Pastoralists, Business Community in Dilemma over Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary Closure

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, a home to 33 white endangered rhinos in Nakitoma sub-county, Nakasongola District is currently out of bounds to tourists and the public following a directive by Uganda Wildlife Authority to have it closed off.
Sign Posts on the road heading to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary near Nakitoma trading center

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The closure of Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary has left pastoralists and other business operators in a dilemma.

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, a home to 33 white endangered rhinos in Nakitoma sub-county, Nakasongola District is currently out of bounds to tourists and the public following a directive by Uganda Wildlife Authority to have it closed off.

The closure was triggered by a misunderstanding between Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranches (ZRWR) the owners of the land where Rhinos are being bred and Rhino Fund Uganda, a non-government organization which manages the rhinos. Sources say that the misunderstandings arise from the way the revenues from the tourists are handled, with Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranches saying the Rhino Fund Uganda has failed to give them a share.

Last week, the Rhino Fund said that Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranches gave them an order to leave the land claiming that they had failed to agree with the landlord. Rhino Fund Uganda also alleges that Ziwa is the one behind the recent raid on the facility, which came just days after Ziwa had given the government and the Fund up to April 23, to move the animals elsewhere.

The place is now guarded by URA rangers. But the closure has left more than 100 pastoralists who have also been grazing on the sanctuary and other service providers in the community desperate,  as their main source of livelihood, is now threatened.

Scovia Aboth, the manager of Kabalega Diner, a stopover along the Kampala-Gulu highway says that they have been selling food, drinks and crafts to tourists from the Rhino Sanctuary, and the closure means that their livelihood is threatened.

Rose Namusisi, who owns a restaurant in Nakitoma trading centre says that most of her customers were staff from the sanctuary. Namusisi says that apart from restaurants, several bars and shops were relying on staff employed at the Rhino sanctuary for business.

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Over 100 staff who are working the sanctuary are in fear of losing jobs if UWA insists on transferring the rhinos from the facility. The staff have been working as rangers and guides among others. Some of the rangers told URN that they had acquired land, constructed houses, initiated development projects and looked after families from the monthly salaries.

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Since UWA took over security at the sanctuary, pastoralists who have been grazing over 3,000 head of cattle have been denied access. Josephine Naiga, a resident of Kikooba village says that she owns 40 head of cattle and these feed on pasture from within the sanctuary.

Other pastoralists say these have now resorted to paying 2,000 Shillings daily for each animal to graze on individual farms. The Pastoralists also accessed water on dams constructed within the sanctuary for rhinos.

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Richard Ssenyimba,  the LC III Chairperson of Nakitoma sub-county says they have been collecting over six million Shillings from the hotel and Local Service tax from the sanctuary each financial year. Ssenyimba adds that through Corporate Social Responsibility, Rhino Fund has been able to repair boreholes, schools and health centres among other facilities in the area.

He says that the sub-county tax base has been widening daily as more business sprung up near the sanctuary. The area leaders, pastoralists and service providers have asked the government to either reconcile conflicting parties or pay off the landlord to maintain the sanctuary there for their benefit.

On Wednesday, Rhino Fund Uganda petitioned the High Court in Kampala seeking an interim order to stay an eviction notice from the sanctuary which sits on about 62 square kilometres of land owned by Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranches. Through its Board Chairperson Vincent Opyene,  RFU says if an interim order is not granted, they will suffer irreparable damages.

They say they have invested heavily in terms of infrastructure development; fencing off the land, putting up sanctuary buildings, road networks, extending electricity and establishing a school within the sanctuary to serve the neighbouring community. The Civil Division Registrar Jamson Karemani has fixed April 23, 2021 to hear the case.

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