No figures for black are available, but they had also become scarce by the late 1960s. today both species are naturally extinct in Uganda, with the last documented sightings of white and black rhino being in 1982 and 1983 respectively. The main cause of this rapid decline was commercial poaching- rhino horns, used as dagger handles in the middle East and as an aphrodisiac in parts of Asia, fetch up to US$1 million on the black ,market- exacerbated by thhe lawlessness that prevailed during and after the rule of Idi Amin.
In 2001, the NGO Rhino bought a pair of 2 and a half year old white rhinos from Kenya’s Solio Ranch, flew them in the Uganda Wildlife Education Center, a respected Zoo like facility where they remain to this date! This led to the initiation of a longer term reintroduction programme centred on Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, a former cattle ranch, now sealed off within a 2m high electric fence, in Nakasongola District. In 2005, four southern white rhinos from Kenya were introduced to Ziwa, supplemented a year later by two more individuals from Disney Animal Kingdom USA. In 2009, a rhino was born on Ugandan soil for the first time in almost three decades and named Obama, on account of its half Kenyan, half American ancestry. Today, following nine more births, the Sanctuary supports a total of 16 white rhinos, whose every move is monitored by a team of 40 rangers. Once numbers have grown sufficiently, the longterm intention is to release a few individuals into Murchison Falls and possibly a few other national parks.
Admirable as the programme at Ziwa may be, it is arguably of greater symbolic and touristic value than ecological worth. This is because the imported white rhinos all belong to southern race Ceratotherium s. sinum, whose natural range extends little further north than the Zanbezi River (though it has since been introduced to Kenya). Unfortunately the northern white rhino (C.s. cottoni) which once ranged across northwest Uganda, north east DRC, southeast CAR and south West South Sudan is now practically extinct. The world’s last wild population of northern white rhinos, a herd of six living in DRC’s Garamab National Park, were shot dead by poachers in 2006. True, three individual northern white rhinos still survive in captivity, housed in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Consevacy, but since the two females are incapable of natural production, and the male has a very low sperm count, the likelihood of them ever breeding is negligible.
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
A 70km2 tract of tangled woodland situated a short way south of the Kafu river, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is the only place in Uganda where rhinos can be seen in a more or less wild state, thanks to the ongoimg introduction programme overseen by the NGO Rhino Fund Uganda. The Sanctuary’s main attraction is its population of 16 white rhinos, which can be tracked on foot by day or overnight visitors in the company of an experienced ranger. It is also home to around 20 other large mammal species, most conspicuously warthog, vervet monkey, bushbuck and waterbuck, while an impressive checklist of 300 plus bird species include the shoebill, which can be tracked on canoe or on foot in Lugogo Swamp. Offering accommodation to suit all budgets, the sanctuary makes for a great overnight bush break out of Kampala but it is also conveniently located for a day visit or overnight stop en route from the capital to Murchison Falls, Gulu or elsewhere in the north.