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Swaziland: Discover the 60's

Posted on: Tuesday, April 22, 2014
events_50thanniversary60

This July Swaziland will celebrate half a century of conservation, led and first developed by the pioneer and globally renowned Ted Reilly. With a whole host of events and activities planned, its set to be a fantastic couple of months in Swaziland’s Mlilwane, Hlane and Mkhaya, run by Big Game Parks. We’ll be covering week by week the decades as they progressed, ultimately changing the face of Swaziland’s wildlife. You can read the full article on the events and promotions here

The 60’s: Where it all started.

1960: A young Ted Reilly aged just 24 had the idea of transforming Swaziland into a game haven. His experience working in Botswana had inspired him to put his energy back into his own country, and utilising what was just a small plot of his family’s farmland, he set out on a quest to re-introduce game. The decision to create a game sanctuary necessitated a drastic alteration of habitat, making the most of what was available and creating what was not. The rice paddies reverted to grasslands. Indigenous trees were planted in fenced areas to re-establish savannah, while dead trees were planted to encourage hole-nesting birds.

1961: By now a large perimeter fence was in place, providing a safe sanctuary for the animals that would follow. With the help of Petros Ngomane, Ted’s chief ranger, the animal capture began. The first phase included the introduction of Zebra, Waterbuck, ostrich and kudu – all of which were living alongside the farm animals that hadn’t left! A journalist for the Times of Swaziland was covering the story at the time.

“It was an unlikely scenario in the middle of a dark night, nearly fifty years ago.

I was in the passenger seat of a stripped-down Land Rover roaring at full speed through the thorn tree-studded savannah of eastern Swaziland. No doors, no windows, no roof, no safety belts, and certainly no roads. We closed in on a galloping zebra. ”Get him” shouted Ted. I leaped off the vehicle and wrapped my arms around its neck. The impact knocked the animal off balance, and we both fell to the ground. Something was wrong. The zebra was supposed to be drugged and dazed, but it appeared to be a vitally strong and angry beast with a powerful desire – to bite me…!”

Roland Stanbridge, journalist at the Times of Swaziland, 1960’s

It was a bit of a crazy time for everyone. Capturing animals by hand with lassoes and herding them on horses and run-down 4x4’s wasn’t easy. Capturing game from what is now Mbuluzi, the small team would kill tiger fish in the stream nearby as they camped out – it was their staple diet.

The opening: At the end of 1961 Mlilwane opened to the public, though on a relatively low-key basis. The reality being that Ted was strapped for cash, and visitors through the doors would allow revenue to generate, further funding the mission. Sadly with a not a large amount of game to view not everyone was happy. An early visit remarked, “Bloody cheek to charge 2/6d admission fee (today’s equivalent of 25 SA cents). Saw 6 horses,  2 cows, 1 sheep and 4 impala. Bloody farmyard!”

1964: With the support of the king and some loyal, less critical visitors, Mlilwane had continued to expand its wildlife. Biesbucks had been introduced from Dundonald, and the first and only introduction of warthogs had taken place. At the time warthogs were not present at all in Swaziland. In 1963 a large dam had been created as well, transforming what was an eye saw into todays magnificent and iconic Hippo Pool. On July 12th, Mlilwane officially opened, with the ribbon cut by Hilda Stevenson-Hamilton, wife of the first warden of Kruger National Park, known as Skukuza.

The first five years had proven to be somewhat rocky – but the official opening went down incredibly well, and provided the catalyst needed for work to continue, and introduction to grow further!

Keep an eye on out our site for the next instalment of Swaziland’s 50 year history! You can view an over view of all events by clicking here.

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