Things to Do in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is so far the only place in Uganda to see the Rhinos in the wild during your tours in Uganda, thus any tourist with the dream of seeing the Big five animals will be able to achieve the dream by visiting this site while the other four animals-Lions, Leopards, Elephants, and Buffaloes are found in Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls and Kidepo Valley National Parks.

This Rhino Sanctuary is situated within Nakasongola District, about 180 kilometers north of Kampala City along the Kampala-Gulu Highway, near Nakitoma Village and offers seclusion and serenity in stunning surroundings but tourists who visit the site can enjoy several activities. The site is about 3 hours’ drive away (about half the journey to Murchison Falls National Park) and is known for several activities including;

On-foot Rhino Tracking

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is a haven to over twenty southern white Rhinos, making it the only place to enjoy on-foot Rhino Tracking in the company of experienced ranger guides who will take you through the vast plains to observe them go by their activities such as feeding, mating, and grooming. This on-foot activity takes one to two hours depending on the location of the Rhinos and involves spotting them up-close (at 6-7 meters away) and take as many photos as possible but also learn about their behavior and natural habitat. It is not only the Rhinos but you will be able to encounter other wildlife species such as Hippos and antelopes during the activity.

Therefore tracking the Rhinos within Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary can be well added on your itinerary for visiting Murchison Falls National Park due to the close proximity of the Park to the Sanctuary hence allowing tourists to achieve their dream of seeing the big five animals in an African wilderness.

Day and Night guided Nature Walks

The only way you can explore all or half of the attractions within this Rhino Sanctuary is by undertaking a nature walk where you will get the chance to encounter the wild animals such as ground squirrels, waterbucks, hippos, warthogs, vervet monkeys, grey duikers, reedbucks, bushbucks, black and white colobus monkeys, mongoose and hartebeests as well as reptiles especially Monitor Lizards, tree and butterfly species among others. Nature walks usually last at least 3 hours or more depending on the pace of movement but is done in the company of trained ranger guides who know where all the interesting attractions are found.

Bird watching and shoebill canoe tours

Even when everyone knows the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary for the Rhinos, it is also home to over 350 species of birds that can be explored through canoe tours and walks through some of the maintained trails. Some of the fascinating bird species you might see within the Sanctuary include the rare and mysterious shoebill stork, Blue-spotted doves, speckled-breasted woodpeckers, African black crake, giant kingfishers, white-crested turacos, and many others.


There are several serene and secluded campsites near the Headquarters of Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary with amenities such as Hydro-Electricity power as well as backup solar with clean toilets and running water. Camping is one of the ways of having a close encounter with the wilderness since you will be surrounded by trees, wildlife, and singing birds that wake you up.

Therefore, the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is one of the top destinations for family or solo travelers and is known for a number of activities that include on-foot rhino tracking, camping, bird watching, and guided nature walks to offer you an unforgettable tour in Uganda.

Birding in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

Established in 1997, the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is situated within Nakasongola district and is so far the only place in Uganda to see wild rhinos in their natural habitats thus it ensures the protection of these endangered mammals in Uganda in addition to functioning as a Reserve for other wildlife species. Much as the Rhinos are the main attractions within the Sanctuary, it is also a haven to over 300 species of birds thus making it a perfect birding spot during a safari in Uganda.

It boasts of four wonderful bird trails within the Sanctuary that covers the woodlands, savannah and swamp ecosystems. The bird guides are experienced and this adventurous activity is one you can never miss, especially if you are a bird lover. The best time to conduct birding within the area is from 7 to 9 am and 4 to 6 pm mostly lasting 2 hours.

The commonest species of birds to look out for include the Emerald-spotted wood Dove, Africa morning Dove, Egyptian goose, Common waxbills, African open-billed storks, crested francolins, the African Paradise Flycatcher, Augur buzzard, Crowned hornbills, Fork-tailed Drongo, the African pied wagtails, Barred warblers, Curlew Sandpiper, African pygmy kingfisher, Fan-tailed widow cuckoo, the Dark-caped yellow warblers, African Scop’s owls, the double-toothed barbets, Eurasian Hobby, Dusky tit, Bare-faced go-away bird, Black and white Manikin, Eastern grey plantain eater, Barn swallow, Bat Hawk, Black and white shrike flycatcher, the grey-backed fiscal shrike, Blue-napped mouse bird, grey-backed Camaroptera, blue-cheeked bee-eater, Green wood hoopoe, blue-breasted kingfisher, green crombec, white0winhged terns, Black-winged bishop, greater blue-eared starlings, black-shouldered kites, great sparrow hawks, black kites, grey crowned cranes, great reed warblers, great egret, black-headed gonolek, yellow-billed shrike, grassland Pipit, black Cuckoo, Goliath Herons, Black-crowned waxbills, giant kingfishers, yellow-fronted canary, black crowned Tchagra, foxes weaver, the black-bellied Bustard, shoebill storks, Red-headed weavers, Red-knobbed coot, the red-rumped swallow, Red-throated Wryneck, red-winged Doves, Ross’ turaco, Sacred Ibis, Rufus-billed herons, Saddle-billed storks, the Sand Martins, Scaly-throated honey guide, Scarlet-chested sunbirds, sedge warblers, wood sandpiper, semi-colored flycatcher, Senegal Coucal, Soot chat, Speckled Pigeon, speckled mouse bird, speckled weavers, spotted eagle owls, Spur-winged lapwings, Lemon dove, long crested eagles, Eurasian nightjar, For-tailed Drongo, white winged terns, yellow-throated long claws, yellow-billed storks, yellow-breasted Apalis, Fan-tailed widow bird, white-browed coucal, white-browed robin chat, white-crested turaco, white-rumped swift, Steppe eagle, Tawny Eagles, yellow wagtail, lesser kestrel, violet-tipped courser, Tambourine Dove, Spur-winged nightjar, Lesser masked weavers, white-bellied tit and the white-faced whistling duck among others.

