BGP in depth
The history of the three Big Game Parks is of one of determination and dedication to protect the Swaziland’s wildlife populations.
In the 1960s Ted Reilly, the pioneer of wildlife conservation in Swaziland, set up Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. He converted a profitable multipurpose farm and mining land belonging to his family into a new reserve for wildlife. This was in response to a huge loss of wildlife with many species systematically hunted and many driven to extinction locally.
Over time, a huge variety of species were brought to live in the sanctuary, including the first rhinos reintroduced to the area. With the support of the King, more land was made available for wildlife and Big Game Parks was entrusted with the management of the Hlane Royal National Park. The family also converted the land that is now Mkhaya Game reserve using their own funds.
Today the three reserves that make up Big Game Parks are home to a diversity of wildlife including black and white rhinos. The Parks provide local employment, education, tourism facilities, a sanctuary for wildlife, and have become a real success story for conservation. However the area continues to face challenges, and today one of the biggest threats is posed by the poaching of wildlife, including rhinos.
In recent times (the last 22 years) there have been only three rhino poaching incidents and Swaziland has an enviable rhino conservation record. Having lost 80% of the rhino population to poaching in 1988-1992, the rampant slaughter was brought to a sudden stop with well-publicized law enforcement actions, the introduction of preventative anti-poaching legislation and unwavering support from the Head of State. This tough stance on rhino poaching is supported by an incredibly dedicated monitoring team.
Swaziland manages her black and white rhinos on a metapopulation basis, in an effort to enhance and be enhanced by the regional rhino populations and the genetic diversity which they have to offer. The rhino action plan incorporates lessons learned from the past and encourages the embracement of international best practice and BGP subscribes to the objectives as outlined by the African Rhino Specialist Group of IUCN. The action plan is housed with Big Game Parks which falls under the King’s office where rhino protection and conservation enjoys the highest levels of political will.
Looking after the wildlife in Mlilwane, Hlane and Mkhaya is an ongoing job and BGP undertakes conservation activities including anti-poaching and monitoring, animal translocations, emergency veterinary work, and captive breeding programmes to manage the wildlife living in the Parks.
There are constant patrols by rangers, who are on the lookout for the rhinos but also for any other poaching incidents, because many smaller species such as nyalas and warthogs are also targeted by poachers.
Anti-poaching and monitoring work
BGP has dedicated rhino security and monitoring staff who attempt to account for all the rhinos in the parks at least twice weekly which enables the animals to be regularly evaluated. Rhino protection activities take place on a 24/7 basis on the parks and beyond the park boundaries. BGP rangers are backed by strong laws which enable then to engage poachers with confidence.
BGP’s conservation activity contributes positively to local communities with sustainable and reliable job opportunities, opportunities of trade and upliftment, environmental education, water projects, sustainable harvesting of some natural resources and the opportunity for outdoor activities, sports and recreation. In addition to this, BGP’s security and law enforcement activities serve to help reduce the crime rate – especially of stock theft in communities in which the rangers operate.
BGP has limited research opportunities available, preferring to limit research to that which can be applied and will show direct benefit to the conservation and community programmes and management objectives of BGP.
Habitat and other species
The habitat varies between the three different reserves that BGP manages. It is for this reason that whilst rhinos were originally introduced to Mlilwane they were later moved to the other reserves for better grazing ground.
- Mkhaya Game Reserve is acacia-dominated thornveld in the south and broadleaf sandveld in the north
- Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary includes both grassland plains and wetland
- Hlane Royal National Park contains Swazi bushveld dominated by ancient hardwood vegetation.
As well as black and white rhino, other species include lion, elephant, hippo, giraffe, nyala, impala, eland and terrapins.
Visiting the parks
Big Game Parks welcomes visitors and a variety of accommodation choices are available. Options include camping, booking in at Sondzela backpackers, or staying in the luxury accommodation at Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge. Visit http://www.biggameparks.org/ for information to help plan your stay. Activities you can take part in include game driving, bird watching, mountain bike safaris, and horse trails.