Ajai Wildlife Reserve is located on the western bank of the Albert Nile, approximately 40 km (25 mi) east of Arua. The distinguishing feature of this Reserve is the presence of Ajai’s Island, from which it derives its name. This island lies in the middle of a seasonally waterlogged swamp called Ala, which is fed by two rivers, the Ala and the Acha. It lies immediately to the west of the Albert Nile, and comprises permanent swamp, seasonal swamp, seasonally flooded woodlands and grasslands. The vegetation consists of Echinochloa grassland in the swampy areas bordering the Nile, while better-drained higher ground carries tree-savanna of Combretum, Acacia and Terminalia.
The River Nile forms the major drainage for the reserve in the east, while the Acha, Ala and Linya rivers drain the peripheries into the Nile. Between June and January of most years the swamp is flooded, cutting off the island from the mainland. This is one of the factors responsible for the survival of wildlife in the reserve. Before Ajai was gazetted as a wildlife reserve in 1965, the Ajai Rhino Sanctuary was home to 60 of Uganda’s 80 remaining white rhino. Later in 2002 12 km2 (4.6 sq mi) were carved out of the reserve to make space for human settlements.
The reserve also holds four out of the 12 bird species that are restricted to the Lake Victoria Basin biome. The reserve was specifically gazetted to protect the white Rhinos by then but were all threatened by poaching but taken to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary to avoid extinction due to the insecurity that threatened their life. The reserve still has relatively healthy populations of other large mammals, such as antelope and African buffalo.
Rhino Conservation in Uganda
Historically and up to the early 1970s, Uganda was a popular tourist destination due to her abundant concentration and diversity of wildlife and spectacular scenery. Uganda’s wildlife included both the black and white rhinos. By the 1960’s, the Uganda’s rhino population were down to around 400 Eastern Black (Diceros biconis michalei) mostly in Kidepo Valley National Park and Murchison Falls National park and 300 Northern White rhinos (Ceratotheriun simum cottoni) mainly in Murchison Falls National park.
In 1924, an article in the bulletin of Zoological Society of New York drew attention to the danger of extinction the Northern White Rhinos, going the same way as had the Southern white Rhinos (only 20 to 50 individuals left in the wild worldwide at the turn of the century). Action was immediately taken in Uganda to preserve the country’s population. A census carried out revealed about 150 individuals mainly in the area along the left bank of the Albert Nile especially near swamps and marshy areas, this was the most eastern extent of the historical range of the Northern White Rhinos. Sanctuaries were designated in 1938 to assist in protecting the white rhinos. These included the 170 sq mile Mt. Kei Forest Reserve with 12 individuals, the 80sq mile Mt. Otze Forest Reserve but where individuals moved to South Sudan.
In 1951 the total White Rhino population of the West Nile District was estimated to have risen to around 300 individuals and to about 350 by 1955. In 1956, the price paid for rhino horn was at an all time high and poaching was severe. The Uganda Game Department and National parks began considering the introduction of white rhinos into Murchison Falls National park and in early 1960’s translocation of 15 individuals was successfully undertaken. By this time, there were only 80 white rhinos left in Uganda with 50 individuals centered roughly upon Inde and the swampy land along the west bank of the Albert Nile with the 158 sq km Ajai Game Reserve established to primarily protect the rhinos. In 1967, there were 60 white rhinos in Ajai Game Reserve and 18 in Murchison Falls National Park. The Murchison population bred to 30 by 1974. However, by 1975 only 6 rhinos survived in Ajai Game Reserve and 13 in the northwest sector of Murchison Falls National Park. The 1979 Liberation War saw the virtual extermination of white rhinos in Uganda. The northern white rhino was last seen in 1982 in Murchison Falls National Park while the last eastern black rhino was last seen in 1983 in Kidepo Valley National Park. Today, Uganda’s rhinos are extinct and very few rhinos now survive outside national parks and reserves worldwide.
Activities in Ajai Wildlife Reserve
Game viewing for the animals that exist in the reserve including different species of antelopes. There are animals including Black & White Colobus monkeys, black cobras, red monkeys, buffaloes, civets, bush-buck, the Common Duiker, puff adders, zebras, pythons, foxes, Vervet Monkeys, green snakes, Leopards, Sitatunga, Oribi, hartebeest, hippopotamuses, Dik Dik, Monitor lizards, Olive baboons, the Uganda Kob, warthogs and waterbucks.
Birding is also in the reserve with a wide range of habitats with about 12 species recorded in the reserve.
Accommodation in Ajai Wildlife Reserve
There are no descent accommodation options in Ajai Wildlife Reserve however there are different accommodation options in Arua Town or Gulu Town.
How to get to Activities in Ajai Wildlife Reserve
Ajai Wildlife Reserve is about 6 hours drive from Kampala on Kampala Gulu Road
By air: You can fly from Entebbe to Gulu or Arua after which you can be transferred to the reserve for the day’s activities and then return to your accommodation in either Arua or Gulu or continue too your nest destination.