Conserving the rich bio diversity of Swaziland's natural heritage.
Author: Big Game Parks
Sawubona! Welcome to Big Game Parks' Blog!
From the flatlands in the East, through the mountainous and scenic West, to the heart of the lowveld in the South East, the Kingdom of Swaziland not only offers you nearly every example of African landscape but also unforgettable wildlife, culture, adventure and birding experiences.
Big Game Parks (BGP) is a private non-profit Trust which manages three game reserves in Swaziland: Hlane Royal National Park, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and Mkhaya Game Reserve. All follow a common mission: to conserve the rich biodiversity of Swaziland's natural heritage.
In 1960 the Reilly's family established the Kingdom's first game reserve on the Reilly family farm, Mlilwane. Hlane Royal National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve soon followed and today the company's contribution to the restoration and protection of the Kingdom’s biodiversity is of great significance (BGP actually saved 22 species from extinction in Swaziland!) and can truly be appreciated by the discerning traveller.
Swaziland is well-situated between Kruger National Park and Kwa-Zulu Natal as well as Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Maputo. Big Game Parks’ well-positioned and diverse game reserves are an essential destination in any itinerary.
Discover all the latest Big Game Parks tourism, conservation and community happenings right here.
Sitawubonana! See you soon!
Swaziland’s proud 20 year rhino record was recently shattered with the loss of a young female rhino and her calf at Hlane Royal National Park. Big Game Parks was touched by the level of support from local, regional and international supporters who greatly lamented this loss. One such supporter, Melinda MacInnis, stepped up and, along with her highly-respected team, is currently making a documentary showing how the Rhino Wars have been brought back to Africa, and how the fate of Swaziland’s (and the world’s) rhino population hangs in the balance.
These truly majestic animals represent some of our planet’s last great megafauna and stand as a symbol of what our species is doing to every other. Rhinos have existed on this planet for millions of years and have always been a part of the human experience, sparking our imagination and wonder. And now because some have decided that their horns are worth more than gold, we are about to wipe them out.
Through education, legislation, and the development of a global voice, we aspire to bring rhinos back from the brink of extinction. Melinda has already finished filming in Swaziland and is now in the post-production phase. Because everyone has so far worked for free (most especially John Mans, the Emmy-nominated, veteran nature and adventure cinematographer) or for drastically reduced rates, Melinda’s been able to capture something really remarkable and worthy of reaching as large an audience as possible, and now they just need that final push!
Please help spread the word of this project to turn the tide for the world’s rhinos!
Experience true Swazi culture, nature and hospitality at its very best and save 30%!
Conveniently located just a short drive away from the Umhlanga Reed Dance at ELudzidzini which culminates on Monday 29th August, Mlilwane is opening its doors to all guests wanting to experience true Swazi culture, nature and hospitality at its very best.
Save 30% when booking 3 nights in either a traditional Swazi Beehive hut or a luxury room within the original house of Swaziland’s conservation forerunners, Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge.
3 nights for 2 in a Swazi Beehive Hut (B&B Basis)
After all the festivities at Umhlanga, retire to your Swazi Beehive Hut in a traditional Kraal with the added luxury of en-suite facilities and Swazi nature, the famous Hippo Haunt Restaurant and a wide range of activities at your doorstep!
3 Night Usual Price: E990pp sharing inc. breakfast, exc. conservation fee
3 Night Offer Price: E660pp
3 nights for 2 at Reilly’s Rock (D, B&B Basis)
Relax at Reilly’s amongst rare aloes, small antelope and birds in its romantic botanical garden. Take in the panoramic views of Mlilwane’s game-studded plains below before feeding the resident bush babies and savouring delicious cuisine served by welcoming Swazi hosts.
