The Rhino is an animal fast becoming extinct, and now with only five species left in the world, found across African and Asia, ‘World Rhino Day’ has been created as a day to celebrate these fantastic animals.
Swaziland boasts two of the five remaining species: white rhino, which can be found at Big Game Parks’ Hlane Royal National Park and both black rhino and white rhino at Mkhaya Game Reserve.
World Rhino Day is an opportunity to highlight efforts to debunk the myths and diminish the demand for rhino horn. To commemorate the day, Big Game Parks are going back over 40 years to remember the glory and grime of the Swaziland Rhino Story.
The Swaziland Rhino Story
Forty years ago, Mr Ted Reilly and his family set upon the mission of providing a safe haven for the Kingdom’s wildlife and to restoring those species which had become locally extinct.
Both black and white rhino were absent from Swaziland for nearly 70 years until in 1965, when the first pair of white rhinos returned to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Umfolozi Game Reserve in the now KZN province of South Africa, was where the rhino populations of southern Africa started to increase – their numbers had been reduced to an estimated 10-40 animals in the 1930’s.
Following the work of Natal Parks and the development of the Rhino population, numbers increased rapidly and ultimately, Rhinos started to drift further and further afield, beyond the parks boundaries. From this tiny nucleus, today’s southern white rhino population has grown to become one of the world’s most successful conservation exercises.
With the proclamation of Hlane Royal National Park in 1967, many of the rhino donated to Mlilwane were diverted to the park. By early 1984, the population in Hlane had grown to approximately 110 animals!
Under the reign of King Sobuza ll, there was a no culling policy. As the game populations at Hlane continued to grow, with wildebeest alone reaching no less than 4600 animals, space was limited. The white rhino pushed through the fences in search of grass and space – moving as far as Maloma! Capture and release back in to Hlane proved pointless as they broke out of the park again and again. From this settled nucleus the rhino population grew and founder groups were introduced to Malolotja and Mlawula.
The Mlawula Nature Reserve rhino population was initially successful and grew to 26 animals, but this population was later devastated by poaching during the rhino war of 1992. The Malolotja population also died out, probably due to sub-optimal habitat.
Mkhaya Game Reserve became Swaziland’s 4th protected area when it was purchased to provide a home for the Kingdom’s highly endangered Nguni Cattle in 1980, which had virtually vanished as a pure breed through contamination by alien breeds. Because the sour-veld at Mlilwane was sub-optimal habitat, its rhinos also began breaking through the fences. Two of these were donated to the Kruger National Park while others were relocated to Hlane and then to Mkhayawhere an endangered species programmes was being developed.
Today, Swaziland boasts two of the remaining five rhino species in the world. White rhino can be found at Hlane Royal National Park and at Mkhaya Game Reserve, while black rhino can only be seen at Mkhaya Game Reserve.
The Kingdom of Swaziland’s Big Game Parks (BGP) today represents the culmination of 40 years of successful Nature Conservation in Swaziland. BGP is a private organization which administers Hlane Royal National Park, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and Mkhaya Game Reserve. Today BGP has grown to become the officially delegated Administrative and Management Authority of the Game Act, CITES and all international agreements and conventions on wildlife, and BGP represents the Kingdom of Swaziland on all such fora.
This says much for Swaziland’s commitment to Nature Conservation that this National responsibility is vested in the portfolio of the Head of State, thereby carrying the status and the honour of being overseen by the Highest Authority in the land.
Big Game Parks are also offering a free Rhino Drive at Hlane Royal National Park for one lucky winner in celebration of World Rhino day.