Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

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Kampala, Uganda

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary Kampala Reviews

sarahelaine sarahela…
651 reviews
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary Nov 05, 2012
Everything I wrote below is probably still true, but I've had to knock three stars off in the last two years. Why? Well, we booked to go back - and made a proper reservation with the lodge. No-one told us the gate time was 6pm, and it wasn't on any of the websites at the time (it's 7 in the national parks). We aimed to arrive at 6 anyway, but the roads were even worse than we expected. So we turned up at dusk, around 7pm, and were turned back at the gate after about an hour and a half of negotiating amongst the lodge, us and the gate guards.

This meant we had to drive the 4 hours back to Gulu in the dark. Driving in the dark is probably the single most dangerous thing you can do in Uganda.

The lodge swear blind that the reservation was responsible, that there used to be an escort system and that they wanted to let us in. The reservation swear blind that they were never told we were coming and had no spare guards to escort us (there were four at the gate, but there we go). I still really wish them the best with the rhino conservation, because I am sure they are doing great work. But I can't recommend that independent travellers go there. There's too much risk of being stuck on the road and arriving late, because the roads are under construction and very poor - and driving three hours back into Kampala or four to Gulu, with no guarantee of a hotel room when you arrive - is simply too much of a risk. It's a real shame, but only go if you can guarantee arriving before 4pm and preferably as part of a tour.

Rhinos became extinct in Uganda in the 1980s, as the chaos from years of misgovernment allowed poaching and destruction. The sanctuary at Ziwa, a few hours north of Kampala, is the very beginnings of a limited reintroduction programme. The herd is currently only 12 white rhinos, which is six adult rhinos donated from Kenya and Florida, and six Uganda-born calves. Visitors can visit the rhinos on foot, although for obvious reasons it is totally forbidden to go without a guide. On our trip, we were lucky to see four rhinos; the dominant male (Tuleo), a female adult (Bella), her calf (Donna), and a subordinate male (Hassani, who our host in the lodge told us was a sneaky rhino to find because if he doesn’t want to be seen he lurks in tall grass and holds his breath so you can’t hear him). We didn’t see Obama the Rhino, who is called Obama because he has a mother from America and a Kenyan father. I wonder if anyone has told the US president about his namesake.

Other activities in the park include a safari on foot and in a canoe to find the Shoebill bird, a strange, giant carnivorous heron-like thing that can slice a fish in three. This was absolutely magical. I am not normally particularly into birds, but the boat ride through the swamp in the early morning was beautiful. We weren’t terribly successful at finding a shoebill, as it was misty and by the time it burned off we could only see one a long way away through binoculars. But we did see lots of Egrets, a Goliath Heron, a Fish Eagle, some jacanas, which are little water birds with huge feet, and kingfishers, and a bunch of birds that I have no idea what they are. It was all so magical in the beautiful swamp, with the flowers opening and the boats all operated by poles, that I might actually have to buy some telephoto lenses and take up bird watching after all.

The guides are excellent and I really enjoyed my trip. This is a great place to stop on your way north from Kampala towards Murchison Falls. It is perfectly possible to arrive independently and arrange guides and tours once you are there, although many tour companies also arrange stop offs here. They have a website.
10 / 10 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
Besandri says:
Congrats on being featured Sarah...
Posted on: Dec 08, 2014
sarahelaine says:
Thank you! It's not the obvious dangers they tell travellers about that scare me. It's unexpected buses with no headlights, drunk drivers, the fact you can't drive 50km in Uganda without seeing a truck on its side in a ditch, children running across the road, goats running across the road, cows with a three foot horn span in the middle of the road, the car-eating pot holes and the mudslides where a rainstorm hit the pile of dirt by the road works, and no street lights!
Posted on: Dec 07, 2014
Travel2014 says:
Congrats on this feature Sarah. I'm not sure everyone understands quite how unnerving that drive back must have been. I honestly think I would have camped out with the guards at the gate until daylight.

Good write up and all good to know about how they did you.
Hope all else is well with you. (I need to catch up on TB again.)
Posted on: Dec 07, 2014
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