3 Night Usual Price: E2235pp sharing inc. dinner, breakfast & conservation fee
If you book a day tour to Mkhaya for 4 people during the month of August mentioning this special offer, you’ll only have to pay for 3 people….receiving a discount of 25% (E545) off the normal price! Your day tour includes a Swazi-guided open Land Rover Game Drive where you could bump into Mkhaya’s Black Rhino, rare birds and numerous other wildlife species amongst the pure African bush before enjoying a fabulous bush lunch beneath a giant sausage tree – not to be missed!
Why book this offer?
Excellent Value for Money
Mkhaya was named as one of the best value safari experiences in Southern Africa by International travel guide, Lonely Planet. It’s no wonder when the entry fee includes excellent Land Rover Game Drives and amazing bush cuisine in one of the best examples of pure African bush around! You’ll be so enchanted by the magic of Mkhaya, you’ll want to share your experience with your friends…and with this offer you can…and at 25% off
Normal Price: E2180 for 4 people
Offer Price: E1635 for 4 people
Save: E545 (25% off)
Easy, Hassle-Free Experience
Mkhaya is easy to get to from anywhere in Swaziland– it’s only an hour’s drive away from Ezulwini on excellent roads. What’s more, when you book a stay at Mkhaya everything is taken care of so you can truly relax and enjoy the reserve’s famous Swazi hospitality.
Unrivalled Wildlife Viewing
Established as a refuge for endangered animals, Mkhaya plays host to many rare creatures including both Black and White Rhino, Elephant, Giraffe, Buffalo, Roan and Sable Antelope and the fastest antelope on earth, the ‘Tsessebe’ (‘Umzansi’ in siSwati) to name a few! Up-close encounters with birds and animals bring photographers from all over the world and with this offer; you may even snap the winning shot for our wildlife competition below!
During the month of August, Big Game Parks is hosting a competition open to all visitors of our parks called ‘Wild Swaziland’. Simply submit a photo you’ve taken at any of our three parks: Hlane Royal National Park, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary or Mkhaya Game Reserve and be in with a chance of winning a night for two at Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge.
Offer available on first-come-first-serve basis
Book now to avoid disappointment:
Call: +268 2528 3943/4 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
During the month of August, Big Game Parks is hosting a wildlife photography competition open to all park visitors called ‘Wild Swaziland’ in celebration of the Kingdom’s rich biodiversity of wildlife. The winning photograph will be selected from a professional panel of experts including key members of our conservation and tourism departments, and will be displayed on our blog. The winner will receive a night for two at Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge – itself a photographer’s paradise, inclusive of Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary conservation entry fee, dinner, bed and breakfast.
Two Runners-up also stand the chance of winning a Guided Mountain Bike Trail at Hlane Royal National Park and a Chubeka Horse Trail Experience at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
The three lucky prize winners will be notified by email and announced on the company’s blog BGPBLOG.ORG in September.
How to Enter
To be in with a chance of winning simply submit a photo you’ve taken at any of our three parks: Hlane Royal National Park, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary or Mkhaya Game Reserve within the month of August along with the information stipulated below to our marketing department.
To enter please send the following via email to: email@example.com
The Image(s) – maximum of 3 pictures per person as .JPG files not exceeding300KB
Title of image & date taken
Name, Surname, Country & telephone number of Photographer
Location of Image (e.g. Hlane Royal National Park, Mkhaya Game Reserve, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary)
The ticket number found on your conservation entrance ticket (if photo was taken at Mkhaya please indicate booking reference number)
This stunning lodge located within Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is steeped in history and attracts photographers-in-the-know from across the world keen to capture the birding and botany gem for themselves. Up-close encounters with rare and endangered small antelope such as Blue Duiker and Suni, a vast array of exquisite birdlife and regular nocturnal visits from Bush Babies keen to be fed a banana or two on the rooftop, provide the perfect subjects against a canvas of mature Royal Botanical Gardens featuring rare aloes and cycads and spectacular elevated views of the game-studded plains. The lodge’s beautiful rooms, famous Swazi hospitality and roaring log fires also add to the appeal!
