The death of a female rhino poached in Swaziland’s Hlane Royal National Park marks the sad re-emergence of rhino poaching in the Swazi Kingdom. This killing and bloody de-horning took place on Friday night the 3rd of June 2011. It ends a period of relative peace, which has lasted for over 20 years, since the infamous Rhino War of the early 1990′s when Swaziland’s rhinoceros population was decimated by poaching.
Whilst the loss of a single rhino in Swaziland may pale in global significance to the overall slaughter of this species elsewhere in Africa, what it does mean is that Swaziland will need to act fast to prevent its relatively small populations from being wiped out totally. In neighbouring South Africa, home to the largest remaining rhino concentrations, animals are currently being lost at a rate of close to one rhino every day. Losses at anything similar to that rate would wipe out Swaziland’s rhino before even this winter season was over.
Rhino first became extinct in Swaziland some time after the turn of the last century (early 1900′s) and it wasn’t until the efforts of conservationist Ted Reilly in the 1960′s, that they were returned to the Kingdom. The country’s slowly growing population again came close to extinction from a sustained poaching onslaught in the early 1990′s. The almost bankrupt private and national parks authorities were at that saved by both timely international donations and a revolutionary change in local wildlife legislation. Both were facilitated by His Majesty King Mswati III, who is the patron of Swaziland’s Big Game Parks. Above all, the efforts of a very dedicated corps of Swazi rangers turned the tide and slaughter was halted.
There is no doubt that parks authorities are hoping for quick arrests in this recent poaching case, so as to deliver a clear message that the risks far outweigh the illicit rewards of commercial rhino poaching. A reward for information has been posted, amounting to E 10 000.00, and it is hoped that that this, as much as patriotic support for Swaziland’s much-loved wildlife amongst communities will bring forth results.
Apart from its contribution to the global preservation of this high profile member of the legendary Big 5, Swaziland’s conservation efforts at Hlane Royal National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve have resulted in rhino viewing being one of the Kingdom’s main safari draw cards.
“Rhino viewing in Swaziland is unsurpassed,” comments Swazi Trails director Darron Raw, “and it features strongly in many of our tour and safari itineraries. They are are signature species that attract a lot of attention. This attention provides much-needed gate revenue for an umbrella of conservation activities that spread out to benefit many less well-known species. Their protection is essential.”
The warnings have been there. As recently as the 24th of March 2011, parks authorities warned that an increase in poaching activity was a potential threat to rhino security. Just a mere two months after that their fears have been confirmed. Whilst the early rhino wars were often waged against small-scale poachers, the new threats are far more sophisticated with much of the rhino poaching in South Africa attributed to well-financed gangs with access to high-powered weapons and even helicopters.
“For the last two weeks I have been helping my daughter research her Grade 3 school project,” reveals Raw on a personal aside, “her chosen topic being the Rhinoceros. We had proudly noted that Swaziland was so far holding out against the poaching menace – but today I broke the news to her that she’d need to re-write that page.”
“Why Daddy – why to people do that to rhinos?” she asked surveying the bloodied image of the carcass.
“How does one explain the callousness of financial greed to an 8-year old, I thought” said Raw, “or the overall arrogance and short-sightedness of human disregard for the environment that supports us. I just hope I’m not having to explain the total extinction of rhino to my grandchildren in this life-time – that would be even harder to stomach.”
To the concerned, but otherwise armchair-bound conservationist it would seem that rhino poaching is almost out-of-control… and that our parks authorities in Africa are loosing control. The question arises – what can we do? Swazi Trails suggests the following actions:
- Visit your local conservation areas. Most are cash-strapped and reliant on tourism receipts. Your visitation does make a difference. Visit as a family, visit as a school activity, visit as a corporate outing – just get out there and make your presence count.
- Fund-raise for and donate to recognised rhino conservation initiatives.
- Show public support for rangers and conservation authorities. Defending animals in a world that is dominated by emotional human rights demands is an often thankless task. Let’s keep our game rangers motivated.
The sad story of Swaziland’s return to the horrors of commercial rhino poaching was initially broken by local newspaper the Times of Swaziland – to read more see their report here: Rhino shot dead at Hlane Royal National Park.
For an update on this post – please visit – Rhino Poaching Arrests