw something else in this species – it's ubiquitousness and importance as a source of bushmeat throughout Africa. His 800 page masterpiece is named 'The Duikers for Africa, Masters of the African floor'.

In fact, there are 16 species of duiker. It is more a forest species than a savannah one...his book makes fascinating reading and is a genuine tribute to his capabilities as a researcher and animal lover.

In many parts of Africa, duikers make up 70% to 80% of the bushmeat trade, threatening their numbers even where habitat destruction is not (yet) an issue.

Wilson has compiled everything there is to know about these 'mini-antelope' (and their ecology) that occur across their 30-million square continent - from sea-level to Kilimanjaro, from the Kalahari desert to the Cameroon rainforest. On his own vast travels, he accompanied both ‘traditional’ (netting, snaring, calling, group hunting with dogs, hunting at night with shotguns) and safari hunters, gathered skulls in remote villages, undertook night counts, made forest transect counts, collected remains from crowned eagle nests and leopard scats, and even tracked down people’s pet duikers! “I measured a number of common duiker found in bushmeat markets in Brazzaville (Congo) and Accra (Ghana),” writes Wilson – an apt indication of the odyssey this book represents.

It is the magnificent 12-year culmination of a mighty scientific mind, deeply sensitive to the bush, its people, and their methods of harvesting the 16 species of duikers for protein.

In his later years, Viv had expanded his research activities to include a survey of the leopard and cheetah of Zimbabwe, the biodiversity of the Matobo National Park and the formation of the CRI (Carnivore Research Institute).

Go back to: Early conservationists


Viv Wilson dies – 11 September 2012

Viv Wilson, the founder of one of Zimbabwe's most well known wildlife orphanages, Chipangali, died in Bulawayo on Sunday evening.

His son Kevin Wilson issued a statement saying: "It is with great sadness that my father Vivian Wilson passed away at his home in Bulawayo. He had been struggling with kidney failure for the last week. We all know his great love for animals, birds and all creatures in general."

It is with great sadness that we must say farewell to Viv Wilson the Founder of Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage in Bulawayo.

Chipangali is a wildlife sanctuary for animals which stand little chance of survival in the wild. Animals, which have either been orphaned, abandoned, injured, born in captivity or brought up unsuccessfully as pets. It is often the last refuge for those brought in sick or injured, and increasingly it is a sanctuary for confiscated animals. Vivian Wilson and his late wife Paddy established the wildlife Orphanage in 1973.

Chipangali is not a zoo; it offers a home to orphaned, abandoned and sick wild animals. When possible, rescued animals and birds are rehabilitated and returned to the wild. If safe release into their natural habitat is not possible, animals are cared for and kept for educational purposes and study. Endangered species may undergo captive breeding programs.

Viv and Paddy were also very involved in establishing breeding groups of endangered African wildlife, research into wildlife and ecology, and education of the public, particularly children, in all fields of conservation. In addition, Viv carried out surveys on the distribution of Cheetah in Zimbabwe and on protection of the Chirinda forest.

Mr. Wilson, a biologist, won the Rolex Enterprise Award in 1987 for his research on the duiker. He was a former chairman of Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Board. Viv wrote his wonderful book "Orphans of the wild" followed by an informative compendium on "Duikers of Africa" and in turn a book was written about Viv entitled "A Man For All Species".

Chipangali has been featured in countless documentaries and is now world renowned for its pioneering work and is famed as one of Africa's largest and most successful wildlife rehabilitation/release centres.

The Orphanage runs a Volunteer program, the Wildlife Experience Programme, which encourages young people from anywhere in the world to come and gain hands-on experience with caring for wild animals. The word Chipangali comes from the Chinyanja language in eastern Zambia where Viv Wilson originally began his career with the Zambia Government as a tsetse-fly control operator. It is here that the whole concept of Chipangali was born and derived. The word means 'open friendly country'.

Chipangali founder Viv Wilson and his wife Paddy retired from the active side of running the Orphanage over ten years ago, in order to devote more time to urgent wildlife research projects. Viv has been the leading instigator of several unique projects, such a ten-year survey of the duikers of Africa, which culminated in the 800-page masterpiece named Duikers of Africa, Masters of the African Forest Floor.

Recently Viv expanded his research activities to include a survey of the leopard and cheetah of Zimbabwe, the biodiversity of the Matobo National Park and the formation of the CRI (Carnivore Research Institute)

Her Royal Highness, Diana, Princess of Wales was Chipangali's patron from 1983 until her sad death, when the Princess Diana Trust took over the role. In addition, the conservation activist and ex-actress, Stephanie Powers is a patron and Ambassador for Chipangali in the USA.

Viv was one of Bulawayo's very special people, a true gentleman, always with a giant friendly smile, always one to remember a name and a face.

Viv made an impact on almost every man, woman and child in Zimbabwe. His love for animals and his dedication to their welfare made him truly remarkable.

Indeed we can safely call Vivian J. Wilson a legend, his absence will leave an immense gap in the Bulawayo Community.

By Margaret (Maggie) Kriel - Morning Mirror (Letters from Zimbabwe) 2012.