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Uganda Embarks on National Rhino Conservation Strategy Development

Uganda Embarks on National Rhino Conservation Strategy Development

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Black and White rhinos were once widespread in Uganda and should be part of every Ugandan citizens heritage. Rhinos became nationally extinct in Uganda due to illegal human activity. The re-introduction of rhinos is fundamental to repairing the damage done to Uganda’s wildlife inventory and biodiversity by poaching and civil unrest. Successful conservation of rhinos represents an important opportunity for Uganda to show the international community that the country has returned to long term peace and good governance. As a flagship species, rhinos will substantially benefit the conservation of all other wildlife in those specific areas bringing with it both ecological and economic benefits.

Historical background

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.

Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), a statutory body established in 1996 by an Act of Parliament (Uganda Wildlife Act Cap 200 of the Laws of Uganda 2000) through a merger of the former Uganda National Parks and the then Game Department and governed a the Board of Trustees, has the legal mandate to ensure sustainable management of wildlife resources both inside and outside protected areas, coordinate, monitor and supervise activities related to wildlife management including translocations, re-introductions and reinforcement of wildlife populations in Uganda and enforce wildlife laws. With the return of peace and good governance, the Government of Uganda (GoU) through its Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities (MTWA), the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Rhino Fund Uganda (RFU) started a programme to reintroduce rhinos back to Uganda. This is supported by Article 2(1)(a) of the Wildlife Act Cap 200 which emphasises conservation of wildlife throughout Uganda so that the abundance and diversity of the species are maintained at optimum levels commensurate with other forms of land use. Article 2(1)(d) targets protecting rare, endangered and endemic species of wild flora and fauna while sub-Article (h) emphasises the need to implement relevant international treaties, conventions, agreements or other arrangements regarding wildlife to which Uganda is a party. A three phase approach of awareness creation, breeding programme and release to former habitat is being used in this re-introduction process.


Northern White Rhinoceros

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008, the status of northern white rhinos is Critically Endangered. Now Northern white rhinos are believed to be extinct in the wild.

Eastern Black Rhinoceros

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008 status categorises the eastern black rhinos as Critically Endangered. Now there are 500 or more of this subspecies mostly in Kenya and a small number in Tanzania.

Southern White Rhinoceros

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008, the status of southern white rhinos is Near Threatened. Now there is a world population of over 17,500 mainly in Southern Africa but with a small population of around 350 in Kenya. The Uganda population is to-date numbered 16 with two at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre and fourteen at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, more births are expected this year.

Analysis of threats and Weaknesses

The threats to rhino conservation in Uganda has been categorised to ease formulation of management objectives and strategies. The main issues that need to be addressed include;

  • Habitat Loss and Modification
  • Security, Poaching, international markets and geopolitics
  • Diseases and other health challenges
  • Inbreeding Depression
  •   Human-Wildlife Conflict
  • Oil, Infrastructure and Tourism Development

The purpose of the rhino conservation management strategy

  • To align with the 1995 Constitution of Uganda
  • To guide and provide direction for rhino conservation and management in Uganda
  • To align with the 2014 Uganda Wildlife Policy
  • To align with the UWA Strategic Plan 2013-2018
  • To seek technical, financial and material support both locally, regionally and globally geared towards rhino conservation in Uganda