One of the most fascinating yet terribly alarming historical facts in wildlife conservation is that of the Dodo bird. According to the American Museum of Natural History, this unique type of bird was found by Dutch soldiers around 1600 on an Island in the Indian Ocean. However, less than 80 years later, the Dodo became extinct because of deforestation, hunting and destruction of their nests by animals brought to the island by the Dutch.
Currently, the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) data base affirms that more than 41,000 species have been assessed to be under the threat of extinction. Of these, the one that make up the list of the top 10 most endangered include: the Amur Leopard, the Sunda Island Tiger, the Javan Rhinos and the Black Rhinos amongst others.
Speaking of Rhinos, the Uganda Wildlife Authority website affirms that both the Black Rhinocerus (Diceros bicornis michaeli) and the Northern White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) are indigenous to Uganda but became extinct due to poaching and prolonged armed human conflict among other factors. As things stand, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary that was set up in 2005 to re-introduce the Southern White Rhinocerus to Uganda after both species got extinct in 1982, currently their number stands at 15.
For a country that is endowed with a vast array of flora and fauna, this is reason enough to press panic buttons. The mere fact that at one point, the Rhinos got extinct, spells doom and gloom for the country in case the previous shortcomings that engineered the extinction are not mitigated or eradicated completely. On the surface, a Rhino to others may look trivial but when the bigger picture is considered, there is more to a Rhino than meets the eye.
Innocent Okilla is a Lango by tribe but what qualifies him as a Lango the most is the fact that his totem is a Rhino. So, minus the Rhino, Okilla and his tribe instantaneously lose their identity without a trace.
“I am a proud Lango from Lira City and my totem is a Rhino which in my language is called “Amuka.” This gives me identity and also shows that we the Lango people are very strong people because a Rhino is also a strong animal,” Okilla says. He adds that, “That is why our slogan in Lango here is “Amuka, lee ager,” a phrase loosely translated to mean a rhino is a tough animal.
Like Okilla, Hope Nancy Tikolu who hails from Zombo district in the West Nile region shares a similar totem as the man from Lira. The only distinguishing characteristic is in the specificity of the species of the Rhino.
In West Nile, our totem is the White Rhino and I think that Uganda is home to some of them. But, it is hard to find them out here in the wild like the totems of other tribes and clans whose totems are monkeys and other animals that can easily be found,” she says.
Recently, Lango faced off with West Nile in the Federation of Uganda Football Association (FUFA) Drum Cup Final. The tournament’s theme was “Celebrating our Ancestry.” This obviously pitted the “Rhinos” against the “White Rhinos” respectively. What a way to indeed celebrate our ancestry as Ugandans!
Sabrina Apolot, a tour guide working at Awesome Fixers and Adventures does not cherish the Rhino as a totem because she hails from neither of the two regions but strongly believes that they boost the country’s tourism.
“Uganda collects a lot of foreign exchange from tourism every year,” she says. “And this is not only from the Rhinos but also from the other animals like mountain gorillas, elephants, and many others. The good thing is that Uganda is blessed with an abundance of nature and now the best it can do is to safeguard that nature and benefit from it,” she adds.
It is true that Uganda is one of those countries that should be grateful for its nature as Apolot submits. However, to allow the Rhinos or any other species of animals become extinct as was the case in 1982 would be the same as the country shooting itself in the foot.