After a reasonable drive over well-built roads, we arrived in Ziwa around lunch time. Rhino’s tend to sleep during the hottest time of the day, so we had some time to kill in the compound garden.
The compound is a beautiful campsite with a big variety of birdlife. Some small black and white weavers I have never seen before and some bunting species. Besides the birds there is a myriad of different flowers.
The Ziwa Rhino program started about 20 years ago after the last Rhino (black and white) was poached in Uganda in the late 1980’s. It is a privately funded project with a main objective of starting a successful breeding program, aiming to release Rhino’s back into the wild when the time is right.
The rhinos available for breeding are partially bred and partially donated by zoo’s and Rhino farms in Kenya. The program is very successful and the amount of rhino’s have grown to 18 individuals. Critical mass for the area is about 35.
The rhinos are heavily guarded and the program employs around 70! Rangers providing the staff. Being cultivated like this, you could wonder how ‘wild’ they really are, but considering the circumstances, they are as wild as can be for this moment.
The program is situated at an old cattle ranch so it is making good use of lands not commercially sustainable anymore.
For me, encountering the rhinos was absolutely a dramatic and profound experience. After a hike through the dense bush, all of a sudden they came around a corner towards us. A group of 3 mature cows and 2 half-grown calf’s (female and male) One of the mature males followed them, keeping a close eye and trying to keep them in his territory.
I was amazed by the calm and down-to-earth nature of these animals. As most animals in the wild they just want you to stay out of their way and to be left alone. The knowledge of these beautiful animals being severely threatened and harassed can make me really sad.
Unfortunately one of the males born in the program passed away after getting in a fight with one of the 3 older mature males. Nothing but natural ‘wild’ behavior, but the big males needed to be dehorned to prevent more deadly casualties.
It shows how vulnerable this breeding program really is. Just one Southern White Rhino could make the difference between a sub-species survival or final extinction.
So happy to go back on a Rhino hike tomorrow morning!