Among the many admirable features of the animal ambulance that was donated to the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Centre (UWEC) in Entebbe last week, are the crystal clear double headlights.
The bigger size of the tyre treads that perhaps contribute to its high ground clearance leaves no room for doubt that the car will be able to handle Uganda’s rough terrain.
A 2006 Land Rover Defender pick-up truck, the first ever animal ambulance in Uganda runs on a TD5 2500cc engine and comes with an inbuilt cage at the cabin that has the capacity to carry two to three average sized chimpanzees, and approximately four to five monkeys.
Redmond Boulton, a social media marketeer at Paradise Wildlife Park in the UK, says this particular model is a bit longer compared to previous ones. This, according to Boulton, makes it perfect to have a longer and bigger animal crate at the back or cabin of the vehicle.
“It is an ex-army vehicle whose modifications were standardised for off-road terrains. It is built with strong aluminium. The bumper is built out of steel for extra strength. It runs on a powerful TD5 engine which makes it one of the best and strongest Land Rover models,” Boulton explains.
The animal ambulance is a 2006 model that runs on a diesel engine. The steel metal of the animal cage can withstand the strongest of wild animals.
It has some of the most powerful, long-lasting and brighter Light Emitting Diode (LED) four headlights, and one long sport light positioned above the windscreen at the roof of the car.
It also has side lights that are built at the top of the car and those at the back that flash into the cage to enable the driver or animal rescuers check on the status and condition of the animals while driving. It is fitted with a front camera that monitors ambulance movement in the wild or retrieve footage, where need be.
Built for heavy work
The car is relatively big, and even has a provision of attaching another cart or trailer at the back and front to be able to carry even six or seven tonnes. This means that attached trailer can carry an elephant.
“Everything on this car is heavy weight. It can pull six tonnes in reverse and front driving modes and it will move without any difficulty. It is a manual car that is the best for any kind of road situation as long as you can engage the gears well,” Boulton says.
Haroon Kakembo, a motorist and mechanic, has driven a Land Rover Defender for approximately 10 years. During this time, he has found the Defender to have trustable off-road capability. This is because British-made vehicles come with unbeatable permanent four wheel drive systems and three differentials (front, centre and rear). The not-so-common differential in this case among drivers is the centre differential.
“Two wheel axles that are permanently driven will revolve at different speeds under slippery conditions just as two wheels would on a single axle. The centre differential counteracts this by locking the front and rear axles drive speeds together. So, if one axle loses grip, the other will not necessarily do the same,” Kakembo explains.
According to Kakembo, all Land Rover Defenders fitted with permanent 4WD are fitted with locking centre differentials. These should not be confused with axle locking differentials.
The system operates in much the same way as an axle differential does in any other axle.
However, there is a mechanical differential inside the transfer gearbox, which when activated, brings the ends of the two drive shafts together, connecting them via the mechanical differential.
This means equal drive, power and torque will be distributed between each wheel axle while they are locked together, hence the known bonus about the Land Rover Defender on any rough terrain.
Towing and carrying capacity
Kakembo agrees with Boulton, saying most Land Rover Defenders have high carrying and towing capacities. For instance, the Defender has a carrying capacity of 1,455kgs, towing capacity of 750kgs (unbraked trailer) and 3,500kgs (braked trailer). This, Kakembo, notes, gives the Defender an edge.
Defender in wildlife
Over the past two decades, the Land Rover Defender has been slowly phased out in game parks for tourist drives and disaster preparedness or response initiatives, and was substituted with the Toyota Land Cruiser. This is because the maintenance and repair costs of the Defender are not only high but uncomfortable.
Through its production from 1983 to 2016, nothing much was changed in the design of the Land Rover Defender other than a few luxuries such as climate control, power windows and key-less entry on a few models.
“This has given rise to a number of independent customisation shops around the world offering enhancements to the Land Rover Defender. These range from drive terrains such as a more powerful engine, interior with heated seats and exterior enhancements such as a roll cage for safety and LED lights such as those of the ambulance.
In this industry, there is no limit to a Defender in terms of what you want it to look like. It all depends on your purpose for it and your budget,” Kakembo says.
He believes that the Land Rover has had a long history of association with wildlife, nature conservation, disaster preparedness and response initiatives, makes the donation (Land Rover Defender 130 double cabin) the ideal machine for the task as an animal ambulance.
Kakembo advises that provided UWEC assigns the animal ambulance a good driver, and regularly repairs it, it will serve the tourism industry for the next 20 or more years without any disappointment.
The Land Rover Defender animal ambulance costs £50,000, which is approximately Shs240m, at a rate of Shs4,800 per pound.