Documenting Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch

When we arrived at the Ziwa sanctuary, we found that apparently some communications had gone lost. There was no record of us coming to the sanctuary or the lodge and no one at the gate knew of the arrangements we had made. Fortunately, after some calls the communications resurfaced. However, as there was no documentation of our arrival, there was no room booked. The lodge seemed very accommodating and they were able to still book us in last minute. 

We came to the lodge to photograph and videograph the new cottages they were building, the rhino trek on foot and the shoebill trek. Upon arriving however, we noticed that the cottages were not ready enough to use for a photo shoot. Too bad, because they are clearly becoming very beautiful. We decide to just go for the shoebills in the morning of the following day and the rhino trek in the afternoon of that day. 

We woke up early in the morning and waited for a ranger to pick us up from the room. As the lodge is not fenced, rhinos tend to wander into the area to graze and there was a huge male rhino just outside our cottage. We then proceeded with a guide and another couple on our way to the shoebills. The rain had clearly poured in the last few days, as there was a lot of water and mud. The guide was in the car ahead and fortunately he knew the way and at which side of the huge water puddles to drive. All we had to do was follow the car in front, unless we clearly saw a better way.

The water puddles became bigger and deeper and every time we got a little more worried. We still had to go back too. At one point, we encountered what looked like a complete lake. The road was completely covered for over 10 meters and there was no way of seeing how deep it was. Fortunately, the car in front was our guinea pig. We saw the water splash on the hood of his car, but he managed to go through. 

That meant it was our turn. We took the same way, water splashing over our hood and on our windshield. This was the scariest thing we have experienced with our car. As soon as we get through, we see steam coming from under the hood of the car. We quickly turn of the engine and open our hood. We will not go any further. 

Fortunately, we have arrived at our destination and the steam was just water under the hood evaporating due to the hot engine. Nothing too bad, we hope. 

We walked for a little bit and then we arrive at a (tarmac) road crossing the swamp. We could have literally driven here from the other side...

Anyway, shoebill storks (shoebills in short) are huge birds with a bill that looks like a traditional Dutch wooden shoe (klomp), hence the name shoebill (it's true, you can Google it). They live in swamps and feed by standing still for hours, waiting for a fish to come at the surface of the water and then they attack it. In this swamp, there is a bridge separating the swamp into two parts. For us a great way to see if we can find one from higher ground. After searching for a while, we spot a shoebill far away in the swamp. 

Although it is quite far, the guides say they can get us there, so off we go. Into the life jackets and into the boats. There are two boats, which is great for us. We can also get some footage of the other boat, looking at the beautiful surroundings. The captains are scooping water out of the boat as we get in and tell us, you will have to keep scooping as we go. We laugh it off. We are not expecting rain today.

The scooping is not to get rain water out of the boat. The boats are leaking and we are scooping to keep ourselves from sinking. As the captain is navigating us in the direction of the shoebill, we take turns in scooping the water and taking photos and videos. 

The captains were not lying. They got us to the shoebill and we quickly take some photos and videos. As we close in, it flies away. We see where it lands and try to approach it again. It flies off again and to avoid harassing it too much we turn back. We are happy we got to see the shoebill, but slightly disappointed that it was quite far and we didn't get the footage we hoped for. Our confirmation that it's still nature and you can't predict the sightings.

In the afternoon we go for a rhino walk. As we are here to shoot promotional footage for the lodge, we get a private guide. The staff and guides are really treating us as well as they can! We drive for a short while and arrive at the rhinos. Rhino sightings here are as certain as they can be. The rhinos are protected 24/7, as poaching is still a huge threat unfortunately. Ziwa is the only place in Uganda with rhinos, so of course they are super careful with them.

We arrive at the rhinos and get our camera out. It is a beuatiful mother rhino with a tiny baby calf. The calf is so young that she hasn't been named yet. Since we are with two Emma's (our guide is called Emmanuel), we name her Emma. We are with only two of us plus a ranger, so we can easily get relatively close, while the ranger takes care we don't get too close. Rhino Emma is very curious and approaches us a lot. We back up and get some shots as she tries to approach us again. The high grass makes it difficult to get good, clear shots, but the experience of having a baby rhino curiously trying to check us out is amazing. Ranger Emma is very good at keeping enough distance and making sure we back up in time. 

After some time, other groups notice we can get closer to the rhinos than they can. This is mainly because of two reasons: we are with just two, so the ranger has very little trouble in having us back away when the calf gets too close and we make very little noise, despite our excitement. Their noise was good for us, as it made the rhinos move away from them and towards us. The other, bigger and much louder groups (guess the country) try to join us. This is where the amazing experience ends, because they try to get too close and don't back away enough, due to which the decision is made to stand a lot further. Due to all the noise they make, the rhinos move the other direction. 

Our time was up anyway, so we go back to the lodge to continue the editing of the Zebra lodge footage and start editing the shoebill and rhino footage. Although we were unable to also shoot footage of the lodge, we had a great time during the tracking activities and at the lodge watching the warthogs and bushbuck come as close as 2 meters from the open restaurant where we were sitting. The staff had been treating us very well, and we had a good time here. We do find that some things need to change for us, though. For the last 1.5 week, we have been traveling, but we have mostly seen our laptop screens editing our footage and we haven't even had a lot of time to make our own videos for our website. So we decide we need to spend more time away from the laptops.

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