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Tour Guides on Parade
Rhino Warning Sign
Rhino Reintroduction Programme

Re-introducing rhinos to Uganda is creating international, national and local prestige resulting in opportunities for essential income generation and employment from tourism while improving biodiversity. Today, the rhino population in Uganda is considered of continental significance for the development of white rhinos in Africa.

Rhinos went extinct in Uganda in 1983. Rhino Fund Uganda (RFU) was established as an NGO to bring them back for the benefit of the people of Uganda.Funds were raised to purchase and transport two rhinos from Uganda to Entebbe Zoo (now the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre) in 2001 for educational purposes(mainly Ugandan school children).

Further funding was raised to build a sanctuary, now named Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary (ZRS), in order to establish a breeding herd of rhinos as the first step in the re-population program. A 70 sq km site was leased in central Uganda which, using local and expert labor, was fully fenced and appropriate buildings and facilities raised.

The project was completed in 2004. In 2005, four rhinos were brought in from Kenya as the founder group while two more were donated from the USA in 2006. A security force of wildlife rangers was employed from throughout the country to ensure equitable rights for all tribes plus ancillary staff for administration and hospitality.

Since 2006 (the introduction date) there have been 18 rhinos born in Uganda - an exceptional breeding performance, with the first birth in June 2009.

From small beginnings, in 2006 only 441 clients visited the sanctuary, (with only 21 staff employed), ZRS has become a ‘must visit’ for safari companies and others on their way to or from Murchison Falls with some 15,000 visitors expected annually (with 130 staff employed), bringing vital income and employment opportunities to the area, region and nationally. Sustainability has been assured through training guides and staff to a very high standard such that the visitor experience has resulted in a 4.5/5.0 score of excellence from Trip Advisor with a 94% visitor rating of excellent/very good.

In 2006 RFU operations were 90% funding reliant generating only 10% of overhead costs. In 2018this has changed to 15% funding reliant, generating 85% of overhead costs.

Certificate of Recognition

The main challenge is from poachers killing the rhinos for their horns. A key element of security is getting help from the local community to prevent poachers entering the sanctuary requiring a community sensitization program around the benefits to the community of the sanctuary. Good relations with our District leaders has also been taken very seriously by Rhino Fund Uganda.

The sanctuary employs local people where possible both full time and contractors. RFU have built and run a school for the staff children and local community. This school started as a staff day care centre with 20 children. It has now grown to a registered school from pre-school to Primary 3 hosting 160 children with 20 children per class.

HAKUNA Matata Day Care Centre

RFU income and donor funds have been used to build boreholes for access to good quality water for staff and community members, a major factor in improving the health status of the community.

RFU has engaged with the Kasozi canoe men and now offer Shoebill canoe rides to tourists whereby the canoe men are given the opportunity to generate more income as they are paid by RFU per tourist on their canoe.

RFU security staff assist local police with incidents in addition to the work done by a Uganda Wildlife Authority ranger group now stationed on the sanctuary. In particular RFU rangers assist in catching rogue animals not-the-least of which are crocodiles which cause havoc at local dams.

Local cattle keepers (the sanctuary neighbors) are given controlled access to the sanctuary for grazing their cattle and advice is given to them to minimize over-grazing their own land. There are in excess of 2500 community cattle grazing and having access to water within the sanctuary on a daily basis throughout the year. This has enabled cattle farmers to receive higher prices for their cattle on the market due to their condition remaining good through all seasons.

The village Nakitoma which is closest to the sanctuary has developed into a small town due to the impact of tourism attracted by the facility as well as use by the 130 staff members that spend their salaries in this town. RFU also purchases 70% of its necessities from Nakitoma and nearby towns in a further effort to support the local community.

Sign Post on Main Road

The RFU tourist gift shop sells articles that have been made by women in the local communities and who are actively encouraged to offer new items for sale. All proceeds are returned to the producers.

RFU encourages the communities to feel part of the sanctuary and enables meetings such as the monthly sub county security meeting and others to be held on site and is funded by RFU.

