If you want to see all of the ‘big 5’ (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros) on a Uganda safari adventure then you’ll have to visit the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary near Nakitoma on the Kampala-Gulu highway about two and a half hours from Kampala. (Did you know that the term ‘the big five’ was initially coined by hunters who were describing the most difficult African animals to hunt on foot rather than referring to their size?)
There are two kinds of rhinos indigenous to Uganda – the black and white rhino. However, through the civil wars of the 70’s and 80’s they were driven to extinction through hunting and poaching and had disappeared from the country entirely by 1982.
In 1997, the Rhino Fund was formed as a Ugandan NGO in order to reintroduce the rhino to Uganda. The Rhino Fund was granted a 70 square kilometre piece of land and the sanctuary was born. In 2004-2005 the first rhinos arrived and in 2009 the first baby rhino was born. He was named Obama as he made history being the first rhino born in Uganda for 30 years and his mother being from the United States and father from Kenya. In 2011, six more female rhinos were donated by South Africa’s Northwest Parks and Tourism board. The Rhino Fund hopes to continue to help the rhino population grow so they can be released back into the national parks.
Poaching, however, is an ever present danger. The powder, made from crushed rhino horn, is in huge demand in Asia, as it is believed to cure a myriad of diseases. Despite recent studies showing its consistency is identical to that of a fingernail, one kilogram can go for as high as $60,000 USD and poachers are now using high tech resources to acquire it. The rhinos are tranquilized but remain conscious while their horns are hacked off and then they are left to die. The rhino sanctuary has 80 armed rangers whose task it is to protect the rhino from poachers who make incursions into the property.
The best part about visiting Ziwa is getting to track the rhinos on foot which is an unforgettable experience. Taking a vehicle you’ll go out with a guide into the sanctuary and then, nearing the rhino families, you’ll set out on foot. The guides provide all sorts of informative information and have the answers to nearly every conceivable question. In the presence of these amazing (and enormous!) animals it doesn’t take long to get a good perspective of your size and place in the universe!
Reaching the Rhino Sanctuary is easy. Take the Kampala-Gulu highway north out of Kampala for approximately two hours. Six kilometres before you reach the Kafu River Bridge you’ll see a sign for Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary on your left – along with two large rhino statues. Turn left there and drive three km down the murram road.
Rhino tracking, including the price of a guide, is $45 (approximately 112,500 UGX) for foreigners, $40 for East African residents and only $19 (approximately 47,500 UGX) for Ugandans. If you don’t have a vehicle you can rent one for only $20 USD.
If you want to make a weekend of it you can stay at Amuka Lodge where you can do other activities like birding in the Lugogo Wetlands or take a walk to a watering hole where you can see a hugely diverse amount of wildlife.
If you want to know more about Ziwa or the Rhino Fund visit: www.rhinofund.org. Want to see the Rhino’s in action? Visit Amuka Lodge’s YouTube channel which has all sorts of rhino videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/amukalodgeuganda