Another rhino poaching attempt has been thwarted at Hlane Royal National Park.
6 heavily armed rhino poachers from three different countries carried out their plan to plunder one of Swaziland’s (and Africa’s) rarest and most vulnerable iconic wildlife species.
At approximately 01h00 on Thursday morning (10th August), three heavily armed poachers entered a remote area of Hlane Royal National Park in a vehicle. A joint team of Royal Swaziland Police and Big Game Parks Rangers managed to intercept the vehicle deep in the bush during the anti-poaching operation, before any rhinos were poached.
When an attempt was made to arrest the suspects, the Police and Rangers came under immediate fire. The ensuing exchange of fire resulted in a Mozambican and a South African suspect being fatally wounded. A third Swazi suspect being wounded and admitted to hospital under Police guard. This suspect has a number of previous poaching convictions, and despite this, remains an employee of Hlane’s neighbouring RSSC Simunye Sugar Estate.
A second South African registered getaway vehicle was also apprehended and a Swazi and two South Africans were arrested on board. One of the South Africans is an SAPS Police Reservist in Mpumalanga and is believed to be the mastermind behind many rhino poaching cases across South Africa.
Two vehicles, a high-powered .375 hunting rifle, silencer, ammunition, an axe, daggers (knives), cane knife and carry bags were seized at the scene. The serial numbers on the hunting rifle have been erased and it is suspected to be stolen. .375 rifles are extremely powerful weapons and are often used for poaching rhino and elephant. The weapon is known as an “elephant gun” for its deep penetration and killing power.
This is the second attempt to poach rhinos in Swaziland this year. The previous attempt was also unsuccessful and was made by a rhino poaching group from South Africa on 10 June 2017, also on Hlane Royal National Park. It included Swazi, South African and Zimbabwean nationals.
In February this year two Taiwanese nationals were arrested at King Mswati lll International Airport while they were smuggling 31 pieces of rhino horns out of Swaziland on board a flight to Johannesburg en-route Hong Kong. Investigations have revealed that at least three of the suspected 9 rhinos poached in this consignment were poached in Limpopo, North West and KwaZulu Natal provinces across South Africa.
The intense poaching of more than three rhinos per day in South Africa shows no sign of abating as criminal syndicates continuously adapt to strategies employed by law enforcement agencies in the various rhino range states. Rhinos used to occur in 33 countries in Africa.
Rhinos now exist in just 11 rhino range states, having become locally extinct in the others. Of
the 11 countries, 6 had lost their rhino populations, but have subsequently reintroduced the
species. Swaziland is one of the six.
As evidenced in this case, corrupt officials very often facilitate the illegal acquisition and
trafficking of rhino horns and other wildlife products. Many cases have occurred, especially in
South Africa, where Police officers, game rangers and other officials have been involved in the
illegal rhino horn trade chain.
With the increasing militarization and other law enforcement pressure on poaching
syndicates, especially in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, and an escalation in the level of
conflict, many poaching groups have turned their attention to alternative perceived soft
targets – including Swaziland.
It is nothing short of a miracle that Swaziland has lost only three rhino to poaching in the past
24 years given that rhinos have been poached to extinction for a second time in Mozambique
and that South Africa has lost 6000 rhinos to poaching since 2010, with most of these in the
provinces neighbouring Swaziland.
If Swaziland shows lenience in dealing with such cases, the floodgates will be opened and
Swaziland’s small rhino population will not be able to withstand the poaching onslaught.
ROBERT NKONTSHO VILANE’S INTERVIEW – Conducted by Ndumiso Nkhambule
Big Game Park’s mission is to provide a safe haven for Swaziland’s beleaguered wildlife within protected areas and to make the parks a safe place for visitors. A highly disciplined and effective game ranger force is a vital necessity to ensure this.
Big Game Parks’ rangers have been singularly successful in achieving exceptionally high levels of safety in and around her parks through strict application of the law, without fear or favour. Their efforts are publicly acknowledged for having effectively arrested the former carnage of wildlife and stopping rhino poaching in its tracks. Criminals have taken notice of this highly effective ranger force and Swaziland’s amended Game Act, and have steered clear of the parks, so making them along the safest places in Africa to visit.
Over past 5 decades there is a lot to be said about Nature Conservation in Swaziland, from re-establishing 22 species of wildlife to attracting commendations and support from high profile conservation giants, and who better to elaborate on that than a game ranger with 50 years’ experience under his belt? Robert Nkontsho Vilane has served as a game ranger at Big Game Parks from 1967-2017, he currently is still in service!
What was it like, being involved in helping establish Big Game Parks and also being involved in the initial fencing project?
