AG African safari: the rhino wars

By Kylie Piper 7 November 2013
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Conservation efforts in Swaziland have made a big difference to rhino populations.

AG Society administrator Kylie Piper heads to Swaziland to find out about the rhino wars.

I AM UP AT sunrise this morning to take a walk through Mlilwane, one of three nature sanctuaries run by Big Game parks in Swaziland. Mlilwane was the first park created by the founding father of conservation in Swaziland, Ted Reilly. It is a spectacular place, with rolling green hills that lead to high mountains, including Executioners Rock, the pinnacle that overlooks the sanctuary and has a history to match its name. After just a day in Swaziland I am already running out of adjectives to describe the beauty and majesty of the place.


My walk takes me down the road from the beehive huts we have stayed in, past the ‘little fire’ that gives Mlilwane its name and has burnt here since the lodge began. A herd of zebra’s graze in the morning light as I wander alone. A male kudu antelope takes a few steps away before turning to stare me down and make a few noises that tell me he’s not too happy with the direction I am taking.

Mililwane was originally the Reilly’s farm, but in the early 1960s Ted Reilly approached the then King of Swaziland, King Sobhuza II, to create a national park. With the King’s authority the Reilly family began to move game from Hlane (the King’s private hunting ground) to Mlilwane in an effort to safeguard the natural heritage of the country. By the end of the decade, following on from the success of this reserve, the Reillys were called on to convert Hlane to a nature reserve.

The conservation efforts in Swaziland are astounding, especially when seen in the context of neighbouring countries. All these efforts could have been for nothing in the 1980s and early 1990s with the so-called Rhino Wars, an era when rhino poaching in Swaziland’s parks seemed to be uncontrollable. So dire was the situation that Ted Reilly actually suggested all rhino be moved to South Africa for protection. That was until the King stepped in once again. Now Swaziland has some of the harshest penalties in Africa for poachers – including a ‘shoot to kill’ legislation for rangers in life-threatening situations. These laws seem to be working because there have been no poaching of rhino’s in Swaziland since 1992.

The next stop on our journey will be to the home of black and white rhino, Mkhaya another nature reserve. As I sit atop a rock looking out over the valley they call ‘the valley of heaven’ I know that Swaziland is truly a paradise for wildlife thanks to Ted Reilly and his family.


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