Court to rule on dispute over Rhino sanctuary land

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) temporarily closed Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Nakitoma Sub-county, Nakasongola District, over unending fights between two parties managing the facility.

The High Court will today decide whether to grant an application in which Rhino Fund Uganda (RFU) is seeking to stop their eviction from Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Nakasongola District.

Mr Jamson Karemani, the court registrar, set April 26 for ruling after hearing of submissions in which Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranches Ltd and its proprietor Capt Joseph Charles Roy objected to arguments by RFU.

RFU, the operators of Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, which is home for 33 endangered white Rhinos, asked the court to issue an order stopping their eviction until final disposal of their main case.

They argued that they will suffer irreparable damages if the order is not granted because the licence given to them, which was supposed to expire after 30 years effective 2002, was canceled in 2017 which amounts to breach of contract.

The court case was triggered by an eviction notice issued by Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranches Ltd and its proprietor Capt Roy to RFU after conflicts emerge over the management of the sanctuary.

Earlier on, the Minister of Tourism directed the suspension of tourism activities at the sanctuary and ordered the Uganda Wildlife Authority to evacuate the rhinos for their safety.

Through his lawyers, Capt Roy asked the court to dismiss the application reasoning that the government has already taken over the mismanagement of the area and, therefore, the application is overtaken by events.

In the sworn statement by Capt Roy, who is the owner of the 62-square kilometre land, there is nothing left for RFU on the premises as the status quo right now lies with UWA who took over the facility in January when their licence was cancelled.

Capt Roy alleges that RFU is a trespasser who has illegally gone ahead to construct chicken houses on his land and that there is no board resolution allowing the non-governmental organisation to commence the case. 

Court documents show that although the warring parties had signed a lease of 30 years starting 2002, they decided to terminate it in 2017 and gave RFU a two-year notice to vacate.  It is also reported that there were numerous interactions with President Museveni to resolve the disagreements between the two parties.

However, Capt Roy states that RFU instead registered a new private company contrary to the spirit of the agreement and allocated its executive director powers of the chairperson, the treasury, secretary, chief executive director, accountant, and auditor, which actions were not agreeable to the Ministry of Tourism as well as the respondents.