ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY CLOSED

On 20th April 2021, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary closed to the public. The temporary closure of the Ziwa Sanctuary was decided by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to secure the precious Southern-white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum) at the sanctuary. Ziwa is the only place to see wild rhinos on your Uganda safari, offering a memorable on-foot rhino tracking adventure for visitors on Uganda wildlife safaris and tours.

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Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary Closed to Visitors

The closure of Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary followed the persistent misunderstandings between the owners of the land on which the sanctuary is situated and Rhino Fund Uganda (RFU), a non-government organization that has been managing the rhinos at Ziwa. This came a few days after 28 men pretending to be tourists on Uganda tours raided the sanctuary and destroyed office property in what is believed to have been an attempt to evict the staff of Rhino Fund Uganda.

UWA in a statement said in line with their mandate of protecting Uganda wildlife resources as per the Uganda Wildlife Act 2019, they have taken over full charge of security of Ziwa Rhinos.

“UWA has, with immediate effect, closed Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary to the public and as such, no tourism activities will be undertaken until further notice. UWA realized that the conflict could potentially compromise the safety of the rhinos and took this decision to avert the threat. Therefore, the closure is a temporary measure as the government engages the two parties with a view of mooting a lasting solution to the conflict” UWA said.

LOCATION OF ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY

Ziwa sanctuary is located in Nakasongola district, Nakitooma sub-county in the central region of Uganda, about 176km from Uganda’s capital city, Kampala along the Kampala-Gulu highway. It sits on 70 square kilometers of land.

From Kampala, it takes not more than three hours to reach Ziwa. The sanctuary is en route to Murchison Falls NP – the largest of Uganda’s 10 national parks – and many visitors on safaris in Uganda visit Ziwa as part of their Uganda tour packages to Murchison.

History of Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and the Rhinos in Uganda.

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary was established in 2005 by the government of Uganda, through Uganda Wildlife Authority and the RFU to revive the population of Rhinos in Uganda. Rhinos or Rhinoceroses are members of the ‘Big Five’ of African land animals – others include Lions, Leopards, Elephants, and Buffalos – which are a must-see list of iconic megafauna, famous with Africa safari travelers.

Uganda rhinos were totally depleted from the national parks and reserves where they previously lived due to intense poaching that happened during the 1970s and 1980s.

UWA data bank records show that black and white rhinoceros were once widespread in Uganda. By the 1960s, the population of Uganda rhinos was around 400 eastern black rhinos mostly in Murchison Falls National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park. Around 300 Northern white rhinos also existed in Uganda mainly Murchison Falls National Park.

However, the Uganda Liberation War of 1979 and poaching saw the virtue extermination of the country’s rhinos. The Northern white rhino was last seen in 1982 in Murchison Falls Park while the last eastern black rhino was last seen in Kidepo Valley Park in 1983.

Today, Uganda’s indigenous rhinos are extinct, and very few rhinos now survive outside national parks and reserves worldwide.

HISTORY OF ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY AND THE RHINOS IN UGANDA.

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary was established in 2005 by the government of Uganda, through Uganda Wildlife Authority and the RFU to revive the population of Rhinos in Uganda. Rhinos or Rhinoceroses are members of the ‘Big Five’ of African land animals – others include Lions, Leopards, Elephants, and Buffalos – which are a must-see list of iconic megafauna, famous with Africa safari travelers.

Uganda rhinos were totally depleted from the national parks and reserves where they previously lived due to intense poaching that happened during the 1970s and 1980s.

UWA data bank records show that black and white rhinoceros were once widespread in Uganda. By the 1960s, the population of Uganda rhinos was around 400 eastern black rhinos mostly in Murchison Falls National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park. Around 300 Northern white rhinos also existed in Uganda mainly Murchison Falls National Park.

However, the Uganda Liberation War of 1979 and poaching saw the virtue extermination of the country’s rhinos. The Northern white rhino was last seen in 1982 in Murchison Falls Park while the last eastern black rhino was last seen in Kidepo Valley Park in 1983.

Today, Uganda’s indigenous rhinos are extinct, and very few rhinos now survive outside national parks and reserves worldwide.

HOW MANY RHINOS ARE IN ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY?

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary currently hosts 33 Southern white rhinoceros. The sanctuary started with 6 rhinos that were re-introduced in Uganda at Ziwa to breed them with plans of taking them to national parks when the number increase.

