Experience the ‘Big 5’ in the little country of Eswatini
Eswatini’s (Swaziland’s) rich variety of landscapes and habitats gives it a profusion of fauna and flora, with the sheer number of species mind-boggling by most European standards. The country is not large enough to offer lots of big game experiences, but it has some 17 protected areas that are home to a very wide range of species, including the sought-after ‘Big 5’. As well as being one of the best places on the continent for rhino experiences (tracking on foot as well as viewing by 4×4, and to see both black and white rhinos), Eswatini is also the perfect place to get to grips with many smaller creatures often overlooked elsewhere. This is a country with a wealth and variety of safari experiences on offer.
Eswatini is also a paradise for birdwatching, with some 500 species of bird recorded in the country. That puts it roughly on a par with France (517) or, more locally, the Kruger National Park (505), and is a remarkable tally for such a tiny, landlocked country.
Thanks to its varied landscapes and wilderness areas, Eswatini’s flora includes over 3500 indigenous species of plants, with about 25 species endemic to Eswatini.
For traditional African big game viewing, Hlane Royal National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve are the best places in Eswatini. Both are home to a variety of big mammals, including elephant, hippo, giraffe, zebra and rhino. Mkhaya is one of the best places on the continent to see both black and white rhino and Hlane is also home to everyone’s favourite big cat – the lion. Numerous antelope and smaller mammals are also found in both places.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary has a similarly diverse offering of fauna, though without the biggest of the animals except for hippos. This is a great place for the family and offers much in the way of activity from horse riding, mountain biking, to hikes and treks. Now also under the management of Big Game Parks, in the far south-east of the country, KaMsholo Bushveld Safaris is a nature-rich 700ha reserve, dominated by the Umbrella Tree (Acacia tortillis) with a surprising species list which includes giraffe, reedbuck, waterbuck and ostrich.
The Eswatini National Trust Commission reserves of Mlawula and Malolotja and the privately run Mbuluzi and Dombeya are also generally without major predators and the largest of the mammals, although Mbuluzi and Dombeya have giraffe and Malolotja the magnificent eland, and all three have the usual diversity of antelope and smaller mammals.