Karma and Rhinos

As travellers venture out to enjoy the many sights and scenes the wide world has to offer, it is important that they to try to give back while on the road. Many tourist destinations are such because they are home to something special or rare. This is the case for the rhinos at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Uganda.

Photo credit: www.greenlivingproject.com

After our blissful, and at times harrowing, experiences in Zanzibar, Philip and I hopped on a Rwandair* plane to Uganda. After one uneventful night in Entebbe, we headed toward our first safari destination in Murchison Falls National Park with our driver Bosco early the next morning.

*Travel tip: If you ask the Rwandair stewardess nicely, she may give you two refreshing Rwandan beers to enjoy during your flight!

We quickly made our way out of Entebbe, but became stuck in Kampala’s infamous “jam“. Thankfully, we spent less than an hour moving through traffic at a snail’s pace and made it to our first stop at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

Jam first, then rhinos. Photo credit: www.live-offtrack.com

Our tour organizer Jason  had given us the option to stop at Ziwa while we were organizing our itinerary and after doing some research, Philip and I thought it was well worth the $40 USD to go.

We pulled off the main highway and drove down a heavily wooded area for only 20 minutes or so before arriving at the Sanctuary headquarters. There, we lined up behind an angry tourist berating the poor desk clerk about the tax he had to pay on his admission. Seeing as he is not a citizen of Uganda, he felt very strongly that he should be reimbursed and was making a giant scene to get that point across.

Philip and I on the other hand, thought that since we had enough money to fly to Uganda in the first place, we could probably afford to let the sanctuary keep our taxes, especially if it went toward a good cause such as repairing Uganda’s infrastructure. So we quickly paid our fees and filled up our water bottles thinking we were about to embark on a gruelling trek through dense forest to get close, but not too close, to a wild white rhino with our guide Opio.

Much to our surprise, we only drove a couple minutes before Opio instructed us to get out and not to run if a rhino chased us, but to climb a tree instead. I asked him if he ever saw it happen and he said no, but was telling us just in case. Suddenly, I felt less sure about this rhino tracking business.

White rhinos were poached to extinction in Uganda in the 1980s, but the 7000ha sanctuary began reintroducing them in 2005 starting with the first six. Since then, the population has grown to about 15 and mothers are giving birth to babies within the reserve.

He then went on to explain that at at the sanctuary each rhino has an armed guard watching it 24/7 to curb poaching. Opio had simply radioed the guards to ask where the closest rhino was, and we came up on this amazing scene after a few short minutes of walking:

Oh hello rhinos

Not only were we so lucky to see both a mother and baby, we were lucky to see them up and about during the day since they are usually most active at night. The mother (thankfully) couldn’t be bothered by us, but the baby sure seemed curious and photogenic as well!

Look up, Mama!

We stayed and watched these two beauties graze while Opio answered every one of our questions expertly. He demonstrated tremendous knowledge and care not just about the rhinos, but about the whole sanctuary’s ecosystem. When I asked him how many rhinos had been poached since they brought in the armed guards, he proudly stated “none”.

After I ran out of questions, we watched the beautiful creatures in silence for a few moments before they started to get ready to lay down.

Just as they were settling in the tall grass, the angry man that had been yelling at the ticket clerk pulled up and barely got to take one picture before they had both laid down in the grass and all you could see was their ears sticking up. Instant karma I thought.

Keep calm and rhino on .

The work that Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary does is instrumental in preserving the survival of these magnificent giants and people like Opio are demonstrating true stewardship through their professional pursuits.

If you’re travelling in Uganda, consider visiting the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary where your admission fees will be put toward conserving the habitat of many animals and protecting the lives of endangered white rhinos.

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