The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has temporarily closed Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Nakitoma Sub-county, Nakasongola District, over unending fights between two parties managing the facility.
In a statement issued by Mr Hangi Bashir, the public relations manager of UWA, the authority said in line with their mandate of protecting wildlife resources as per the Uganda Wildlife Act, 2019, they have taken over security of the rhinos at Ziwa sanctuary.
“UWA has, with immediate effect, closed Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary to the public and as such, no tourism activities will be undertaken until further notice. UWA realised that the conflict could potentially compromise the safety of the rhinos and took this decision to avert the threat,” UWA said.
The closure of the facility comes after last week’s incident where unknown people vandalised the sanctuary office equipment, including computers and documents.
UWA said there have been persistent misunderstandings between Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranches (ZRWR), the owners of the land where the rhinos are being bred, and Rhino Fund Uganda (RFU), a non-governmental organisation that manages the rhinos at the sanctuary.
Ziwa Rhinos and Wildlife Ranches and the Rhino Fund Uganda have for the last five years been embroiled in a row over the management of the sanctuary.
Police in Nakasongola have since arrested and detained 27 people in connection with last week’s incident.
UWA also said they will try to bring the two parties to iron out their differences without resorting to violence.
However, the closure of the sanctuary could cost the sector an estimated Shs45b in a final translocation exercise once a safer environment for the endangered herbivores is established.
Unlike other animals in protected areas, relocating rhinos is costly since one is required to conduct an environment impact assessment for the new location and also establish better infrastructure and guarantee security, among others. Mr Hangi said translocating the between 30 and 50 rhinos costs an estimated Shs45b, excluding purchasing land for relocation.
The dispute is between the family of Capt Joseph Charles Roy who owns the lease and the management of Rhino Fund Uganda. In 2017, Capt Roy terminated the concession with both the Rhino Fund Uganda and the D and D International lodges after a disagreement but Rhino Fund Uganda sought arbitration through court as provided in an earlier agreement between the two parties over the management of the sanctuary.