Enjoy the majesty of Hlane Royal National Park on a 2 hr Swazi-guided mountain bike trail for two! Home to the largest herds of game in the Kingdom, with four of the big 5, including lion, Hlane offers visitors the chance to discover Swaziland’s natural heritage up-close-and-personal. Ndlovu camp overlooks a waterhole frequented by White Rhino and elephant and bushveld cuisine is served at the beautiful semi-open restaurant. Other activities available at Hlane include guided game and birding walks and game drives. Prize excludes conservation entry fee.
Enjoy a guided hourly horseback trail through Big Game Parks’ stunning Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary where you may spot hippo, crocodile, black eagle, nyala and warthog sightings, along with an abundance of beautiful birds. Make a day of it by taking advantage of the stunning hiking trails while you’re there, bringing along meat for a braai or enjoying the Hippo Haunt Restaurant’s famous bush cuisine. Prize excludes conservation entry fee.
As Swaziland springs into life; local, regional and international visitors flock to its game studded plains to experience some of Southern Africa’s best birding and botany bloom.
BGP Birding & Botany Attractions
Hlane Royal National Park
Home to the largest herds of game in Swaziland with four of the Big 5 including Lion, Hlane also boasts a wide range of flora and fauna which attracts avitourists and botanists alike.
For budding botanists, the park has been rated as having one of the best examples of Knobthorn Acacia nigresens in Southern Africa which still blooms into spring while the bright yellow variety of Gloriosa Spinosadoes and Fireball Lily Scadoxis multiflorus light up the skies later in the season.
Hlane also has the highest density of tree-nesting vultures in Southern Africa, according to Ara Monadjem, who also recorded that White-backed Vulture nesting sites are very specific to protected areas such as Hlane, literally ending along the fence line. Avitourists often spot vultures nesting throughout spring on top of Hlane’s Acacia trees or whilst bathing in the Mbuluzi River.
Mkhaya Game Reserve
Game viewing tracks between indigenous trees allow intimate encounters with Elephant, White and Black Rhino, and a rich diversity of flora and fauna in this superb refuge for endangered animals – widely renowned as an exciting conservation success. Local guides share their knowledge on open Land Rover drives and walking safaris, providing superb photographic opportunities which attract bush, birding and botany enthusiasts.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
Mlilwane is the Kingdom’s most popular eco-tourism destination with 24-hour gate access and a wide range of accommodation and dining options to suit every pocket and palate. Visitors are able to enjoy nature on horseback, mountain bikes, hiking trails and open 4×4 drives. Fantastic birding walks are offered where Black, Crowned and Fish eagles as well asSwaziland’s National Bird; the Purple-crested Turaco are often spotted. Aquatic species such as the Finfoot, White-fronted Bee-eater and around six species of Kingfisher can also be seen.
Recommended Accommodation for Birding & Botany Enthusiasts
Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge
This stunning lodge located within Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is steeped in history and attracts photographers-in-the-know from across the world keen to capture the birding and botany gem for themselves. Up-close encounters with rare and endangered small antelope such as Blue Duiker and Suni, a vast array of exquisite birdlife and regular nocturnal visits from Bush Babies keen to be fed a banana or two on the rooftop, provide the perfect subjects against a canvas of mature Royal Botanical Gardens featuring rare aloes and cycads and spectacular elevated views of the game-studded plains. The lodge’s beautiful rooms, famous Swazi hospitality and roaring log fires also add to the appeal.
Best for Bush Fanatics: Stone Camp
Swazi hospitality is a feature of Mkhaya Game Reserve’s Stone Camp, where traditional meals and dancing are enjoyed beneath a giant sausage tree before visitors retire along lantern-lit paths to their own semi-open stone and thatch cottages. Simple African Luxury at its very best.
