Sunday, October 17, 2010

Famine predicted for Uganda in 2011

More than half of Uganda’s 31 million people face severe food shortages by February 2011 because of an expected drought, Parliament said in a statement on Friday, citing the minister for disaster preparedness, Tarsis Kabwegyere. The current rains, the statement said, will be followed by an “unusual period of drought and severe water shortage” that will spread famine and kill livestock in many parts of East Africa. --New York Times, 10-16-2010.

Rhino sanctuary frightens (briefly), fascinates

From the Parkville Luminary

ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY, CENTRAL UGANDA—The terror lasted only a few seconds. I clumsily stepped onto a twig or perhaps on a dry bush, and made just enough noise to startle a two-ton rhino lounging about 20 yards from where we stood. The rhino sprang to its feet in what seemed like a millisecond, and took one menacing step towards us. I somehow managed to maintain control of my bodily fluids.

The safety rules they give you here at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary (click here for photo album) say that the best thing to do if charged is to “move near a tree and climb”. This is undoubtedly good advice. Nonetheless, at that moment, my mind was hijacked by my most basic instincts, something like “fight or flight”. Fighting was never an option. If that rhino had taken one more step towards us, I would have high-tailed it out of there so fast that, cartoon-style, I would have laid down skid marks (the kind left by tires) and ran out of my clothes.

Fortunately, our guide/ranger kept cool, and said some soothing words to the rhino. It worked, and you could literally see the rhino relax. We took somewhat longer to cool down as we laughed nervously about the incident, which had taken no more than 10 seconds.

The rest of the hour that we spent tracking the nine rhinos who live here at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary was great, and fortunately, non skid mark (the other kind) inducing. These rhinos are semi-habituated, and you can get within about 20 yards of them provided you move slowly, talk softly, and don’t startle them (oops).

Rhinos used to be abundant in Uganda, but were unfortunately victimized by hunting, poaching, and habitat loss. By the 1960’s, there were just 400 black rhinos and 300 white rhinos left in Uganda. Civil unrest in the 1970’s during the Idi Amin regime made poaching much easier, and thus rhinos here were decimated. The last wild rhino in Uganda was spotted in 1983.

The 70-square kilometer Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary was established in 2004, and was populated with rhinos from Kenya and from Disney Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. There are nine white rhinos here now, including three babies, one of which is named Obama. The dominant male here weighs 2.5 tons, and can run 25 m.p.h. Once a viable population of 30 rhinos has been bred, plans call for the animals to be released into their original habitat, probably nearby Murchison Falls National Park.

Interestingly, an armed ranger tracks each rhino 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, noting their behavior patterns and providing a deterrent to would-be poachers seeking rhino horn, which is prized in some cultures as a supposed aphrodisiac. Imagine what it would be like to be one of these rhino tracking rangers, and basically spend your life with these animals. While a rhino’s company is undoubtedly preferable to the company of some people, nonetheless the monotony would have to eat away at you.

The Ziwa Sanctuary is doing some excellent conservation work, and is deserving of not only a visit (it really is fun), but your support. To learn more, go to: .

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