On the 12th July 1964, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary opened to the public. This day marked the beginning of formal conservation in the Kingdom of Swaziland.
At the time Swaziland was still a British Protectorate (Independence 1968). The country’s wildlife resource had been severely depleted and existed in remnant herds, largely on private farms. During the 50’s, Man was still taming Africa, infiltrating the wild areas in the hope of commercialising cattle farming and agriculture. Wildlife was seen as vermin, a threat to the economic wealth of the country and thus there was no willingness to embrace the concept of conservation.
One man, Ted Reilly, had watched the demise of Swaziland’s wildlife heritage. His experiences across the border in both South Africa and Zambia reminded him of how wild Africa could be. Reilly dreamed of a park system for Swaziland, safeguarding the rich diversity and beautiful landscapes. First, he approached the British Government, to no avail. He then approached King Sobhuza ll, who whole-heartedly supported the concept.
Conservation in Swaziland had a shaky and humble beginning. It came down to a King’s incredible support, one man, his farm, a very loyal yet small ranger force and, literally, one Land Rover. From 1960 Mlilwane was established over a number of years, with habitat modification and relocating animals one-by-one. Passion, tenacity, commitment and huge personal sacrifice built what constitutes Swaziland’s park system today.
The concept of conservation took route at Mlilwane, leading on to Hlane Royal National Park, the establishment of the Swaziland National Trust Commission and their three parks and Mkhaya Game Reserve. Big Game Parks was then established as a private organisation, encouraging the establishment of game ranches such as Mbuluzi, Nisela, Phophonyane and the like. The unbending support of His Majesty King Mswati lll has made this all possible.
Big Game Parks is celebrating 50 years of Imvelo Yakitsi this year! It has been a long and interesting road and we as a nation can be extremely proud of what has been achieved. Join us as we celebrate the events through the last 50 years. Regular articles will soon appear in the newspaper, on our website (www.biggameparks.org) and various exciting events will be held over the months leading to July 12th 2014.