I’m very proud of myself, looking back from the start, what we did. I didn’t do it for myself but for the people of Swaziland and the future generations. I would like to thank Mr Ted Reilly (Machobane) for his vision which was a mission impossible from the early days of Conservation. Now his name will live forever for what he did for the country and the world at large, not forgetting His Majesty King Sobhuza II who was father of nature Conservation and for his wisdom, and of course His Majesty King Mswati III for his great support.
Truly speaking if it wasn’t for the effort of Swaziland’s Royal House and Machobane, I don’t think there will be animals left today.
You have worked for Big Game Parks for a long time, how is it different now to what it was like back when you started out.
Work these days is much easier than when we started. Nowadays when patrolling the bush and by chance you come across a poacher, it is much easier to arrest them than before. Last time working for game reserves was a difficult task and the people were always fighting the rangers saying that they are hunting their heritage which is owned by no one.
There is an old story about game capture in the early days, where you were catching warthogs and one warthog got the better of you. Could you share the story and give us some advice regarding warthogs?
Yeah I’ve been working for BGP for a very long time, started way back in 1967 and I’m still in service. What I can say is that warthogs are wild animals and if you capture warthogs, they will give you a hell of a hard time. If you are not careful enough, you might pay an ultimate price of being ripped apart and sometimes you get punished by the warthog with their tusk. I’ll tell you what I’ve got a big scar on my leg.
Warthogs are very dangerous; people should not underestimate these creatures due to their size. They should be treated with great respect. l urge people to take extra care of wild animals especial warthogs, they will teach you an unforgettable lesson like they did to me.
Do you have any other memorable game capture stories?
A lot I can say about game capture, these days catching animals is very easy and simple. During the early days of conservation in Swaziland I remember catching impalas at Hlane in middle of the night, chasing the animals with the car in the bush. Imagine driving a car at night at a high speed in the bush chasing animals! I use to ask myself that if this car accidentally falls in a ditch what would happen? Is there life after that or I will die straight away at the scene? Even though we had fear for our lives, we gave our best and we proceeded with company of Petros Ngomane and others. Unfortunately Petros is retired and luckily for me I’m still in service as we speak right now.
You worked with Petros Ngomane for a very long time. Tells us about that?
When I started working for BGP, Petros Ngomane was already here working. What I heard is that one day he was patrolling alone and he came across a poacher in the bush, Petros tried to reason with the poacher in order to bring him to book but the offender resisted arrest and started picking up a fight with Petros. Unfortunately the poacher got the better of him and eventually stab him. Fortunately for Petros with the help of the doctors he stood back to his feet and continued protecting Swaziland’s heritage. Even today Petros is still alive but not in service anymore.
You were known as the voice behind the National Environmental Education Program on radio. How was that experience and what did you learn from it?
Actually doing the Environmental Program on radio was a very, very good move because lots of people were educated through the program and they learnt a lot from it. The Fact is we were trying to let people know that wild animals has the right to live as well as we do, and people should learn to live with animals side by side. Right now I’m getting old and l will be retiring very soon and still I’m saying the same thing – that is lets join hands in fighting poaching and conserving wild animals. Animals are not for Big Game Parks people, animals are for the entire world. People from abroad they come here to see these animals and I’ve noticed big coaches transporting tourists around Swaziland who come here to see these animals. Wild animals are our heritage and it’s for the Swazi people.
You have also played a big role in upholding anti-poaching standards in Swaziland. Tell us more about that experience and what you learned from it?
I’ve learnt a lot and even today I’m still learning something and that animals need to be protected especial white and black rhinos, currently we have a big problem with rhino poaching. People are killing these innocent animals and soon these creatures will be history. I have mentioned before that wild animals are not for rangers or people working at game reserves or game farms; animals are for all people. Tourism these days is one of the growing industries, so tourists come here to see wild animals and thus improving the economy for small and big entrepreneurs.
Rangers are doing a great job fighting poaching and protecting wild animals from extinction, meaning that anyone willing to see wild animals can go to to one of the game parks and see the beauty of conservation. Wild animals are known to attract lots of different people from across the globe.
Going forward, what advice do you have for current and future Rangers alike?
To our fellow Rangers, all I want to say is don’t despair. Keep doing the great job of protecting Swazi heritage, not for you, not for me, but for our children and future generations. Current rangers should do their job without fear and with courage, it will be very sad if this animals disappear in your hands. His majesty King Sobhuza ll gave us this job, not to anyone else, even His Majesty King Mswati III also followed his father’s footsteps and gave us words of courage.
