Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary: Protecting Uganda’s Endangered Rhinos
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is a private Wildlife Ranch in northwestern Uganda established in 2005 to reintroduce Southern White Rhinos in the wild. Imagine a place where you can come face to face with one of the most majestic and endangered creatures on Earth – the rhinoceros. It is a place where the air is filled with the sounds of nature, and every corner holds the promise of a unique wildlife encounter with one of Africa’s iconic animals. Ziwa Wildlife Ranch is one of the world’s most successful conservation stories.
Located in northeastern Uganda, Nakasongola District, just outside Murchison Falls National Park, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is a haven for conserving the white rhino, one of Africa’s most endangered species. Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch is integral to global efforts to protect these magnificent animals. It offers visitors rhino trekking on foot, taking nature hikes and night walks, and tracking the elusive shoebill and other bird species.
A Uganda safari to Murchison Falls National Park, along with an extension to Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch, offers visitors the opportunity to see all of the “Big Five” African safari animals. A game drive and boat safari in Murchison Falls will bring you up close to the big four – lion, leopard, elephant, and buffalo. Then, you can catch sight of the rhinoceroses at Ziwa.
A Brief History
For millions of years, rhinos have been an integral part of our planet, evolving into two distinct species – black and white rhinos. African culture has always held these majestic creatures in high esteem and respect, symbolizing strength, spirituality, protection, and a harmonious relationship with nature.
In 1983, Captain Roy and his family established a cattle farm where the current ranch sits. It introduced rare cattle and operated as a cattle farm for almost two decades. However, in 2002, the Roy family engaged in lengthy discussions with Rhino Fund’s Executive Director, Yvonne Verkakik, and decided to convert the farm into a safe haven for white rhinoceros. To achieve this, they relocated 7,000 heads of cattle to create a protected space for the white rhinos. At the time, rhinos had become extinct in Uganda due to poaching, and preserving this magnificent species seemed logical.
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary was finally established in 2005 with the goal of reintroducing southern white rhinos back to their natural habitat in the Murchison Falls National Park environs. Initially, six southern white rhinos were introduced to the ranch, and today, the total has risen to 34 rhinos, with the sanctuary expecting that number to grow.
The mission of Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is to reintroduce these majestic creatures back into the wild, where they can roam the plains in their natural habitat, just as they have done in days gone by. The project has been a collaborative effort between the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the custodians of the species, and Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch Limited. Together, they hope to see rhinos introduced into other national parks throughout Uganda, where they can roam the land with other wildlife species.
Animals in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch primarily serves as a secure sanctuary for rhinoceroses. However, the ranch’s fenced expanse of 27 square miles encompasses woodlands, swamps, and savannahs, which attracts a diverse range of fascinating wildlife.
The mammalian species that can be spotted at Ziwa include the rhinoceros, the elusive leopard, giant pangolin, oribi, waterbucks, bushbuck, Ugandan kob, bohor reedbuck, common duiker, warthog, vervet monkey, bushpig, aardvark, and scrub hare. To watch these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat, one can take a game drive, canoe ride, or nature walk on the ranch.
Where is Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary?
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is located in Nakasongola, just a three-hour drive northwest of Uganda’s capital, Kampala. If you’re coming from Masindi, the nearest town south of the Murchison, it’s just a 45-minute drive away. This makes it an excellent stopover for travelers heading to or from a wildlife safari in Murchison Falls National Park.
Additionally, it’s a very popular same-day safari trip from Kampala, where you can easily drive to the sanctuary, track the rhinos, and return to the city on the same day.
To get to Ziwa, you can hire a car from car-hire companies like Road Trip or organize your safari with a tour operator like Nkuringo Safaris. They can even help plan the rest of your Uganda safari in Murchison and beyond.
The road from Kampala is in great condition all the way to Masindi, so there’s no need for 4x4s or large trucks to visit Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. The road trip is picturesque, with dreamy landscapes undulating for a perfect drive through Uganda’s countryside.
Accommodations at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
Ziwa Rhino Ranch: Ziwa Wildlife Ranch provides comfortable lodging options such as rooms and camping tents at affordable prices ranging from $20 to $50 per person per night for those planning an extended stay. The ranch also has a bar and restaurant that serves delicious home-cooked meals.
Amuka Lodge: Another excellent accommodation option to explore the ranch is Amuka Lodge. Set amidst the reserve’s small woodland, the lodge offers a luxury experience to its guests with secluded unfenced chalets, a fantastic restaurant serving safari cuisine, a swimming pool, and breathtaking views. Staying at Amuka Lodge guarantees a serene and peaceful experience amidst the African Savannah.
Adventures at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
The heart-pounding experience of tracking rhinos on foot is something that will awaken your nerves and love for nature. Walking through the savannah, silently approaching a massive rhino, and observing its grace is a privilege few get to enjoy.
