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Trekking with the Last Rhinos of Uganda at Ziwa Sanctuary

Trekking with the Last Rhinos of Uganda at Ziwa Sanctuary

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is the last refuge for Southern White Rhinos in Uganda and the only place travelers can trek with them.

Once roaming freely across Uganda, the Southern White Rhino population faced a drastic decline due to extensive poaching, leading to their disappearance from the country by the early 1980s.

In attempts to reintroduce these magnificent creatures and ensure their survival, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary began introducing rhinos from Kenya and the United States in 2005. Their goal was and continues to be fostering a sustainable environment where the Uganda rhinos can thrive and increase in numbers before being reintroduced into the wild.

We visited the Ziwa Sanctuary in Uganda before continuing to Murchison Falls and I recommend doing rhino trekking here to every traveler who wants to spot the endangered rhinos in Uganda (one of the Big 5) in their natural habitat.

Olly gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler & adventure photographer for 6 years with 700+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.

Video From Our Experience With the Rhinos of Ziwa Sanctuary

Below is a vlog-style video from our trip to Ziwa Sanctuary to inspire and help you plan what to expect for your visit!

Watch on YouTube.

YouTube video

Where is the Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch?

Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch covers an area of approximately 7,000 hectares (about 17,300 acres) in the Nakasongola district of central Uganda.

It is situated approximately 176 kilometers (about 109 miles) north of Kampala, Uganda's capital, along the Kampala-Gulu highway. This took us approximately 3 hours to drive from our accommodation in Kampala.

The location of the rhino sanctuary makes it accessible for travelers planning to visit other parks and conservation areas in the northern part of the country, including Murchison Falls National Park which is roughly 2 hours away by road.

Girl photographing a southern white rhino in uganda

How to Get to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

While it is possible to rent or buy a safari vehicle in Uganda, the most common way to get to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and other regions of Uganda is to do so on a Safari circuit.

We traveled all around Uganda with Nathan from Elyson Adventures. Starting in Kampala, Ziwa was our first stop before visiting Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kibale (for Chimpanzee Trekking), and went gorilla trekking in Bwindi Forest on a single trip.

If you want the absolute best way to visit the Uganda rhinos and experience the diversity and beauty of Uganda, I highly recommend opting for a larger multi-park safari. I also highly recommend Elyson Adventures, they made the trip for us.

Alternatively, the relative proximity to Kampala allows for easy yet quite long rhino trekking day trips to Ziwa Sanctuary from the capital.

Beware of rhino sign

Our Experience Trekking With the Last Southern White Rhinos of Uganda

Upon arrival at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, we were warmly greeted by our guide and two armed men, security guards for rhinos known as "trackers," who follow the rhinos around the clock to deter poachers.

We signed our names and took some shade under one of the trees near the parking area and waited for our briefing.

Briefing

Shortly after, our guide called us over for a short briefing to set expectations and teach us about the rhinos and the sanctuary.

The briefing session was very insightful and only lasted for about 10 minutes. We learned about the history of Rhinos in Uganda, the critical need for conservation, and the overarching goal of the sanctuary to eventually breed enough to release them back into Murchison Falls National Park (which once had the most rhinos in all of Uganda).

The team also told us about the Northern White Rhinos and how there are only two known individuals left in the world (at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya), both of which are female. Ziwa Sanctuary operates so that we can avoid the same outcome for the Southern White Rhinos of Uganda.

In my opinion, this briefing was exceptionally well done, deepening our appreciation for the efforts of those working tirelessly to protect these magnificent animals.

About the sanctuary: As a private, non-profit conservation project, the Ziwa Sanctuary operates under the careful guidance of the Rhino Fund Uganda in collaboration with the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The entire sanctuary is strategically fenced to ensure the safety of the rhinos from poaching and other external threats, while also allowing them to live in a setting that closely mimics their natural environment.

Briefing at ziwa rhino sanctuary in uganda

Rhino Tracking

Our trekking experience began with a mix of excitement and admittedly a little fear about the experience.

Initially, thought that the sanctuary would make it easy to find the rhinos and I was afraid that it might feel more like a zoo experience since it is a private sanctuary. However, I quickly realized just how vast the area is. As soon as we left the main parking area, it was as if we were in the middle of a huge National Park.

Safari car in the plains of ziwa rhino sanctuary, uganda

We drove for at least 15 minutes into the bush before hopping out on foot with our armed guide and tracker leading the way.

Photographer carrying camera equipment at ziwa rhino sanctuary, uganda

I was also concerned that perhaps we couldn't find the rhinos. However, some trackers work inside the park and follow the rhinos 24/7. They can communicate with radios to the guides to help find the rhinos and avoid trekking for hours in vain (yes the sanctuary is huge).

Giraffe in uganda

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Finding the Southern White Rhinos

It wasn't more than 15 minutes or so before we encountered a family of Southern White Rhinos.

Contrary to what we were told about their typically lazy nature, spending much of their time sleeping in the shade, they were active, wandering around and grazing. This was great for us because we could admire them in their active behavior, which is much more interesting and better for photos.

Girl watching a southern white rhino in uganda in the distance

We spent nearly an hour observing them from the recommended safe distance of around 15 meters, capturing great photos and videos. Sometimes, the rhinos would wander in our direction, in which case our guide told us to walk back slowly and find a more suitable spot to observe them from.

Also to my surprise, we were the only two tourists with this rhino group! This was one of the best wildlife experiences I had in Uganda. Below are more photos Haylea and I captured on our visit.

Southern white rhino, uganda
Sleeping rhino in uganda
Southern white rhino standing in long grass
Black and white portrait of a rhino in uganda
A family of three southern white rhinos, uganda
White rhino, uganda
Two rhinos in uganda facing each other
Southern white rhino standing in long grass, uganda
Southern white rhino of ziwa standing in the grass

Speaking With the Trackers

After about an hour with the rhinos, we had the opportunity to speak directly with the trackers in the park.

They told us a lot about their jobs and their commitment to protecting the rhinos. We showed our gratitude for their hard work with a small tip, a gesture of appreciation for their dedication to protecting these animals.

Two rhino trackers in ziwa rhino conservation area, uganda

After the rhino trekking experience, we walked back to the visitor center and enjoyed a delicious lunch at the on-site restaurants before continuing our journey to Murchison Falls that afternoon.

Woman sitting at a lunch table on safari in africa

More Uganda Travel Blogs

I hope you've enjoyed this travel guide to trekking with the last southern white rhinos in Uganda at Ziwa Sanctuary! For more inspiration, check out some of my other recommended blog posts below.

Also, if you have any updates, advice for other travelers, or news, please let me know in the comments so that I can keep my blog posts up to date!

Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure travel journalist & photographer. Traveling non-stop since 2018, I've published over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. These draw on my personal experience to share unique itineraries, accommodation tips, & fun adventure guides covering hikes, viewpoints, beaches, waterfalls, & tours. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.

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