Sleeping with rhinos

Uganda sadly lost all its rhinos to poaching. In 2002 Ziwa Ranch agreed to relocate 7,000 heads of cattle to establish a rhino sanctuary to reintroduce rhinos to Uganda. The aim is to initially re-introduce southern white rhinos back into the wild in Murchison Falls and then into other national parks throughout Uganda, through a collaborative effort between the Uganda Wildlife Authority (the custodians of rhinos) and Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

It took 3 years of fundraising to fence the land and to be able to ensure the security of the rhinos. The Sanctuary started with 6 rhinos and there are now 35 wild in its 7000 hectares .

The sanctuary is best known for its rhino tracking (given the rhinos all have a guard they know exactly where to find them and with an experienced rhino guide you can get close, as they just ignore people as long as you aren’t in their way).

Our plan wasn’t to track, we feel we have already had our fill of close quarter rhino encounters in Rwanda, our plan was to camp in the sanctuary’s campsite. A fenced camp (with a somewhat shonky metal fence) it is 5km deep in the sanctuary behind their buildings. Workers live on site and it also offers some rooms as accomodation, on the other side. We only had workers accomodation nearby, and we had the campsite to ourselves. We picked a spot near to the fence that gave us the clearest view of an opening in the thicket. We had read that sometimes the rhinos will come and sleep next to the camp, so we picked the most likely spot just in case.

The camp had great facilities. Somewhere to wash dishes and an amazing toilet/shower block that was all stone. Even the solar hot water worked and the shower was blissful. As dusk fell one of the workers came in to camp and silently lit the fire in the middle. We think that had more chance of protecting us than the shonky fence.

Emma claims she didn’t sleep well as every noise she heard she hoped it was a rhino, there were fresh footprints in the sand the other side of the fence the next morning though we saw nothing.

We weren’t in a hurry even though we had quite a long drive ahead. We moved slowly to pack down our camp and we’re on the verge of leaving when we spotted 3 rhino at the far end of the clearing we were facing. They went behind a few trees and we thought they were going off in the other direction but then they turned around and slowly grazed all the way to the camp then walked right next to our fence and past us. We stood silently (behind the safety of our fence) as the rhino walked just 5m away. We don’t think it happened very often as some of the staff had slipped into our camp and were quietly photographing them. They didn’t care at all about the buildings or the people, they dug around a bit in the dirt, (and with it also nearly broke a water pipe), before sauntering away. It was awesome and we were so stoked that we had taken it easy that morning and were still there for it. We left just after they departed, it was already close to lunchtime.


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