KASHOBA, Swaziland – When Thuli Makama set out to help struggling communities in Swaziland, she envisioned mediating agreements allowing people to collect firewood from wildlife parks. Instead, she ended up fighting to save lives.
Makama, head of the Swazi environment group Yonge Nawe, has been investigating allegations of private park rangers killing suspected poachers in sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy.
Today she was named one of this year’s winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize, the most prestigious international award for environmental activists.
The U.S.-based Goldman organization hailed her as among “a group of fearless emerging leaders taking on some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems affecting not only local communities but the entire planet.”
However, the man many Swazis credit with founding the kingdom’s conservation movement, Ted Reilly, said his rangers act within laws aimed at stopping poaching, often at great personal risk.
“Very similar numbers of rangers have been killed in the line of duty by poachers as vice versa,” he said.
Makama said families living just outside the parks where foreign tourists vacation depend on international food aid – and the occasional antelope or warthog hunted in protected land.
“These are just hunters and gatherers who need this to survive,” Makama said.