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The Rhino is Back

New Vision (Kampala)
December 18, 2001
Gerald Tenywa

PROUD? The rhinos walked majestically and seemed to ignore the large crowd -- They believed that rhino meat was bitter and if you killed a rhino, bad luck would strike you THE drums beat and flutes sang. Sweat rolled down the bodies of the dancers. Skinny women wriggled their waists at the side of the towering men. They sang in Luo to entertain a small crowd of conservationists. They had gathered at a ceremony referred to as "Welcome the Rhinos back to Uganda."

The two and a half-year white rhinos were the first rhinos to walk on Ugandan soil in two decades. Rhino Fund Uganda, a charity organisation, bought them from Solio Ranch in Kenya. This was under the first phase of bringing back the rhinos to Uganda. Uganda used to have both white and black rhinos which eventually became extinct. The last white rhino was seen in 1982 in Murchison Falls National Park. The last black one was seen in Kidepo in 1983. The two beasts, female and male named Kabira and Sherino respectively walked majestically on the patch of grass at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC).

They seemed to ignore the enchanted crowds. "The rhinos are seen as a tribal symbol in Lango," Jovina Akaki told the crowd just before he commissioned the rhino. Akaki said his tribemates held the rhinos in high esteem and would never kill them. He therefore reasoned that the rhinos would have higher chances of not being poached if they were kept in Lango. "They believed that rhino meat was bitter and that if you killed a rhino, bad luck would strike the home," he added. However, the second phase to bring back the black rhinos would be in the neighbourhood of Lango district. Yvonne Verkaik, the coordinator of Rhino Fund Uganda, said an 80 square km piece of land in Nakasongola district had been acquired to establish a rhino sanctuary. "The black rhinos would be allowed to breed and later re-introduced into the wilderness," she said.

This would constitute the third and last phase of bringing the rhinos back to Uganda, Verkaik said. Betty Kamya, executive director of UWEC said they had contacted groups of people with an emotional attachment to the rhinos. They included Buganda's Nkula clan, Busoga's clans and the Langi who were dominantly represented. Rhinos are globally endangered because of their valuable horns: They have two horns; one longer than the other. Poachers export the horns to Asia where they are used to make ceremonial dagger handles and traditional medicine.



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