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Rhino Fund Petitions Court Over Ziwa Ranch Eviction

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About five days ago, Ziwa Rhino, Wildlife Ranch Limited and Captain Joseph Charles Roy, the owner of the land on which the sanctuary is located, asked the Rhino Fund Uganda to vacate the place which sits on about 62 square kilometres of land.
21 Apr 2021 19:39
Rhinos at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary . Photo by RFU
Rhino Fund Uganda has petitioned the High Court in Kampala seeking an interim order to stay an eviction notice from the White Rhino Sanctuary in Nakasongola district.

About five days ago, Ziwa Rhino, Wildlife Ranch Limited and Captain Joseph Charles Roy, the owner of the land on which the sanctuary is located, asked the Rhino Fund Uganda to vacate the place which sits on about 62 square kilometres of land. In a letter dated  April 16, 2021, Captain Roy said that the Rhino Fund no longer had business at the sanctuary since Uganda Wildlife Authority had revoked their license.

"Reference is made to the Uganda Wildlife Authority's letter dated January 21, 2021, where you were informed of the revocation of your permit to look after rhinos on behalf of the government of the Republic of Uganda if you did not agree with the Landlord Captain Joseph Charles Roy on the way forward" reads the letter in part.

It adds that after the failure by the two sides to resolve the impasse, the sanctuary had no option by to leave the land immediately. "By copy of this letter, Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch are asking Uganda Wildlife Authority the length of time you need in order to remove your animals from our land. This should not be later than the 23rd day of April 2021.

But according to the Rhino Fund, through its Board Chairperson, Vincent Opyene, the respondents, Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch Limited and Captain Roy breached the contract by cancelling their license and therefore if an interim order is not granted, they will suffer irreparable damages.

In his affidavit, Opyene says that on August 20, 2002, they signed a license agreement with Ziwa Ranchers Limited as the licensor and the proprietor of the land Captain Roy on the said land comprised in leasehold and Mailo titles. The evidence before the court indicates that the said license agreement was to establish and run a rhino sanctuary on the land for a period of 30 years.

Following the license agreement, they had to invest heavily in terms of infrastructure development; fencing off the land, putting up sanctuary buildings and establishing sanctuary road networks, extending electricity and establishing a school within the sanctuary to serve the neighbouring community. They also put in 33 rhinos and employed more than 100 people.

But on October 16, 2017, they were served with a termination notice from Omongole and company Advocates acting on behalf of the respondents terminating the license agreement between the parties. According to the court records, the NGO reportedly filed a case in the land division in 2019 challenging the illegal termination of its license and on September 18, 2020, this was withdrawn following the intervention of President Yoweri Museveni.

URN has seen a letter by the President to the EU Ambassador, Atilio Pacific informing him that the parties had agreed to resolve all the disputes in order to maintain a Rhino Sanctuary on the land with support from the government. He said the parties had agreed to execute a Memorandum of Understanding as the government continues to support conservation and tourism.  

"Contrary to the MoU, by letter dated December  16, 2020, the respondents through their lawyers communicated to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities unreasonably accusing RFU of failure to implement the MoU." Accordingly, the respondents demanded that the government finds another place and relocate the Rhinos.

Evidence before the court also indicates that following the government's intervention and Uganda Wildlife Authority, Rhino Fund Uganda(RFU)  and the respondents have been engaged in several mediation meetings until  April 15, 2021, when the respondents allegedly without any basis withdrew their participation in the mediation exercise.

"On the same day, the respondents hired 'goons' who vandalized several properties belonging to RFU and attempted to illegally evict RFU from the sanctuary. This illegal eviction was averted following police intervention and all culprits were arrested and several criminal charges have been preferred against them vide CRB 253/2021”, the documents indicate.

Rhino Fund Uganda adds that the respondents also on April 16, 2021, the threatened closure  of the sanctuary and demanded government to remove the animals not later than April 23rd 2021. As such, through their lawyers of Kamahoro, Kiboome and Kirunda Advocates on behalf of Rhino Fund Uganda wants the court to block the eviction until the determination suit which it is challenging the breach of the memorandum of understanding.

The Civil Division Registrar Jamson Karemani has fixed April 23, 2021 to hear the case. On Tuesday, Uganda Wildlife Authority released a statement closing Ziwa Sanctuary from the public until further notice stating that it had realized that the conflicts between the parties could potentially compromise the safety of the rhinos.

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