Following multiple attacks by groups of people who were armed with sledge hammers, hammers, crowbars and machetes among other weapons, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has today closed Ziwa Rhino sanctuary a home to 33 rhinos in Nakasongola district.
A second statement issued by UWA in a space of less than one week, indicated that the authority had taken full charge of security of the rhinos at Ziwa sanctuary with immediate effect. The sanctuary was effective Wednesday, closed to the public and as such, no tourism activities are to be undertaken until further notice.
“The closure has been triggered by persistent misunderstandings between Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranches (ZRWR) the owners of the land where rhinos are being bred, and Rhino Fund Uganda (RFU) an NGO that has been managing the rhinos at the sanctuary. Having realised that the conflict could potentially compromise the safety of the rhinos, UWA took the decision to avert the threat.
Reports from Ziwa indicate that the nearly two dozen goons were ferried to the sanctuary where they forced entry and upon arrival at the RFU offices, began to demolish offices and other infrastructure with sledge hammers, hammers, crowbars and machetes. Among the destroyed items were computers, printers, screens, monitoring equipment to keep the rhinos safe while files were torn.
An immediate emergency call by RFU personnel led to the swift arrival of local police forces and other security organs, which arrested the group – among them reportedly a manager appointed by the land owner, who according to other information, allegedly led and guided the goons.
It would appear that some of the attackers were found with prohibited drugs, another serious offense on top of the criminal trespass and destruction of property, illegal confinement of the RFU staff and other related offenses.
Whereas UWA took a decision to close the sanctuary, RFU has since dashed back to court, seeking orders restraining ZRWR and Capt. Joseph Charles Roy from evicting, alienation or in any way altering the status quo, to wit, expelling rhinos from the sanctuary, interfering with the breeding program of the rhinos, and/or interfering with RFU’s mandate nor office operations pending the hearing and final determination of the main application. Court will be moved on Friday, to rule on the matter.
Plans of integrating Rhinos
In December 2019, Doreen Katusiime the Permanent Secretary for the ministry of tourism revealed government’s plans of re-introducing the once extinct rhinos back into national parks. When contacted about the matter, Bashir Hangi the UWA communications manager noted that feasibility studies have been conducted and a report was released last year.
“There is a lot of preliminary work that we have to do and over US$13m we have to incur, just to relocate these rhinos. The study recommended Kidepo valley national park, Ajai wildlife reserve and Murchison falls national park,” explained Hangi, adding that plans are still underway.
In 2019, Hangi explained that after the feasibility study, the authority shall first zero on one national park before spreading the programme to other game parks across the country. “After a decision has been made regarding which park to start with, we shall start setting up and upgrading infrastructure which shall include security, health care facilities, roads among others,” Hangi explained earlier.
“However, there remains an administrative decision to make, whether to import rhinos like the case has been, or breeding some from Ziwarhino sanctuary, but even that, shall have to be backed by a scientific study,” added Hangi. Relatedly, a decision has not been made regarding the introduction of black rhinos though it is evident that the programme shall begin with white rhinos.
Rhinos in Uganda
With 33 rhinos at Ziwa sanctuary and 2 rhinos at the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre (UWEC), Uganda currently has a population of 35 rhinos. The 70suqare kilometers Ziwarhino sanctuary which was gazetted in 2002 in Nakasongola district, imported a batch of six rhinos which have since bred a total of 30 rhinos currently held at the sanctuary.
In his 2019 report, Felix Patton a renown rhino ecologist and researcher noted that 1000 rhinos are illegally killed every year allover the world. “In 2018, 769 rhino were killed in South Africa alone, an average of 2 every day,” reads in part the report. According to Patton, heightened security around rhinos and demand reduction in end-user countries, can reduce on rhino poaching and displacement.
Another report by the International Union for Conservation Nature(IUCN) assesses the global populations of 5,400 Black rhinos as critically endangered and the 21,000 White rhinos as near threatened. Once the home of several hundreds of both Black and White rhinos, Uganda suffered from unregulated hunting in the early 1900s and poaching, particularly during periods of civil unrest in the 1970s which led to their extinction in 1983.