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Uganda strives to increase rhino numbers in face of extinction

A rhino wandering in the wilderness. Photo courtesy of PEXELS.
By Ronald Ssekandi
NAKASONGOLA, Uganda, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) — Obama is the name of a naughty white rhino. Like a teenager, Obama is discovering himself, throwing up tantrums. He has just broken a radio repeater and his care taker, Angie Genade, is angry at him. But like the love of a mother, Genade understands the stage Obama is going through.
“He is a very beautiful rhino, a very healthy big boy and has just started behaving like a big male rhino should be behaving. He has just found his own territory,” Genade told Xinhua in a recent interview.
“He is just coming into his teens and becoming sexually mature and starting to look for rhinos to mate with, his behavior is perfect,” she added. Obama was the first white rhino born in Uganda in 2009 after close to 30 years of extinction in the east African country.
Obama takes his name from the American President Barrack Obama. The rhino, has an American mother and a Kenyan father, just like Obama, the president.The rhino’s father was brought in from Solio Ranch in Kenya in 2005, while its mother was donated by the Disney Animal Kingdom in the U.S.
Obama was the first rhino born at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in the central Ugandan district of Nakasongola, over 170km north of the capital Kampala. The Sanctuary was started by the Rhino Fund in a bid to restore rhinos in the east African country where they had become extinct because of decades of war. In 1978, the country had 200 rhinos but by 1982 poaching and insecurity cleared them all.
The conservation program started with six rhinos, three male and three females. Obama was the first to be born. Since then the number has grown to over 15 rhinos and two births are due later this month and in January next year.
“What is interesting about these two, they are Ugandan rhinos. Our project has reached a second phase where our own rhinos that were born in Uganda are now actually producing,” she said.
The sanctuary has become a popular tourist stop-over with the numbers of visitors growing to 13,000 annually from the 400 registered in 2007, according to Genade, who is the director of the sanctuary.
Genade argued that the conservation project has showed that the number of rhinos can be increased provided there is dedicated effort. Over 80 rangers patrol the fence, guard the gates, and monitor the rhinos 24 hours a day. The sanctuary management also has a good relation with the neighboring communities which are allowed to graze on the ranch.
The rhino horns are also microchipped such that if a poacher is arrested with the horns, the origin of the horn can be traced back. “It is really a method of monitoring where rhino horn is going and whose rhino horn has been confiscated from a poacher,” said Genade.
Genade argued that although there is increased effort to conserve rhinos in Africa, the targeted market for rhino horns must be involved in the efforts. She said Asia, which is the main market for illicit trade in rhino horns must be involved in changing cultural beliefs surrounding the horns.
Rhino horns are reputed to cure diseases and cast out evil spirits in children besides being regarded as a powerful aphrodisiac. Genade said countries can introduce rhino conservation in their education system whereby children are taught why it is important to conserve the rhinos.
“If you target the right people now with the right information and try and break that cultural barrier,” she said, noting that 20 years from now, there will be a big difference.
She said top government officials, corporate companies and celebrities, who people look up to, can also play a lead role in urging the population to avoid buying rhino horns.


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