Rhinos Take First Steps on African Soil

The Associated Press
Thursday, August 24, 2006; 7:11 PM

KAMPALA, Uganda -- Two white rhinos took their first steps on African soil Thursday, officials said, after being flown into the country from the U.S. to boost stocks.

Nande and Hasani, who have a combined weight of 5.5 tons, bring the number of endangered white rhinos in the country to just eight, wildlife officials told The Associated Press.

"They were very wary when they first came out of the crate and the male tried to charge, which is characteristic of rhinos," said Patrick Atimnedi, a veterinarian with the state-run Uganda Wildlife Authority said.

They were released in the 17,297-acre Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Nakasongola district, 112 miles northwest of Uganda's capital Kampala after a four-day journey from their home in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Florida.

The sanctuary can accommodate 50 rhinos and it is hoped that Nande, aged 7, and Hasani, 5, will settle down and breed within the next year.

"It must be strange for the animals to come to Africa for the first time but I suspect they'll acclimatize quickly _ Florida is very hot and sunny too," said Uganda Wildlife Authority spokesman Lilian Nsubuga. "I think the four rhino already living in Ziwa can't wait to teach the new arrivals a thing or two about living in the wild."

Rhinos are only found in the wild in Africa and Asia. They are threatened with extinction with only 17,500 in the wild, according to the International Rhino Foundation based in Yulee, Florida.

Uganda was once a popular tourist destination famed for its abundance of wild animals, however civil unrest and heavy poaching during the 1970s and early 80s devastated native wildlife populations. Uganda's rhino became extinct; the last wild animal recorded as being seen in 1983.

© 2006 The Associated Press