The rhino’s last stand: Witnessing the danger African anti-poaching units face every day

Ahead of launching Sporting Rifle’s 2018 auction to raise funds for Save The Rhino, editor-in-chief Peter Carr outlines the experiences of rangers on the ground at Big Game Parks in Swaziland

Sporting Rifle’s annual Save The Rhino fundraiser auction is truly unique, and what a difference this initiative has made to rhino protection and the comfort and safety of the rangers who watch over them. Furthermore, this initiative is anti-proof. Who could argue against hunters raising much-needed funds to protect an endangered species? It’s nothing short of the very best PR for our sporting culture.

I owe a massive thanks to you, the readers, for your support, and especially to the Sporting Rifle contributors who have donated so much to enable this annual auction to take place. A heartfelt thanks to Paul Childerley, Chris Dalton, Jason Doyle, Geoff Garrod, Jost Arnold, John Fenton, Deerhunter, Swarovski, and the many others who have donated lots over the years.

This auction has benefited rhino and their custodians at uMkhuze in South Africa, Hlane Royal National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve in Swaziland, and Borana Conservancy in Kenya. This year’s auction will support Hlane and Mkhaya – collectively known as Big Game Parks.

Big Game Parks is a truly unique organisation: a private not-for-profit trust built by the dedication of phenomenal people under the extraordinary vision of Ted Reilly. At a time when conservation was less than favourable, frowned on by farmers and ignored by politicians, Ted did not take ‘no’ for an answer from the British colonial administrators, but turned to the Swazi monarchy and his own family, finding warm support that enabled the establishment of conservation in Swaziland. Reilly and his team brought numerous species back to Swaziland that had become locally extinct, including rhino, elephant, lion, buffalo and the rare roan antelope.

In the 1960s, Survival Anglia filmed Ted’s game capture operations. One of the cameramen told Reilly’s mother, “You had better spend as much time as possible with your son because he is not long for this world.” But Ted is still with us. In his 80s, he has lost none of his passion, and supported by his son Mick and the BGP rangers, he watches over the nation’s precious wildlife.

This has never been easy. In 1988-1992 Swaziland had almost 80 per cent of its rhino poached. It was a dangerous time for Reilly and his rangers, a number of whom paid with their lives. Thankfully, perseverance, bravery, new legislation and a strong fightback saw poaching incursions wane and what is now known as the First Rhino War consigned to history.

Swazi rhino had nearly 20 years of peace until the new crisis hit. In 2011, two rhino were poached at Hlane Royal National Park. Two Swazis were arrested and three South Africans got away with horn. That September, a rhino was poached in Hlane RNP. Three suspects were fatally wounded (including one wanted from the first incident). Two firearms and one set of horns were recovered. By now the Second Rhino War was in full swing and rhino were being killed in their hundreds, most in Kruger National Park or KwaZulu-Natal. Swaziland is sandwiched between these hotspots and shares a common boundary with Mozambique, where a lot of the poaching syndicates are operating from.

In April 2014 Swaziland lost another rhino to poachers at Mkhaya Game Reserve. The same Mozambican group returned that Christmas day, New Year’s Day and again on 10 January 2015. Thankfully no rhino were poached. One Mozambican poacher was fatally wounded, and another suspect escaped lightly wounded.

In February 2017 two Taiwanese couriers were arrested at King Maswati the Third Airport trying to smuggle 29kg of white rhino horn pieces out of Swaziland. After a long legal fight, the traffickers were eventually found guilty of possession, trafficking, and export of poached rhino horn.

There was another attempt in June last year. A joint police and BGP ranger team intercepted three armed poachers in Hlane. After an exchange of fire, three suspects were fatally wounded. A vehicle, a .303 firearm with ammunition, cell phones, dehorning equipment, wrapping material and tennis ball silencers were seized.

In August, acting on information of a planned raid, a joint police and ranger team intercepted three suspects in a vehicle in Hlane. After a brief exchange of fire, two suspects were fatally wounded, a third escaped wounded and was later found in hospital, and three other suspects were arrested exiting towards the RSA border. The case against these men is awaiting a trial date.

Rhino poaching is a despicable crime that attracts the worst of human society. The Second Rhino War shows no sign of ending soon. If our children and grandchildren are to see rhino outside of zoos, we must do all we can to save the species and protect the wildlife custodians who put their lives on the line on a daily basis.
You can make a difference by donating a lot to this year’s auction or bidding for one of the lots on offer. Together we can make Swaziland’s rhino and the rangers who protect them so much safer.

Want to get involved in Sporting Rifle’s 2018 Save The Rhino auction? Email peter@petercarr.eu or call the office on 01225 687426

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