Recommended Dining for Birding & Botany Enthusiasts
Hippo Haunt Restaurant at Mlilwane
The Hippo Haunt Restaurant at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary overlooks a beautiful hippo pool surrounded by stunning vegetation and an abundance of aquatic birds and wildlife. Visitors can savour delicious meals including game while gazing at the resident hippos and crocs on the terrace or on cooler days cozy up on a comfortable couch next to a fireplace indoors.
As the Rhino poaching crisis in South Africa reaches new heights with a Rhino now lost every day, on Friday 3rd June Swaziland fell victim to her first Rhino loss in over 20 years. An impressive record now consigned to history as the Rhino War threatens one of the few remaining stabilised breeding environments in the world.
The young two-ton White Rhino cow, mother to a calf and instrumental to Swaziland’s future generations of Rhinos, was found de-horned at Big Game Parks’ Hlane Royal National Park on National Environment Day, and now serves as a sad symbol of the encroaching threat to this endangered species. The Rhino’s calf, suffering from the absence of its mother’s milk and stress, was also found dead two weeks later.
While South African Rhinos are protected by the South African Constitution – one of the most lenient in the world, which has prompted much debate over poachers being granted bail, low bail conditions, lengthy investigation time and poor convictions. In Swaziland, poachers undertake a massive risk by crossing one of the strictest and most respected poaching laws in the conservation world; The Game Act – a risk which has to date never reaped any rewards for Swazis who have participated. Indeed, during Swaziland’s Rhino War of 1988-92 when the Kingdom lost almost 80% of its Rhino to poaching, not a single poacher was paid the promised reward.
Poaching has many guises; Subsistence Poaching, where people often from poor communities surrounding a reserve snare wildlife for food, Structured/Commercial Poaching, in which skilled hunters, ex-military men or local impoverished people with a knowledge of the animals’ habitat are used as middlemen for an end buyer, and Professional Poaching, conducted by a cross-section ranging from the rural poor to townsfolk who provide the illegal commercial bush meat or Rhino horn market, and may involve the use of a helicopter.
This incident falls under the Structured Poaching category, in which local men, one of whom was an ex-Cadet Ranger at Hlane Royal National Park with knowledge of the Rhino’s habitat, were being used as middlemen for an end-buyer of the Rhino’s two horns. Not a single scrap of meat was removed from the animal for consumption yet the unemployed ex-Cadet Ranger, having chosen a life of illegal poaching over legal protecting, may still pull at the heartstrings of some who’d mistakenly class him as one of the ‘hungry rural poor’.
The eco-tourism industry provides a vital source of employment opportunities within Swaziland. The multiplier effect of a single Big Game Parks wage, for example, results in the sustenance of over fifteen people and with over three hundred Swazis employed by the park, this represents approximately 4,500 Swazis who rely directly on the parks for sustenance. In fact, when one of Big Game Parks’ Conservation Wardens was asked how he puts his wages to use, Mr Mbuso Shiba stated ‘Big Game Parks not only provides for my immediate family and I. The wages I earn directly support over 30 people’ demonstrating the figure of fifteen-to-one to be a conservative estimate.
Ironically, the brutalised Rhino carcass was discovered on Saturday 4th June; World Environment Day and the date of Big Game Parks’ annual Imvelo Mountain Bike Competition held at Hlane’s sister reserve, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. This event was organised by Big Game Parks in order to support local businesses and raise money to provide a reservoir and clean drinking water for local community school, Hlabazonke Primary school.
As a law enforcement entity mandated to safeguard the Kingdom’s animals, Big Game Parks continues to follow its mission of preserving the biodiversity of Swaziland’s rich natural heritage for the future enjoyment of its people. It strives to build sustainable relationships with local communities through the provision of subsidised meat during culling season, local events such as Imvelo where all profits are fed back into the community, and subsidised entry fees for all Swazis. With no state funding, Big Game Parks relies on its kind sponsors and the support of the Swazi public to stay in operation.
