Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary was officially opened to the public in 1964 and the following year became the recipient of Natal Parks Board’s Rhino distribution programme. White Rhino had reduced to about 40 animals in South Africa, and dedicated conservation efforts by NPB saw this population boom. It was decided that the best chance for survival was to spread viable populations wherever possible. White Rhino returned to Swaziland (Mlilwane) as early as 1965.
In 1968, more rhino were donated and diverted to Hlane Royal National Park. The Hlane population exploded resulting in a natural dispersal, as far as Mozambique. 20 animals settled on Hlane and increased to over 110 by 1982. Again they dispersed due to grazer competition reducing the number to approximately 35 and a weaner dispersal programme in 1984 began populations in 3 other Swazi parks.
In 1986 black rhino were reintroduced to Mkhaya Game Reserve from Zimbabwe. By 1988, the beginning of Swaziland’s first Rhino War (1988 – 1992), white rhino numbers had again doubled. The first seizure of horn and ivory occured at Matsapha airport in April 1988. Swaziland lost her first rhino to commercial horn poachers in November 1988. What ensued for the next 4 years was a tale of deceipt, corruption, a dark and dangerous underworld, inexplicable happenings topped with hero’s of no ordinary measure. This deeply trying time was won only by the sincere and unrelenting support of His Majesty King Mswati lll. Amendments were drafted to the Game Act, which stuck in Parliament for some time while rhino were slaughtered relentlessly. Finally, the Game Act was amended in 1992, making it arguably the toughest wildlife law in the world. Swaziland lost her final rhino in December 1992.
Currently, rhino poaching has escalated to just under 3 rhinos poached per day in South Africa. Swaziland holds the impresive record of no rhinos lost to poaching from December 1992 until a cow was shot in June 2012, orphaning her calf. Three arrests were made within 3 days, but bail granted. In September 2012 the same poaching syndicate returned, killing another pregnant cow. Law enforcement was quick and effective and Swaziland made its mark as non-tolerant of rhino poaching with the case being solved in 20 hours. However, rangers remain vigilant and proactive as the pressure grows daily. King Mswati lll and Big Game Parks are serious about saving Swaziland’s rhino for posterity.