The Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Sanctuary is a breeding program for Rhinos in Uganda that intends to reintroduce Rhinos back into Uganda’s wild. Yes, to reintroduce them because they once thrived in abundance, in Uganda’s wildlife reserves, but the insurgencies of the 1970s saw intense poaching in the wildlife reserves leading to the heavy decline not only of Rhino numbers but also other big game like Elephants. By 1982, it is believed the last Rhino in Uganda’s wilderness was poached. It is until 2005, that the idea of a Rhino sanctuary was established in Nakasongola, – Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary – to breed Rhinos, that will ultimately be released into Uganda’s wildlife reserves, to once again flourish!
The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary spans 70 square kilometers of predominantly acacia dominated woodlands, with a mix up of thickets, grasslands and swamps & ponds. At the time of writing this piece (March 2014) the sanctuary harbors 13 White Rhinos. The first six Rhinos at the sanctuary were donated by Kenya (4) and United States (2). These have been reproducing over the years, plus new Rhinos are brought in by the authority.
Other than the Rhinos, the sanctuary is home to an array of wildlife, including up to 26 mammal species. The woodlands & thickets harbor game such as Leopard, Aardvark, Duiker, Oribi, Bushbuck, Waterbuck, Uganda Kob, Pangolin, Colubus & Vervet Monkey, and Mongoose. The swamps are common with Hoppos, and Crocodiles. Valley dams have been constructed to supplement the available water sources and to cater for the rapidly increasing game at the sanctuary. They have also become habitats for crocodiles and other water wildlife.
For the avid bird watcher, the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is very rich with woodland, grassland and some water birds at the swamps & valley dams. Up to 351 species of birds have been recorded so far. Your checklist will include among others: Meyer’s Parrot (Brown Parrot), Ruppell’s Long-tailed Starling, Woodland Kingfisher, Fork-tailed Kingfisher, Butler Eagle, Martial Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Levaillants Cuckoo, Purple-banded Sunbird, Black-headed Gonolek, African Thrush, Double-toothed Barbet, African Grey Hornbill, Common Bulbul, Green-winged Pytilia. The Lugogo Swamp which is the biggest of the swamps at the sanctuary is good for the Shoebill and a good number waders and water birds.
Activities to do at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
Rhino tracking is the main activity at the sanctuary. It involves trekking through the thickets to find the rhinos, and this activity normally lasts between two to three hours. The trek starts from the sanctuary headquarters accompanied by an armed ranger that is assigned by the sanctuary authority. The rangers are very knowledgeable guides that will brief you on the safety precautions before trekking and also feed you with valuable information about Rhinos and wildlife of the sanctuary. The White Rhinos, the only species of rhinos at the sanctuary, by nature are not as violent & aggressive compared to their counterparts the Black Rhinos. Hence there is little chance of a rhino attack as long as you observe the tracking guidelines as shall be laid out by your guide.
Birding at Ziwa
Birding at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary entails driving the dirt truck observing the edges of the woodland, and thereafter hike into the woodlands and bushes, scanning the vegetation for birds. Explore the swamps and valley dams for some water birds, and good chance to catch the Shoebill. A Shoebill canoe ride is available at Lugogo Swamp. Ziwa has knowledgeable bird guides/rangers who can identify over 350 species at the sanctuary. For 2 – 3 hours, you can accumulate a list of up to 100 species out of the possible total 351 at the sanctuary.
You will drive on the tracks and walk the trails through the bushes for a chance to view lots of animals up close. It is a prerequisite to take along an armed ranger from the sanctuary headquarters who knows the best trails for the best wildlife experience. Antelopes such as Bushbucks, Duiker, Oribi, and Uganda Kob are in plenty,
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is a great add-on to multiple safaris to Murchison Falls National Park.
One can also visit the sanctuary on a one day trip to track the Rhinos and observe plenty of wildlife.
The sanctuary is situated in Nakasongola District, about 2 and half hours of drive from Kampala.