As part of my Year in the Wild project in 2014, I recently returned from Swaziland, where I visited Hlane Royal National Park, Mkhaya Game Reserve and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. These are the three premier protected areas in the little kingdom, and are managed by Big Game Parks, an organization that has been entrusted by King Mswati III to protect and conserve Swaziland’s wildlife on behalf of the nation.
The story of conservation here is one of tragedy and triumph, and is tightly intertwined with the life of Ted Reilly. In the 1950s, relentless colonial hunting had wiped out the abundant wildlife, so in 1960 the ardent conservationist turned his family farm Mlilwane into the first game reserve (after the British colonial government denied Reilly land to start a national park).
At Mlilwane Reilly sheltered the last remaining impala and other antelope, and within a few years, it had become a shining example of what can be achieved in conservation. After independence in 1964, King Sobhuza II was so impressed that he appointed Reilly to form a network of protected areas in the rest of the kingdom, and restore the wildlife that once roamed widely.
Since then, Ted Reilly and his team of 300 staff have expanded the protected area network and successfully reintroduced 22 large wild animal species into the country, including lion, elephant, rhino and hippo.
White and black rhino were reintroduced in 1965 and 1986 respectively. Since 1992, just three rhinos have been killed by poachers in Swaziland (two in 2011, and one recently in 2014). As a percentage of the total rhino population in Swaziland, this is a fraction of the rhinos lost in South Africa. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Swaziland’s rhino protection is unmatched by any other country.
This came about largely as a result of the Game Act, a highly effective piece of conservation legislation that was initiated and drafted by Ted Reilly, approved by King Mswati III and passed into law by Parliament.
From nothing, Swaziland now boasts several formal protected areas, including Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary (4600 ha), Hlane Royal National Park (25 000ha) and Mkhaya Game Reserve (10 000 ha).