In South Africa Rhino poaching has been hitting the headlines on a such a regular basis, that the general public have become accustomed to gory pictures of yet another dead rhino. This desensitization, coupled with the fact that there are so many organisations now collecting funds for Rhinos, means that the majority of people feel that they have already done their bit.
Swaziland may have lost her proud record of Rhino protection but Big Game Parks is determined to break that record again. Big Game Parks would like to wholeheartly thank everybody who has already conveyed their kind words, letters of support and condolence.
15 May 2011 – D-Day for reigning BGP Dance Competition Champion: Mlilwane. Would they once again take the coveted and highly-priced position of Big Game Parks’ Champion?
The annual inter-park dance competition promotes culture and competition amongst the parks’ staff at Hlane Royal National Park, Mkhaya Game Reserve and Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Held at a different park each year since 2003; the cultural competition has steadily been gaining momentum and friendly rivalry ever since. This year the much sought-after title was up for grabs in the majestic Hlane Royal National Park.
His Majesty King Mswati III, INgwenyama of Swaziland, holds Hlane Royal National Park in trust for his nation, making it a fitting location for such a cultural explosion.
The Royal National Park is home to 4 of the Big 5 including the majestic Lion, Rhino, Elephant and Leopard; some of which even graced the event watching from the nearby watering hole.
The festivities began at 10.00am with song and dance from Big Game Parks’ children. The sound of drums amidst the picturesque backdrop of the Lowveld bush, nearby curious animals and traditional Swazi dancing seemed to harmoniously unite man and animal.
The contested categories that would set the battlefield for BGP Staff were: Sibhaca; a vigorous dance performed by men, Ingadla; a true test of the strength of young women’s legs!, Umbholoho; a form of traditional singing and dance reminiscent of traditional Swazi choirs and Stick Fighting; an ancient method of settling scores in the fields performed by herdsmen. These would ultimately decide Big Game Parks’ Champions of 2011.
Jabulisa; a traditional Sangoma Dance alongside Ummiso and Sibhaca performed by Big Game Parks’ children helped set the tone for the competition.
However, the people with perhaps the toughest job on the day were the judges: Inkhosikati Make ULaMtsetfwa from Esitjeni Umphakatsi, Chief Ndabenkulu from Mkhaya Umphakatsi and Babe Sibandze from Hlane Community.
On home turf and excelling in Sibhaca and Umbholoho, Hlane Royal National Park was crowned Best Big Game Park overall scooping five of the six trophies.
Mkhaya Game Reserve took home Best Stick-Fighting trophy , earning them second place in the Competition, while last year’s champion Mlilwane went home empty-handed vowing to come back on fighting form next year.
Mr. Ted ‘Machobane’ Reilly told the story of how Hlane Royal National Park came to be. He thanked their Majesties King Mswati III INgwenyama of Swaziland and Her Royal Highness INdlovukazi for playing a vital role in the conservation of nature and wildlife in the Kingdom. Game rangers were also thanked for fearlessly protecting the wildlife to enable future generations an opportunity to experience them.
In a world where ancient traditions and cultural events are all to often consigned to history books, it is a modern-day pleasure to experience traditional Swazi culture as alive today as it was centuries back at events like this one, or even at an ATM queue where your neighbour may well be a Swazi warrior or woman clad in full traditional attire.
The exciting Sibhaca dance performed at Big Game Parks’ annual dance competition is also often enjoyed at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary’s infamous Hippo Haunt Restaurant, where one can also spot Hippos while enjoying an impala stew or a sundowner. Big Game Parks also organises authentic cultural trips to visit the Umphakatsi Swazi community at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and Hlane Royal National Park.
Guests who visit The Kingdom of Swaziland or “ESwatini” as it is locally known during its traditional cultural ceremonies; namely the Umhlanga Reed Dance and the sacred Incwala “First Fruits” Ceremony can also experience true Swazi living by staying in a traditional Swazi beehive within Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.