The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary was established in 1997 as a means to help protect the endangered rhinocerous in Uganda and function as a reserve for other Ugandan wildlife species. While the rhino is the Sanctuary’s main attraction, it is also home to a variety of birds and is a great spot for avid birders interested in finding those rare African species.

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.

Birding in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary