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Rhinos could soon return to the wild in Uganda

BY URN

French Oil and gas giant, Total E&P has become the recent entrant into efforts aimed at reintroducing the Black Rhinoceros into the wild, almost 40 years since the rhino was declared extinct in Uganda.

Uganda was home to both the black and white rhinoceros, but increased hunting and poaching in the 1970s and early 80s in the protected areas, as well as the armed conflicts in the region, saw them disappear altogether.

Apart from the meat, a rhino’s horn is highly sought after especially for traditional medicine in China and other Asian countries.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) now hopes that next year, rhinos will be re-introduced into Uganda’s wild in a joint initiative with the Rhino Fund Uganda, a conservation not-for-profit organisation.

The idea was hatched in 1997 to have the animals re-introduced, and after eight years, a partnership with a land management company, Ziwa Ranchers, resulted into the formation of Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Nakasongola District, along Gulu Highway.

Bashir Hangi, UWA’s Head of Communication said the success story has necessitated the need to release the rhinos into the wild, as the sanctuary’s capacity is nearing its peak, with 33 rhinos.

A feasibility study commissioned by the Rhino Fund and UWA in 2018/2019 recommended that  rhinos can be relocated from the sanctuary into the wild.

Before their extinction, there were dozens of northern white rhinos in the Murchison Falls National Park, while others like the eastern black rhinos roamed the Kidepo Valley National Park in north-eastern Uganda and Ajai Wildlife Reserve in West Nile.

Without explaining the role, Total said they will support the reintroduction of the black rhino in the Murchison Falls Park.

The company’s chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Patrick Pouyanné, said in an update statement on their oil and gas operations in Uganda, that this is one of the several things they plan to do in restoring and improving the environmental status of the protected area where they are operating.

“Accordingly, Total will provide its support to increase by 50% the number of rangers ensuring the preservation of Murchison Falls park and will support a program to reintroduce the black rhinoceros in Uganda, in partnership with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA),”  Pouyanne said.

Asked about this development, Bashir Hangi said they have not recieved official communication from Total and cannot be sure at this time what their role will be.

He however, says a decision to support the relocation program will be welcome.

The company is also relinquishing to UWA 90 percent of the land area that they had leased for their exploration projects.

The total land area leased was 10 percent (about 380 Sq. km) of the park land.

“Total is also working closely with IUCN experts to integrate the best practices for the protection of chimpanzees, particularly by promoting the conservation of forest habitats,” Pouyanne says.

UWA is looking forward to reoccupying the land that they have not been fully utilizing for more than a decade due to the oil and gas exploration activities.

Hangi however, says Total and all other oil and gas companies in Uganda and other countries do return the land to its original owners after exploration, because the remaining activities do not require them hold onto the big chunks.

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