Swaziland's Police Commissioner Isaac Magagula says rangers are allowed shoot people who are hunting for food to feed their hungry families.
This comes at a time of great concern about the apparent 'shoot-to-kill' policy that game rangers have adopted. A number of Swazi people have been killed when following their traditions of hunting small animals.
King Mswati III of Swaziland has given game rangers permission to shoot-to-kill people suspected of poaching wildlife on his land and protects them from prosecution for murder in some circumstances.
Ted Reilly, the chief executive of Big Game Parks (BGP), which runs the major national parks in Swaziland on behalf of the King, holds a Royal Warrant to allow him to shoot-to-kill.
Now, Commissioner Magagula has publicly stated, 'Animals are now protected by law and hunting is no longer a free-for-all, where anybody can just wake up to hunt game whenever they crave meat.'
He told a meeting of traditional leaders in Swaziland, 'Of course, it becomes very sad whenever one wakes up to reports that rangers have shot someone. These people are protected by law and it allows them to shoot, hence it would be very wise of one to shun away from trouble.'
This news comes as an impoverished unarmed local man, Thembinkosi Ngcamphalala, aged 21, died of gunshot wounds last month (January 2014). He had been shot by a ranger outside of the Mkhaya Nature Reserve. His family, who live at Sigcaweni just outside the reserve's borders, said he had not been poaching.
BGP owns and manages Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and Mkhaya Nature Reserve. It also manages Hlane National Park, the kingdom's largest protected area, held in trust for the Nation by the King, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.
Swaziland has a long history of killings by rangers of local people. Campaigners say poor people are not poaching large game, such as the endangered black rhinos, but go hunting animals, such as warthogs, as food to feed themselves and their families.
Hunger and malnutrition are widespread in Swaziland where seven in ten of King Mswati's subjects live in abject poverty. Many are forced to become hunters and gatherers to avoid starvation.