UWA CLOSES ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY TO PROTECT RHINOS
Kampala, April 20, 2021: Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has temporarily closed Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary to the public to secure the precious Southern-white Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum) at the sanctuary.
The decision follows 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 the Sanctuary.
The closure of the sanctuary comes a few days after 28 men pretending to be tourists raided the sanctuary on April 15, 2021, and destroyed office property in what is believed to have been an attempt to evict the staff of Rhino Fund Uganda.
The ministry in a statement in line with their mandate of protecting wildlife resources in Uganda as per the Uganda Wildlife Act 2019 said, they have taken over full charge of security of the Rhinos at the Sanctuary.
“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.
According to UWA, there have been persistent misunderstandings between Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranches (ZRWR), the owners of the land where the Rhinos are being bred, and Rhino Fund Uganda (RFU), an NGO that has been managing the Rhinos at the Sanctuary.
Where is Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary located?
Ziwa Sanctuary is located in Nakasongola district, Nakitooma sub-county in the central region of Uganda, about 176km from Kampala along the Kampala-Gulu highway.
It sits on 70 square kilometers of land, which was formerly a private ranch. Ziwa Sanctuary is en- route to Murchison Falls National Park (the largest of Uganda’s 10 national parks) and many visit it as part of their Uganda safari itinerary to the park.
History of Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and the Rhinos in Uganda.
Established in 2005 by the government of Uganda through UWA and the Rhino Fund, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary was to revive the population of the Rhinos in Uganda following the intense poaching that happened during the 1970s and 1980s and totally depleted this member of the ‘Big Five’ from the parks and reserves where they previously lived.
Records from the UWA data bank reveal that Black and White Rhinos were once widespread in Uganda. In the 1960s, Uganda’s Rhino population was about 400 Eastern Black, mostly in Kidepo Valley National Park and Murchison Falls National Park and 300 Northern White Rhinos, mainly in Murchison Falls National park.
The 1979 Liberation War and poaching saw the virtual extermination of white Rhinos in Uganda. A Northern White Rhino was last seen in 1982 in Murchison Falls National Park while the last Eastern Black Rhino was last seen in 1983 in Kidepo Valley National Park. 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?
Currently, Ziwa Sanctuary is home to 33 Southern white Rhinos and it is the only place in Uganda where you can find these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.
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, Solio Ranch, the other two were donated to RFU by the Disney Animal Kingdom in America. Besides the first six Rhinos, all other Rhinos have been born and made in Uganda
What are the sources of the conflicts over the 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 RFU.
In 2002, Roy offered the land to act as a sanctuary for the Rhinos for 30 years. However, in October 2017, he terminated his Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with RFU and ordered UWA and RFU 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&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 this year, Roy laid down fresh demands and 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 RFU 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
On Friday, April 2021, UWA 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 is UWA likely to face in the relocation of these Rhinos?
- The cost translocation:
It is estimated that the closure of the sanctuary could cost the sector UGX. 45 billion in a final translocation exercise including the establishment of better infrastructure.
- Poaching problems and Rhino protection:
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. There is a need to get a secure place for and ensure that the Rhinos are under close protection.
In Ziwa Sanctuary, each 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.
- Death of Rhinos due to stress:
In 2018, all 10 Rhinos which were in Tsavo East National Park in Kenya died. It was discovered that the nine Rhinos died as a result of multiple stress syndrome, which was intensified by salt poisoning, dehydration, starvation, and gastric issues.
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