Four of the rhinos were captured in Kenya’s Solio Ranch; two males and two females. The other two rhinos were donated to Rhino Fund Uganda by Orlando Zoo at the Disney Animal Kingdom in Florida, United States of America. In June 2009, the first calf was born of a Kenyan father and American mother.

It was named Obama in respect to the former president of the U.S. Thirteen rhinos have been born since 2009 with the youngest called Noelle, born a day after Christmas on 26 December 2016.

SOURCES OF THE CONFLICTS OVER ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY

The dispute over Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is between the family of Capt. Joseph Charles Roy who owns the lease and the management of Rhino Fund Uganda.

In 2002, Roy offered the land to act as a sanctuary for the rhinos for 30 years. However, in October 2017, he terminated his Memorundum of Understanding (MOU) with RFU and ordered UWA and Rhino Fund Uganda to relocate the rhinos to another place, and vacate his land. This was as a result of the alleged failure to honor the agreement in a concession entered between the two parties on how to share the proceeds from the Rhino Sanctuary and the D and D International Lodges and Restaurant at the sanctuary.

In 2020, after a series of meetings with President Yoweri Museveni and the Ministry of Tourism, the two parties signed a fresh 5-year MOU for the continuation of the flagship project.

However, in March 2021, Roy laid down fresh demands. On April 15, 2021, he stormed out of a meeting called by the Ministry of Tourism and UWA, saying he is no longer interested in talks but wants his land back.

Augustine Mudukoyi, the general manager of Rhino Fund Uganda said that they tried to settle the misunderstanding by agreeing to all the demands by Captain Roy – offering to give him 20 percent collections and appoint three of his members on its board.

Mudukoyi instead accuses Roy of making fresh unrealistic demands, which include 100 percent collection and relocation of the executive director, Angie Genade from the sanctuary to their Kampala headquarters.

THE PLANS TO TRANSLOCATE THE WHITE RHINOS FROM ZIWA SANCTUARY

Uganda Wildlife Authority on 23rd April 2021 announced plans to relocate the rhinos from the sanctuary following the completion of a feasibility study to identify a suitable location and the required conditions.

UWA further revealed that in the medium and long term, the Rhinos will be translocated to a protected area managed by UWA. In conservation management, translocation refers to the intentional movement of plants or animals to a new area.

WHAT CHALLENGES WILL UWA FACE IF THE RHINOS ARE TO BE TRANSLOCATED?

It is estimated that if Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is closed, it could cost Uganda Wildlife Authority around 13 billion Uganda shillings in a final translocation exercise including the establishment of better infrastructure.

Uganda rhinos become extinct due to poaching. The horns of rhinos remain one of the most sought-after animal products in the illegal wildlife trade. Its value is greater than gold, making rhinos high-value targets for poachers.

Also, if the rhinos have to be relocated to a larger area, UWA may have difficulty in safeguarding them. In Ziwa Sanctuary, each rhino or group of rhinos is accompanied 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by a two-man monitoring team who record the behavior of the rhinos on an hourly basis. On top of that, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is surrounded by an electric fence to ensure maximum security. UWA will need to get a secure place for the rhinos and ensure that they are under close protection which indeed may be difficult.

In 2018, all ten rhinos relocated to Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park died. The nine rhinos perished as a consequence of multiple stress syndrome, which was intensified by salt poisoning, dehydration, malnutrition, and stomach difficulties.

Therefore, what is important is to engage the owner of land and RFU to ensure that rhinos are kept there for some time as UWA establishes a suitable place to ensure the protection of the rhinos.

REOPENING OF  ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY TO VISITORS AFTER 50 DAYS OF CLOSURE

The government through Uganda Wildlife Authority on 10th June 2012 reopened Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary after 50 days of closure. According to the UWA Executive Director, Mr. Samuel John Mwandha, the reopening of the rhino sanctuary is in line with a joint venture agreement between UWA and the Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranches.

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Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary open to Visitors

In his statement to the media, the executive director commended the good work that the Rhino Fund Uganda has done at the Sanctuary and revealed that UWA was open to talks and expert advice from the Rhino Fund Uganda.

