Conservancy rekindles hope for Uganda’s rhino population

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NAKASONGOLA, Uganda, Dec 9 (Reuters) – Hundreds of rhinos once roamed Uganda’s sprawling savannah and tropical forests, part of the rich animal heritage and tourist attraction of the East African country.

But throughout the twentieth century, poachers in search of valuable horns of undisputed beasts killed it during the years of political turmoil, including the dictatorship of Idi Amin.

Uganda’s indigenous population of northern white rhinos and eastern black rhinos, which together numbered more than 700 around 1983, was wiped out, according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).

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Now a private wildlife farm that raises rhinos is raising hope for a large-scale regeneration of the species and its reintroduction into the country’s national parks.

Founded in 2005, the 70 square kilometer Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch Sanctuary started with four southern white rhinos imported from a Kenyan hunting reserve.

“We welcomed the first male calf to be born on the sanctuary here, named Obama, and that was the beginning of our rhino breeding,” Moses Okello, a 44-year-old rhino specialist, told Reuters.

In 2006 two more rhinos were donated to the reserve from a Florida zoo. Since then, the sanctuary has been expanding crash rhinos by breeding to their current stock of 33.

“We want to multiply these rhinos, proactively while on guard, 24/7…so we can meet our goal by hitting a count of 40 to 45,” Okello said.

“Then we can release the rhinos into the national park, where it was their natural habitat.”

The farm is located in Nakasongola, about a three-hour drive north of the Ugandan capital Kampala, amidst lush grasslands and perennial swamps where hippos wade.

Ziwa also boasts a host of other animals including kobs, waterbucks, bushbucks, cats, birds, and baby monkeys.

On a recent day, Cory, one of the oldest mothers on the farm, trotted into the green bush, meters from her four-month-old calf, the youngest of her seven offspring.

According to ranger Patrick Opio, 29, the intense monitoring of the rhinos, which is necessary to prevent a repeat of the previous experience, can be stressful.

“First of all,” he said, “develop a love for these rhinos and then you can manage to keep an eye on them well.”

“If the rhino is resting, you’ll be resting, and if the rhino is moving, you’ll have to move with it. So, even if it’s raining, you should be up there with the rhino… It’s a frenetic thing, but we love it.”

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(Reporting by Elias Priyaparima). Editing by Angus Maxwan

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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