15km of power lines have been erected within Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary by the Government of Uganda.

RFU, through the sanctuary, has far reaching impacts on all the surrounding communities whose alternatives are limited.

RFU have instigated a biodiversity program to prevent the sanctuary being over-run by bush and invasive weeds. By clearing large areas of over grown grassland grazing lawns are being produced which encourage many species of antelope, bushbuck, small mammals, reptiles and insects plus many bird species. The rhino security program not only protects the very rare white rhinos but all these other species and many others in the surrounding communities through enforcement and education.

In addition, improved grass cover binds the soil and makes it more able to withstand heavy rains. Good maintenance of roads and fence by creating proper run-offs and culverts protects against soil run-off in heavy rain. This not only enriches the environment but creates a better experience and opportunity for tourists.

The cattle program of controlled grazing ensures sustainable use of the natural resource and serves to help teach community cattle farmers the need to avoid over grazing. The Biodiversity program serves as an important example of how habitat should be managed in the surrounding communities. It is a flagship for similar approaches throughout the region and nationally and will serve as a training ground in the future.

The work of RFU in managing the sanctuary has been widely publicized in both academic and popular publications. ZRS is probably the only rhino conservation area in Africa which entails close monitoring of the animals 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. As such research has been carried out that has never before been reported. Through data collection in the field, 8 Scientific Papers have been published in the peer reviewed journal Pachyderm:

  • Dispersal and social behavior of the three adult female white rhinos at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda in the immediate period before, during and after calving;
  • The behavior of white rhinos at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda with particular reference to night-time activity; Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda;
  • White rhino birth, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda;
  • The first 10 years, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda;
  • The development of white rhino social organization at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda
  • The effect of dehorning adult males on the frequency of fighting at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda
  • Early first white rhino calving and consequent foot problems
  • White rhino hour clock

Data is used to create training material for future use when rhino are released into other sanctuaries or National Parks in Uganda. This information is made available to Makerere University, Uganda Wildlife Authority and Uganda Wildlife Education Centre. Makerere University students studying wildlife and biodiversity management are given the opportunity to do their practical work on the sanctuary for their thesis.

In addition and aimed at the wider international community, the East African Conservation Magazine SWARA has published several articles:

  • Bringing rhinos back to Uganda;
  • From survival to sustainability;
  • Nasty or Nice;
  • Tale of two lodges;
  • The bizarre and the beautiful;

The work has also featured on many television stations and in documentaries not limited to but including:

  • Joana Lumley's The Nile;
  • Several features for Inside Africa;
  • CNN;
  • CCTV;
  • BBC;
  • Voetspore (South Africa)'
  • Animal Planet;

have all filmed at ZRS.

Rhino Fund Uganda is run by a board of directors of which 30% are female and which meets quarterly. The board cedes the day-to-day management of ZRS to an executive director who is a South African female and who has a Ugandan leadership group supervising the daily operations. The security aspect of the sanctuary is run 24 hours per day on para-military lines and is not conducive to female involvement (determined having tried employing female rangers). However, the administration roles are carried out by a team all of whom but one is female. The Ugandan female administration manager along with the head of security acts as deputy to the Executive Director.

The sanctuary serves as a role model for future Ugandan sanctuaries and a training ground for future Ugandan rhino managers and rangers. Uganda Wildlife Authority vets have had the opportunity to learn from Kenyan and South African rhino specialist vets on ZRS, many aspects of rhino health and treatment.

Creating jobs for local communities and allowing them the use of the sanctuary land whereby they are given the opportunity to use their own land for farming, growing of trees and generating income.

Sensitizing and training local communities on how to manage problem animals without destroying or killing them while protecting their crops and embrace wildlife to generate income.

It is clear that RFU has been able, within its limited activities, to address many of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals including 'industry, innovation and infrastructure', 'decent work and economic growth', 'sustainable cities and communities', 'ensure sustainable consumption and production', 'life on land,' 'clean water and sanitation' and 'quality education'.

ED Signature