What to carry during birding in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

Any tourist interested in birding in this area is required to pack closed shoes/ or hiking boots, long trousers/pants, insect repellant, long-sleeved shirt, enough drinking water, a backpack, pair of binoculars, camera, a hat and a bird guidebook among others.

How to Access the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary during your Uganda safari

This Sanctuary is conveniently situated within Nakasongola district (branch off at Nakitoma Trading Center) at approximately 176 kilometers (100 miles) north of Uganda’s Capital on the Kampala-Gulu highway towards the Murchison falls National Park. This means if you have more time, feel free to extend your birding to Murchison falls N.P for more bird species including water birds on River Nile.

How To Book Gorilla Permits in Uganda

Uganda features amongst the only 3 countries in the world where mountain gorilla tracking is conducted. For gorilla trekking in Uganda, there are only two protected areas where visitors can realize their dreams. And they include Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. These spectacular protected areas lie within the southwestern part of the country and they offer refuge to half of the rare mountain gorillas that thrive in the world. When it comes to gorilla trekking in Uganda, permits are a must to have for any visitor who wishes to catch a glimpse of these dramatic creatures while they are in their natural habitat. In order for one to obtain a gorilla tracking permit in Uganda, certain procedures need to be followed. Gorilla trekking permits for visitors on safari in Uganda can be obtained directly from Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) at the headquarters in Kampala or through a local tour operator/agent. Permits in Uganda are obtainable at $600 per person.

Obtaining gorilla permits directly through Uganda Wildlife Authority

In order to obtain a gorilla permit in Uganda, first and foremost you have to contact Uganda Wildlife Authority’s reservation office by emailing them to inquire more about the availability of dates you prefer to go for mountain gorilla tracking. This is mostly used by travelers on self-drive tours and Africa overlanders (driving a car through Africa). Considering that Bwindi and Mgahinga National Park are accessible for about 8 to 10 hours while driving in a strong 4×4 car, highly recommended.

In case the dates you intend to track gorillas are fully booked, visitors are encouraged to request Uganda Wildlife Authority to inform you about the next dates possible. Such a visitor is required to reply them expressing your interest to reserve a permit and requesting them to temporally hold the permits as you make payment. The payment will be done based on the banking details that will be given to you such that you can continue to make an electronic transfer of money. You are then required to send a copy of receipt by email/fax showing the transaction carried out by you.

The money transaction may take about 3-5 working days and UWA will keep a tentative reservation for about seven days as they wait the transfer to accomplish. You are reminded to instruct your bank to remove bank charges from you to avoid less payment that may not allow you to book a permit.

Other guests just walk direct to Uganda Wildlife Authority headquarters in Kampala and pay for their permits direct to UWA office, have their permits printed, and proceed with their trip to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga National park. However, this is quite risky because the demand for gorilla permits is high throughout the year. Therefore, to avoid disappointment and last-minute rash, you are advised to book in advance.

Through a tour operator

80 percent of the gorilla trekking permits are given to Uganda tour operators that are registered with the Uganda Association of Tour Operators (AUTO). The procedure of booking a gorilla permit is the same but the only difference is that booking through the local operator or agent, things tend to be faster and more convenient compared to booking directly through Uganda Wildlife Authority.

Booking through the local agent requires you to contact a local tour operator in Uganda to let them know the dates you would like to travel for this lifetime adventure, whether on an escorted or self-drive tours. If you are on a self-drive tour, your car rental agency will book for your permit at a small surcharge, and others do not charge an extra fees for gorilla permit bookings. You receive the permits together with the rental car.

They will make sure that you get to know the availability of dates and the tentative booking can be done for you.

You will be sent banking details where you will affect your payments for the gorilla permits. Some tour operators in Uganda accept online payments by credit card, Pesa pal, and Pay pal among others.

The process takes about 48 hours from the tour company to receive the information from the bank and they will pay for the permit as you sit back to wait only for your preferred date.

You will be required to send your passport details to register your gorilla permits. They will need your names, passport number, and nationality and these details will be recorded in the gorilla permit that you will present to the park official upon arrival check-in as you join the rest of the members for early morning briefing.

Given the competitive demand gorilla trekking permits for Bwindi and Mgahinga National Park, intending trekkers are encouraged to book their permits in advance at least 3 months earlier so as to avoid any disappointments.

A gorilla trekking permit is an important tool any intending trekker should have while on Uganda tour to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. To obtain one gives you about 98 percent chances of tracking a group of these Great apes but doesn’t guarantee a 100% chance for you to see gorillas. You can obtain a permit through UWA or one of tour agents in the country and you will have a chance to achieve your long term dreams in the wild.