Ajai Wildlife Reserve

Ajai Wildlife Reserve

Ajai wildlife reserve is located in Madi Okollo district, West Nile subregion about 385km (7-hour drive) north west of Kampala.  The reserve is found 110km (2-hour drive) north of Murchison falls national park, and 58 km (1-hour) south east of Arua city. Ajai offers sport hunting opportunities for those intending to shoot hippos and antelope species including bushbucks, Uganda kob, and Jackson’s hartebeest. Nature walks and birding can be done on papyrus swamp islands formed through the deposition of sand and gravel on the riverbed. The reserve has a low elevation at 700 -1,000 meters above sea level and lies along the west bank near the confluence where the tributaries of rivers Acha and Ala meet the Albert Nile.

Flora and fauna

Ajai wildlife reserve is located 44km north of Lake Albert whose water levels have been rising recently. Fishing villages tend to be submerged along the White Nile, which forms seasonal papyrus swamps and islands found within the reserve. Aquatic habitats give way to savanna plains with very sandy soils, riverine forest areas, and grass.

Loudetia-Eragrostis and Hyparrhenia is nutritious and is fond of attracting cattle keepers moving from the western region to settle in the West Nile region for green pasture that is used to graze the cattle. This has led to development of lucrative livestock markets in northern Uganda including Teso and Karamoja plains. Besides tourism and conservation, local people engage in other alternative forms of economic activities which enhance the conservation of Ajai wildlife reserve.

For instance, the local delicacy Nang Nang fish is a big opportunity for local cuisine and food industry operators are giving it a try, which openly benefits any ambitious young men and women, with energetic spirit to work in the roadside market business. Given the relatively smaller size of the gazetted land in west Nile region, wildlife numbers are fond of increasing in the reign of peace for over 3 decades, with poaching levels to a larger extent brought down, there’s need to expand habitat to accommodate and make a better place to live in harmony with nature. Local community land and wildlife interaction is an inherent right of motivation to get anyone who is willing to help explore the emerging travel and tourism potential at a deeper story of the northern Uganda safari circuit. Rainforests, rivers, waterfalls, plains game can be found in the

in west Nile include waterbucks, hippos, Uganda kob, lion, elephant, some of which live on community private lands. Recreation and wildlife are right in position with the Ajai rhino project to give more chances for locals and travelers to the West Nile.

Restoration of rhinos back to Ajai wildlife reserve

Ajai wildlife reserve was established as a sanctuary in 1962 to save southern white rhinos. The king of the Madi people (king Ajai) gave part of his territory to the British colonial government in 1937.The historic Ajai island where the King made a promise for wildlife conservation is symbolic of the Madi heritage and should be preserved at all costs.

A collection of wildlife archives show that Ajai remained with about 60 rhinos but were quickly wiped out along with lions and African elephants. The West Nile is bordered by DR Congo to the west and South Sudan to the north. The region became a point of interest for ivory and slave traders in the colonial times and civil war in post independence left much of the region startled and disoriented.

Restoring the lost heritage and peace has been an important aspect to the people in the area who in turn support of the ongoing conservation projects. A plan to re-establish rhinos back to the reserve in future is underway. Uganda has 38 rhinos living at Ziwa rhino sanctuary, which covers 70 sq.km. The population appears to be in a healthy condition, however once the number reaches the carrying capacity, some rhinos may be relocated to avoid deterioration of the habitat and at the same time push forward their  restoration to Uganda’s protected areas. UWA funded a feasibility study in 2022 for the Ajai rhino project. Determined that Ajai wildlife reserve is a suitable habitat for the rhinos, UWA proposed to the Madi Okollo local chiefs to acquire more 26 sq.km of land to expand the reserve on purpose to provide more space for the rhinos to come in future. Ajai now covers 148 Sq.km and is almost 2x larger than the Ziwa rhino sanctuary,

Referring back to the overall goal of winning the support of the local communities, landlords didn’t like the idea of giving more of their land to the government. They insist that conservation is supposed to be a bridge and bring hope for economic development, preservation of cultural heritage especially for people of West Nile.

The rhino project is trying to involve the local communities adjacent to Ajai wildlife reserve in its conservation programs. In the meantime, new projects are being undertaken to conserve wildlife for the benefit of the 11 households still living within the reserve and around. UWA is trying to strengthen law enforcement and security and already has a tourist information center and facilities for wildlife rangers who monitor the reserve and take visitors for game viewing in the reserve.

Accommodation facilities aren’t yet in the reserve but can be found outside in Arua city, Packwach, or Gulu city. Financial aid is also given to schools to help students learn better and learn about the value of conservation. For instance, renovation of Ayavu primary school in 2019 is part of UWA’s corporate social responsibility. UWA usually gives 20% of park entry fees back to solve problems in the villages. In this case, Ajai wildlife reserve relies on sport hunting tourism, which brings little money. Regardless, UWA is committed to community conservation and optimistic that rhino restoration efforts will give results soon.

How to get there and attractions along the way

Ajai wildlife reserve is 385 km (7-hour drive) north west of Kampala capital city and 110 km (2-hour drive) north of Murchison falls national park. When traveling to Ajai, you can visit Murchison falls national park for game drives, boat cruise, and waterfalls. Those using the Kampala-Karuma-Gulu highway will find accommodation in Pakwach. The district is 64 km south of Ajai and 24 km away from Paara, the UWA headquarters of Murchison falls.

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