April 13, 2024

UWA to reintroduce white rhinos to West Nile reserve

A long-standing movement by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to reintroduce the white rhino into the Ajai Wildlife Reserve in the Madi-okollo district of the West Nile region has begun to take shape. This comes after UWA last Friday completed the successful two-day relocation of 200 kob and 50 buffalo to the reserve.

The kobs and buffaloes were removed from Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve and Murchison Falls National Game Park, the Monitor established.

The exercise, according to the authority, aims to repopulate the wildlife reserve and suppress excessive vegetation before the introduction of the Southern White Rhino.

“By reintroducing common species such as kobs and buffalo, UWA aims to increase the reserve’s capacity to effectively manage diverse wildlife populations. The rhinos graze, they eat grass, but the kobs and buffaloes we take there eat everything, including tree branches,” said Bashir Hangi, UWA spokesperson.

Although buffaloes are being translocated, UWA said the reintroduction of kobs and buffaloes adds variety to the reserve’s itinerary for tourists.

“We don’t want to keep rhinos alone, we want a variety of animals if we want to improve tourism in the region. We can’t just look at the rhino,” Hangi added.

This publication also established that the relocation of rhinos to the Ajai Wildlife Reserve will alleviate the already overburdened Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Nakasongola District.

With a maximum capacity of 40, the sanctuary currently has more than 40 rhinos. This means that excess rhinos needed to be moved to alternative spaces.

“We will collect several rhinos from the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Nakasongola district as the carrying capacity of the sanctuary has now reached its maximum. We want to keep Ziwa as a breeding ground. So let’s not take all the rhinos, let’s leave some so they can continue to breed. After the young ones grow up, we distribute them to other larger spaces,” said Bashir.

To conclude that rhinos can survive within the Ajai Wildlife Reserve, UWA conducted a feasibility study five years ago, which ranked the reserve and Murchison Falls National Game Park as the best alternative facilities to host the rhino.

“We conducted a study that recommended a few locations and ranked them accordingly, but Ajai scored high, and even Murchison and Kidepo. We cannot continue to spread rhinos everywhere, we will have to systematically study their progress in Ajai once we introduce them there,” Hangi said.
He further said that squaring the reserve also aims to revive tourism in West Nile, a region that ranks lowest in terms of attractions.

“West Nile has been doing poorly in terms of tourism. When you look at the tourist circuits, tourists go and end up at Murchison Falls National Game Park, passing through Acholi sub-region to Karamoja sub-region which has Kidepo Valley National Game Park,” he said.

Considering that rhinos will live freely in the Ajai reserve, UWA now plans to establish a complete sanctuary for the animals that require a very high level of protection.

“By reintroducing key species into the Ajai Wildlife Reserve, UWA is not only improving the ecological balance, but also setting the stage for the successful reintroduction of the rhinoceros soon.” Mr. Sam Mwandha, Executive Director of UWA, said.

While emphasizing the importance of the translocation exercise in promoting sustainable tourism and community engagement, Mr Mwandha said the translocation effort underlines UWA’s commitment to biodiversity conservation and ecosystem restoration.

“The wildlife translocation to the Ajai Wildlife Reserve is a testament to our dedication to responsible tourism and inclusive conservation practices. This initiative will not only increase the tourism potential of the reserve, but will also ensure equitable benefits for local communities through revenue sharing mechanisms,” he said.

Once a thriving protected wildlife area and home to the now critically endangered white rhinos, the Ajai Wildlife Reserve, which sits on an area of ​​approximately 160 square kilometers, has suffered a significant reduction in the number of animal species.

“Illegality and mismanagement of the reserve in the 1970s and 1980s led to the local extinction of some key species in the reserve, including the northern white rhinoceros, while significant declines in the population of other species were also recorded. The reintroduction of key species such as kobs and buffaloes, and later the Southern White Rhino, demonstrates the significant strides made by UWA towards restoring ecological balance and safeguarding Ajai’s biodiversity for generations to come,” said UWA in a statement.

Over the past decade, UWA has implemented an intervention to repopulate protected wildlife areas with dwindling populations.

The objectives of this program cover the balance of ecosystems, the enhancement of tourism, as well as the preservation of aesthetic and cultural values, among others.

This initiative has successfully led to the repopulation of several areas, including Kidepo Valley, Lake Mburo and Murchison Falls national parks, as well as Katonga, Pian Upe and Kabwoya wildlife reserves.

In November last year, UWA revealed a roadmap indicating how the long-awaited reintroduction of the white rhino into the Ajai Wildlife Reserve, its original habitat, will be achieved by 2025.

John Makombo, the Director in charge of Conservation at UWA, told Madi-Okollo leaders at a council meeting last week that buffalo and kobs will be deliberately reintroduced into the reserve as pioneer stock of animals in preparing the reserve for the reintroduction of white rhino.

In November last year, UWA revealed a roadmap indicating how the long-awaited reintroduction of the white rhino into the Ajai Wildlife Reserve, its original habitat, will be achieved by 2025.

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