Above: Caring moment – Mother rhino and calf at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
Courtesy: Angie Genade, Executive Director Rhino Fund Uganda
and chancing upon the rare Shoebill stork
In 2001, on a visit to Uganda – the land that Winston Churchill in 1907 coined ‘the Pearl of Africa’ – l saw a Shoebill stork that is now a rare bird of the wetlands mostly found in Uganda at Entebbe zoo. Being so rare, l thought l would never see it in the wild.
In 2001, there were no rhino in Uganda either – and we’re talking about the now extinct northern white rhino in the wild. Uganda’s entire rhino population had been slaughtered during Idi Amin’s brutal regime in the 1970s followed by an equally brutal warfare led by Kony who is now believed to be hiding in the Central African Republic.
Driving out of Murchison Falls via Masindi that was an important stop on the 19th century explorers’ route, we opt to spend the night at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary about two-hours from Murchison Falls.
It’s the best decision made – for once inside the gate – we discover that the sanctuary has more than just rhino in it. There’s looking for Shoebill storks in the swamp besides trekking for rhinos.
“Everything is done on foot here,” tells Angie Genade of Rhino Fund Uganda. She’s had guests on wheelchairs also trekking rhino and shoebill storks – really impressive including a wedding in the swamp of the shoebill!
We’re chatting at Amuka Lodge – being Kenyan, l translate it to rise but it’s the Acholi word for rhino – which fits perfect as the rhino population is on the rise here – from two to 20 and increasing. However these are the Southern white rhino donated by Kenya, Disney World in Florida and South Africa. Uganda’s indigenous population of Northern white rhino is extinct in the wild – and probable in captivity soon. There are only three remaining at Ol Pejeta in Kenya with the last man standing – Sudan – having caused quite a stir on Tinder looking for a date.
“For 20 years there were no rhino in Uganda,” continues Genade. “In 2009, we had the first rhino born here and in the following seven years, we’ve had 14 births – way beyond anything we expected.
“The first females born in the sanctuary now have calves,” gloats Genade.
Shoebill in the Swamp
6 a.m. and the rhino ranger is at our doorstep to ensure we’re awake for the Shoebill walk and river canoe. It’s the best time to see this pre-historic bird with – not hard to guess – an enormous shoe-like bill.
Watching the sun rise over the horizon and donned in pink gumboots we make our way into the swamp. It’s simply ethereal with the white mist lifting off the ground revealing the papyrus reeds. A man and his son fill their jerrycans with water. We’re on community land and the Shoebill stork is a joint project between Ziwa and the locals.
In this fairyland setting a pair of Grey crowned cranes rise from their nest in the swamp while Saddlebill storks search for snails to snap open from the shells. Our ranger, Opio Raymond stops on his tracks and points to a grey bird in the rising mist – it’s a Shoebill stork.
It’s still as a statue. A bird of the wetlands like the Grey crowned stork, both face the same issue – eggs and chicks being stolen for the illegal trade in wildlife for the pet industry – mostly smuggled to the Middle East and China.
We reach the river mouth flowing through the swamp. Local fishermen await us as we don our life-jackets and step into the simple dug-out boats. Soon we are adrift through a lush green swamp full of birds.
Out of the boat we’re on to the rhino – trekking on foot. The first pair we meet is Bella from Kenya and her calf, Zawadi born in June 2016. They watch us and lumber towards us – we step back. They browse, we watch. They walk away and though it seems like a slow pace, we can’t keep up.
The second pair is fast asleep under a shady bush – with the rhino ranger watching over them from a distance – Nandi from Disneyworld Animal Kingdom and her calf Sonic born in September 2015.
It’s been a fascinating morning so far -seeing two of Uganda’s 1000 Shoebills and four of her 19 rhino. Back at Amuka, it’s a hearty brunch before we hit the road again.
For more on Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary http://www.rhinofund.org/
Include it in your itinerary – you’re supporting the amazing work of the rangers, community and the staff – to protect the rhino and the Shoebill. Kampala to Murchison Falls – it’s 170km on tarmac. It’s 104km on to Murchison.
You can camp, stay budget or upmarket at Amuka Lodge.
Newsflash from Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
A few days after we left Ziwa, a baby was born. Here’s the update:
This little guy was named by a donor in honor of the work his parents committed their lives to with the APACHE tribe in the United States of America
SEX : Male
DOB : 26 July 2017
AGE : Not yet a year
FATHER : Moja
MOTHER : Nandi
ORIGIN : Born on Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
Apache really had us worried as his birth came 2 weeks later than we had expected. He is a very active little rhino and is keeping his mom Nandi very busy. A couple of days after birth Apache experienced his first rain. It looked like he was trying to catch the rain and had us all smiling.