Uganda’s only rhinos are free to roam the savannahs, acacia woodlands, and cool, muddy swamps of Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch. They spend their days grazing on thick shrubbery or resting under shades of tall trees. To see Ziwa rhinos, an experienced ranger will lead you on a trail into the wild ranch, educating you about their habits and behaviors. When you find them, the ranger will position you at a safe distance of six to seven meters away, with plenty of Instagram photography opportunities.
However, depending on where the rhinos are located in the park, you may need to drive a certain distance and trek on foot to reach them. Although you can do a rhino trek in Ziwa at any time, the best time to go is between 8 am and 10 am or 4 pm and 6 pm any time of the year. It is advisable to wear comfortable closed shoes and long trousers and bring plenty of water to keep you hydrated.
Rhino Tracking Costs
Rhino Tracking permit costs $50 per adult and $30 per child for foreigners, $45 per adult and $20 per child for foreign residents, and UGX 40,000 per adult and UGX 10,000 per child for East African Citizens. The permit includes park entrance fees and an English-speaking guide.
If you love spending time in nature, then you should definitely consider going on one of the guided nature walks offered at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. This 27-square-mile ranch boasts an impressive array of natural habitats, including woodland, swamps, and savannah, where you can immerse yourself in the wonders of the wilderness. The sanctuary is home to over 40 mammal and reptilian species, including antelopes, monkeys, hippopotamuses, crocodiles, and various bird species.
In addition to the daytime activities, the sanctuary also offers night nature walks between 8 pm and 11 pm, which is the best time to observe the nocturnal animals that call this place home.
Nature walks can take anywhere from one to three hours. They can be moderately physically demanding, so wear comfortable walking shoes, long pants, and bring insect repellent, a torch, and drinking water to stay hydrated. You’ll breathe in the fresh, pristine air and marvel at the incredible scenery while experiencing the unique and unforgettable Ugandan wilderness.
Day and Night Nature walks in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary cost $20 per adult and $10 per child for foreigners. East African citizens pay UGX 20,000 per adult and UGX 10,000 per child.
Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch is a must-visit destination for bird enthusiasts, as it boasts a remarkable diversity of over 300 bird species, including rare and migratory ones. From woodlands to swamps and savannahs, the ranch provides a range of habitats that attract a variety of avian life.
From the rare and elusive shoebill stork to the majestic African fish eagle, there’s no shortage of fascinating avian life to discover here. Other bird species you might spot during your visit include the African grey parrot, African pied wagtail, black-headed gonolek, brown-throated wattle-eye, common bulbul, crested crane, giant kingfisher, green pigeons, and woodland kingfisher.
To make the most of your visit, why not stay a few days and explore the four distinct bird trails the ranch offers? Our well-trained birding rangers know exactly where to find the most interesting species, and birding tours are at a relaxed pace, allowing you ample time to take as many photographs as you desire.
The best time for bird watching in Ziwa
If you’re planning your visit for birding, we recommend coming during the dry season, which runs from June to September. During this period, the weather is relatively mild, and the vegetation is less dense, making it easier to spot and observe a variety of bird species. Additionally, many migratory bird species are present in Uganda during this time, further enhancing the birding experience.
Birding tours in Ziwa cost $20 per adult and $10 per child for foreigners. East African Citizens pay UGX 20,000 per adult and UGX 10,000 per child.
Shoebill Treks & Canoe Rides
The shoebill, also known as the whale-head stork, is a rare and iconic bird found in Uganda. It’s one of the most sought-after birds in the country and can be easily spotted at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. During a record sighting trip, 11 shoebills were seen in the ranch’s swamps.
To get the best chance of seeing the shoebill, you’ll need to set off on the shoebill trek at 6 am with an experienced guide. The canoe ride through the swamp at this time is the perfect opportunity for bird lovers to spot the shoebill and witness the stunning sunrise over the Lugogo Swamp.
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is home to various water birds, making it an ideal destination for nature lovers and bird watchers. As shoebill tracking starts early in the morning, visitors must have stayed overnight at Ziwa and access the ranch before the gates open for the general public at 07:30 am.
Shoebill tracking costs:
- Foreigners: $25 per adult and $13 per child
- Foreign residents: $20 per adult and $10 per child
- East African Nationals: UGX 20,000 and UGX 5,000
Best Time to Visit Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
The best time to visit Ziwa Rhino Reserve is during the dry season, which runs from December to February and from late June to October. During this time, the rhinos and other animals are drawn to watering holes, making them easier to find, and visitors can enjoy a range of outdoor activities such as game drives and guided walks. Additionally, with a smaller chance of rain spoiling your plans, the dry season is ideal for general wildlife viewing in Ziwa and the nearby Murchison Falls National Park and Budongo Forest.
However, if you plan to visit during the rainy months from September to November and March to May, you can still have a great experience. The reserve is beautifully green during this time, providing a picturesque backdrop for birdwatching. To make the most of your visit during the wet season, be sure to bring rain gear and waterproof shoes, and consider booking indoor activities in case of inclement weather.
Overall, Ziwa Rhino Reserve offers an unforgettable experience year-round, with each season providing its own unique set of attractions and challenges.