We are really sorry, but our maximum entries & waiting list spots for Imvelo 2017 have been reached. Please ensure you take note when next year’s entries open & be sure to get your entry in early as we expect 2018 to sell out in just days, again. We will open the 2018 entries early April ’18. Till then – Happy Riding!
Nkhube Community Borehole Project– made possible through funds generated by the Nedbank Swaziland’s Imvelo Mountain Bike Classic and carried out by Big Game Parks Projects.
The Nkhube community situated on the boundary of Mlilwane North, faced with the need for clean drinking water. Big Game Parks provided a solution by installing a borehole and water tank at no cost to the community. The borehole and tank operate solely on independent solar power, making it both environmentally friendly and sustainable.
Solar was the chosen form of energy to power this project, due its environmentally friendly nature and its low maintenance. An additional environmentally friendly aspect, stemming from this project is the fact that the borehole water can also be used by the community to carry out household chores such as clothes washing. Instead of washing clothes in the stream, the community can wash clothes closer to home with no pollution of the stream caused by washing powders and soaps.
A huge thank you to Nedbank Swaziland for their sponsorship towards our event and of course to the riders for their contribution to the project fund through entry fees, which in turn enable us to carry out this wonderful community project!
Following an exciting Imvelo 2016, we bring you the annual Imvelo MTB Classic 2017 at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary! The race date is set for 3rd June 2017 with online entries opening on 11th April 2017. You can also enter manually by visiting either Big Game Parks Central Reservations Office;Hlane Royal National Park or at Swaziland’s Adventure Sport and Cycle shops in Mbabane or Manzini.
Online entry: 11th April 2017
Race Date: 3rd June 2017
Distance & Start Time:
64km – 8.00am (Classic)
35km – 9.15am (Challenge)
22km – 9.45am (Family Fun)
12km – 9.55am (Hoglets)
Register: 02/06/17 Gables
- Momentum Classic 64Km E 395.00
- PureJoy Challenge 35Km E 320.00
- Spur Swaziland’s Family Fun Ride E 220.00
- MilkyMax Hoglet 12.5Km E 195.00
Watch this space for more updates! Get training!!
World Wildlife Day is a time to celebrate our African Wildlife, and globally the 3rd March 2017 embraced the theme, “Listen to the Young Voices.”
It has been said that almost one quarter of the world’s population is aged between 10 and 24, continued efforts need to be made to encourage young people, as the future leaders and decision makers of the world, to act on both local and global levels to protect wildlife. It is our mission to open up Swaziland Youth and the likes to realistic conservation.
World Wildlife Day encourages people around the world to come together to address ongoing major threats to wildlife including habitat change, over-exploitation or illicit trafficking. This year World Wildlife Day proposed the challenge, “Do one thing to help the world’s wildlife.” Big Game Parks teamed up with the Manzini Rhinos Rugby Club and worked with pupils from Lobamba National High School and Esitjeni Primary School to do our bit by running a “Clean-Up Campaign” from Esitjeni Road to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary main gate. The event started at the two schools’ morning assembly, 07h45 at Lobamba National High and at 08h00 at Esitjeni Primary School. Our team split up into 2 groups- 1 group addressed Esitjeni Primary and the other addressed Lobamba National High. Each group was joined a mix of Rhino Rugby Club players and Big Game Parks staff.
A quick presentation was given, with the hope of inspiring young people to take action and conserve our wildlife and natural environments. We discussed the threat of devaluing wildlife by substituting Conservation, (wise and sustainable utilization of self-renewing natural resources) with preservation and protectionist philosophies. Good conservation produces surpluses and available habitat is finite; so what must we do with surpluses? Spiritually, culturally and consumptively the growing trend of towards protectionist is a greater threat to the continued existence of Africa’s Wildlife. If wildlife has no practical value to people, what are the chances of it maintaining priority, or even being sustained? Nature itself subscribes to conservation rather than the stagnation preservation prescribes.
The purpose of the “Clean-Up” Campaign was to highlight how doing something so small, such as picking up litter, can make such a difference. Sometimes it’s a lot of little things adding up that make a big difference!
Wondering what you can still do? Why not join us on one of our next “Clean-Up Campaigns”? Watch this space for more details! Why not make a donation to wildlife? Or even better… Why not visit one of the beautiful parks our Kingdom has to offer? Did you know, just by paying your entrance fee, YOU are helping wildlife and actively funding Nature Conservation!
Our collective conservation actions can be the difference between wildlife surviving or disappearing. Let’s all come together and do our part! Even though World Wildlife Day is over, lets do a little something for our wildlife and environment every day.