Once a schoolboy hunter, Roland Stanbridge meets the legendary Ted Reilly at a time when conservation in Swaziland had just started to take off, later to become one the models of wildlife protection in Africa…
Continued… Part 8, (Final)
A school outing at Hlane Royal National Park, 2013
As more and more groups of young schoolchildren came on visits to Mlilwane I realised what a treasure the sanctuary was for Swaziland. These kids were able to feel pride in their natural heritage.
On one occasion Ian Khama, son of the president of Botswana Sir Seretse Khama, visited Mlilwane at the age of 13 or 14. He had with him an entourage of personal attendants and security personnel. He was taken on a tour of the sanctuary and was immensely interested in all he saw.
Today it is Ian Khama who is president of Botswana. He is a champion of conservation, and he recently officially banned the hunting of wild game for sport throughout the country, with effect from the beginning of this month, January 2014. He was also a driving force behind the creation of the Khama Rhino Sanctuary in Serowe. I like to think that the young Ian Khama was powerfully influenced by his visit to Mlilwane.
I finally left Mlilwane to go and study. I wanted more skills and knowledge. Over the coming years while working as a journalist I attended several university courses pursuing the earth sciences – geology, palaeontology, archaeology. I wanted to know more about earth history and the emergence of life on earth. I also wanted to know more about Africa, and studied African history, African government, and African Law.
But the ugly realities of apartheid occupied me as a journalist. Finally I went into exile in Sweden with my family, and in time became a journalism lecturer. My work took me around the world but I always made time to visit the deserts, the rainforests, the wildlife sanctuaries, and marine reserves.
Now I am retired and live up in the hills, deep in the forests of Sweden where my partner Marie, my daughter Aleah and I have a small horse farm. Our Friesian and Icelandic horses live in the open as a herd, among the wolves and elk and deer and lynx and foxes and badgers, with open shelters should they want cover from the rain or snow. They have no iron shoes nailed to their hooves. On our farm we try to practice ‘natural’ horsemanship, ‘natural’ beekeeping, and organic permaculture farming. All this has its roots in my days at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in Swaziland.
These days my heroes are nearly all conservationists, and include Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd who ceaselessly fights to protect dolphins and whales, Jane Goodall for her work to protect chimpanzees, Dian Fossey who worked to protect gorillas, Rachel Carson who advanced the global environmental movement, and of course the Reilly family of Swaziland.
With Petros Ngomane as his right-hand man, and Liz with her boundless enthusiasm and deep love for all living things by his side, Ted had an unbeatable team. His iron-willed determination and total focus on his goals prevailed. Together they came to reintroduce into Swaziland all those species that had disappeared, including lions. And as he grew up Ted and Liz’ son Mickey became an integral part of the team, and together they have developed the three Big Game Parks of Swaziland – Hlane Royal National Park, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and Mkhaya Game Reserve. It is one of the great conservation success stories of Africa.
Afterword – Roland, thank you for this rich history written in such a beautifully entertaining fashion. A great beginning and inspiration for everyone to submit their stories! Hope to see you in Swaziland in July!