Uganda Wildlife Authority is open to talks with the RFU because they did a commendable job and have expert advice in animal management. The limit is on a possible return to Ziwa because the dispute was not with UWA but the owners of the land in Nakasongola,” Mwandha clarified.

UWA has already deployed more than 20 of the former workers at the sanctuary. Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is home to is one of the most popular Uganda safari destinations since it is home of one of African Big Five animals. It is a popular stopover for the visitors on  Uganda trips to Murchison Falls  Park which is home to fantastic wildlife such as lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos, giraffes, Hippos, shoebill birds, crocodiles, Uganda kobs, Jackson’s hartebeests, and among others.

Aside from the rhinos, the sanctuary offers shelter to wildlife species like birds, reptiles, insects, some antelopes, and offers several thrilling safari activities to travelers on Uganda wildlife tours.

ACTIVITIES YOU CAN DO IN ZIWA SANCTUARY ON YOUR SAFARI IN UGANDA

Below are the activities you can do in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary during your Uganda safari trips and tours.

  1. RHINO TRACKING ON FOOT.

Ziwa Sanctuary offers an opportunity to track the Southern white rhinos on foot which is one of the top activities to do on your Uganda safari tours. This activity is led by an expert local ranger guide who takes you through the bush to where the rhinos are on the day of your visit.

During Ziwa rhino tracking, you also have a chance to encounter a range of other wildlife species including Uganda kobs, oribis, bushbucks, waterbucks among others, and several other bird species.

Your guide is there to keep you safe from harm so listening to the safety briefing he gives you is very important. Recommended times for this adventure are 8.00 am to 10.00 am or 4.00 pm to 6.00 pm but are available all day. Tracking takes 1½ to 2½ hours depending on the location of the rhinos. You need closed shoes, long pants, water, and insect repellent during trekking.

  1. SHOEBILL TREK AND CANOE RIDE

Another amazing activity to enjoy in Ziwa Sanctuary during your Uganda trip here is the shoebill trek and canoe ride. The shoebill stork is one of the most sought-after birds to be seen in Uganda. This is one of the only places that you can see the shoebill stork. The best sighting has been 11 in one trip. Within swamps, these prehistoric-looking birds are nesting.

Early morning 6.00 am shoebill trek and canoe ride through the swamp not only allows you to find the shoebill but also to see the beautiful Ugandan sunrise over Lugogo Swamp. Waterbirds are plentiful and this activity is a must for anyone who loves nature or is interested in birding.

As this activity is so early in the morning, you must stay the night as you are unable to enter the sanctuary before 7.30 am. It takes approximately 4 hours

  1. BIRD WATCHING

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is home to over 300 bird species.

The sanctuary features four birding trails that cover woodlands, swamps, and savannah. The bird guides are excellent and this is an activity that cannot be missed by bird lovers!

You will probably get to see some of the other game on the sanctuary while doing your bird walk. Spend a night or two on the sanctuary and enjoy the array of feathered friends we have. The best time for this activity is 7.00 am to 9.00 am and 4.00 pm to 6.00 pm. It takes about 2 hours.

  1. GUIDED NATURE WALK

These are done in the company of well-trained guides who takes you on a hike through the lush bush. The sanctuary is home to a wide variety of animals, birds, and reptiles.

The guide shares his knowledge of not only the animals but botany and vegetation as well. If you are looking to unwind in the quiet, this is the activity you need to do. The activity is can be done between 7.30 am and 4.30 pm. It takes approximately 2 hours

  1. NIGHT WALK

The guided night walk introduces to your night sounds and sensations you did not know existed! This is an experience you cannot exclude from your activities in the sanctuary.

There are many nocturnal animals and who knows what you might bump into. The recommended times for this activity are 8.30 pm to 11.00 pm and it takes about 2½ hours. You need to be with closed shoes, long pants, insect repellent, and a flashlight

CONCLUSION

Despite all recent conflicts over Ziwa, the sanctuary is now open to the visitors on Uganda safari holidays. You can now go and have a unique experience of tracking the endangered wild Southern white rhinoceros on foot.

Also, you can combine your Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary safari with Uganda gorilla trekking safari to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, an Uganda chimpanzee trekking safari into Kibale National Park, and wildlife game viewing tours in Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Kidepo Valley, and Lake Mburo National Parks, and other great safari destinations of Uganda. Get in touch with our safari experts to tailor-make your Uganda holiday.

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