Friday, 6 March 2015

Keeping Uganda’s Rhino Safe.

Keeping Uganda’s Rhino Safe.

Recently the Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch located in Nakasongola district of Uganda was a hive of activity as the 10 of the 15 rhinos underwent a makeover in order to secure their future. The sanctuary is home to the only rhino in Uganda as part of a project to secure the reintroduced rhinos and reintroduce rhino to Uganda’s national parks as Uganda lost its remaining wild rhinos in 1983.
Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch

 After the first six rhinos were translocated to Uganda in 2004 and 2005, a period of four years elapsed before the first calf was born in March of 2008.  Sadly this calf was stillborn to mother Bella.  In June 2009 the first healthy calf was born and aptly named Obama.  There were two reasons he was named Obama, he made history by being the first rhino born in Uganda in approximately 30 years and his mother hails from the United States and his father from Kenya.

Subsequent to the first rhino’s birth, eight more were born at regular intervals, with the last one on the 2nd of April 2014. This made the sanctuary a true conservation success story for Uganda and opened the road to possible reintroduction of Rhino into the national parks down the line. Of the nine calves, three are male and six are female, making up a total of six males and nine females at the sanctuary.

Mating has been ongoing, promising further additions to the group. One interesting aspect that transpired, was the inter-calving interval which is close to two-years, this very short interval can only be explained as due to a safe environment and excellent grazing throughout the year.
Lots of planning went into the project to ensure a smooth delivery 

The recent work at the sanctuary was conducted by Rhino Fund Uganda staff and rhino ecologist Dr Felix Patton, Uganda Wildlife Authority Vets Atimnedi Patrick and Enyel Eric as well as Kenya Wildlife Services Vet Lokool Isaac, Molecular Biologist Otiende Moses and their team.

Poor Malaika. The first 2 darts did not discharge but all went well in the end

The procedure entailed sedating the rhinos so that microchips could be implanted in both the horns and beneath their skin. Each rice-grain sized chip carries a unique bar code. If a rhino was to get poached and the horn recovered thousands of kilometres away in the Far East for example, the chips could be scanned and matched to those under the skin of the poached carcass to prove it was obtained illegally. This indisputable evidence would then be used to convict the smugglers and traders involved.

Says Rhino Fund Uganda Executive Director Angie Genade, “many poachers and traders of illegal rhino horn have escaped conviction due to a lack of evidence that the courts would accept as beyond reasonable doubt. Microchips help in creating the necessary evidence chain in a timely way as you just need to scan the chip to get an immediate result.”

At the same time as micro-chipping, the team also collected DNA samples from each of the remaining Rhinos in Uganda. “DNA is like a genetic finger printing system as every rhino, much like humans also have a very unique DNA pattern”

Dr Felix Patton, the conservation adviser to RFU explained. “DNA is the same for an individual rhino whether it is extracted from its horns, hair, blood or skin and, in fact, we collected samples from all these for each of the rhinos we darted. The samples will be sent to an expert laboratory in South Africa for DNA analysis and will become part of an Africa-wide database of rhino DNA. Whenever a trader is arrested with rhino horn, the DNA can be extracted and matched to a rhino on the database, similar to the way fingerprints are, to provide further evidence of it being obtained illegally” he said.

The team at work in Uganda 

To avoid breading problems in future the DNA will also be used to determine which male is in fact the sire of those rhinos born at Ziwa to ensure that no male is so dominant that there will be genetic problems in the future.

The team also took the opportunity presented to notch those rhinos caught which had no notches or modify those who’s weren't clearly defined. This helps ensure accurate identification in the field for observation. Most of the data is collected by unobtrusive field observation, and the small V shape cuts in the ear margins of the rhinos greatly improve accurate data collection and identification of the individual rhinos.  This system is common practice in Africa to collect data for dissemination and it’s also very helpful if incidence of poaching occur as it identifies the individual Rhino.
Rhino conservation in Uganda 

Funding for the operation came from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Uganda Small Grants Fund with additional assistance from the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Africa Rhino Programme.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a great concerted effort of like minded people and teamwork to secure the future of our rhinos. We applaud the various bodies and team members that combined their efforts to ensure the future of the rhino population in Uganda. 
Many hands that deliver rhino conservation  in Uganda 

Make sure to visit their website to learn more and follow their updates on Facebook. Premier Safaris guest also visit the sanctuary as part of their Murchison falls Itineraries in Uganda. Look out for the new mid-range photographic Safaris in 2016 that will also include a stay at the sanctuary.

Photo credit - JL Uys Photography 

CNN Inside Africa coverage of Uganda’s Rhino project:

Some more photos of the Rhino conservation project by JL Uys 
It takes a village to help a Rhino 

Ear Notching 

Sedated Rhino