Out and About: Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Formerly known as the Kazinga National Park, the Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of Uganda’s oldest national parks. It spans over 1,900 square kilometres of savanna grassland, riparian wetland and bush that is home to a wide variety of animals. From mammals to birdlife, the diverse array of flora and fauna will please any nature lover who visits the park.

It is located in Western Uganda, about 400Km outside Kampala, on a winding scenic route towards the peak of the Western Rift Valley spotted with various crater lakes and tea plantations.

Fun Fact: The Albertine Rift Valley (as the Rift Valley branch in Uganda is called), is actually longer than the Kenyan Rift Valley.

The park has several key attractions. There are tree climbing lions found in the Ishasa sector (only two kinds of lions are known to do this in the entire world), the beautiful Kazinga Channel that I have posted about here , Lake Katwe, one of the region’s oldest salt mines, the beautiful but foul smelling (due to sulphur deposits) Lake Nyamunuka, as well as other crater lakes and volcanic features present in the area. Another plus is its location at the back of the majestic Ruwenzori range and the presence of chimpanzees too.

The best time to visit the park is well, any time, as the park is open throughout the year. However, the roads may be impassable during the rainy season and this is Uganda, when it rains it pours in the wet seasons of April/May and September/ October. The dry seasons in Jan/Feb and June/August are said to be better to watch the wildlife though as the animals are more visible as they search for water.

You know you are nearing the park when you begin to spot the wildlife right off the highway.

Some of the wildlife you will spot in the park are buffaloes, Ugandan Kob, leopards, waterbucks, lion, elephants, Nile Monitor lizards, Nile crocodiles, warthogs, colobus monkeys, baboon giant forest hogs, serval cats. There are however no cheetahs, rhinos, zebras or giraffes.

These antelopes were a bit camera shy.

QENP, as the park is more commonly known, is a favorite for bird watchers too. There are over 600 bird species in this park that is a world registered Important Birding Area (IBA) and the bird variety found here is the biggest of any East African National Park! Amazing, right? If you visit during the wet season, you can be lucky to spot some migratory birds too.

The location of the park and adjacency of the area to the deep Congo forest, its diverse flora, water features among other factors attract various bird species. Some of the birds you are lucky to spot here include the African green broadbill, African Skimmer, pink backed pelican, flamingos (on the crater lakes), ring necked pigeon, red chested warbler, various sunbirds, lapwings, grey herons, marsh harriers, African jacana, cisticolas, crakes, African palm nut vulture, African Kestrel, various sandpiper, oxpecker, woodpecker, bee eater and kingfisher species, the list goes on and on. The bird life is amazing and diverse from one part of the park to another. Just carry your binoculars though spotting them is not that difficult.

We did not get to see the leopards, but spotted a lot of birds, elephants, hippos, buffaloes, antelopes and a couple of lions.

We stayed at Buffalo Springs Lodge within the park, they have a pavilion that looks out onto this watering hole favoured by warthogs, baboons, buffaloes and elephants.
The park has over 1000 buffalos, you will spot them in huge herds or grazing alone.
With an elephant population estimated to be about 3000, these gentle giants may be the biggest but not easiest animals to spot as they graze or head into the water.
The famous cactus climbing lions.
See how well hidden this fellow is?
We spotted these elephants while on the path in the lodge. Exciting!
The total hippo population in the park is said to be the largest in the East African region, at around 5000 hippos found in the various water bodies in the park. The Kazinga Channel is the main water body in the park and is host to many schools of hippos such as these ones in the picture.

There are people living within the park and around it. It is not uncommon to hear of attacks by crocodiles when someone is fetching water, bumping into hippos and even find young boys shooing away elephants coming to graze too close to their compounds. But the existence is generally peaceful.

QENP is a must visit when one is in Uganda, the diversity of both flora and fauna, the crater lakes, the Kazinga Channel and other geographical features will excite any curious visitor. There are various hotel within and around the park that favour different budgets, and of course do not forget your sunscreen, hat, binoculars, and spirit of adventure when you set out to experience the “Medley of Wonders” that is the Kazinga National Park.

Out and About: The Kazinga Channel.

The Kazinga Channel, located in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda is a must visit when here.

It is a vast channel of water, just over 30 km wide, that is a joining of two lakes, Lake Edward and Lake George. The channel is quite big and is said to have one of the highest concentration of hippos and Nile crocodiles in the world.

A school of hippos just basking and splashing.

There are many boat tours that have knowledgeable guides who will take you on the channel for an hours (2-3 hours) long boat ride that will have you come as close to the hippos and Nile crocodiles than you ever thought possible. The boats are safe and sturdy, and life jackets are a must. So you can be assured you are in safe hands. The guides are from the surrounding community, and are well versed in the animals’ behaviour.

I posted this on Twitter and someone said the calf has shifty eyes. LOL.

There is plenty of wildlife to be spotted when on the channel. From numerous schools of hippos, Nile crocodiles basking lazily in the sun, vervet monkeys, Cape buffaloes, Nile Monitor lizards, and a wide range of birdlife. So it is advisable to carry out binoculars too. We spotted many beautiful birds, from the African Fish Eagle, black crake with its bright red feet, grey herons, Egyptian geese, hammerkop, pied and malachite kingfishers to the colourful Madagascar bee eater, among many others. If you are lucky you may spot some elephants on the edge headed for a drink.

Some nest tunnels on the river banks.
Spot the colourful birds?
Beautiful pied kingfisher birds.

The boat cruise has to be booked in advance and the surrounding hotels and tours to the area include the boat ride as one of the activities to be done. You cannot afford to pass this up when you are at the Queen Elizabeth National Park. The kids were so excited to see the animals up close and time passes fast you will not realise an hour or two are up when on the water.

It’s a hippo affair.

We had a wonderful guide Martin, who answered all our questions, gave us interesting facts about the area and the wildlife, and was patient enough to let us take as many photos as we could. You can carry some water or snacks to munch on the ride, as well as a hat and sunglasses and sunscreen of course. The boats are shaded though so the hot glare of the sun will not get to you.

Do you think he is mooning us?
In water all day is quite the life, isn’t it?
Can you spot the croc?
Do you see it now?
These ones had a no nonsense look so we kept our distance.
More mooning.

I was so amazed at how close we got to the animals, especially the hippos and crocodiles, but the guide assured us of our safety and maintained on the importance of staying calm and not making loud noises. The hippos seem used to the human presence, as there are many fishermen in the water in the mornings and there is a thriving fish market on the beach at the same time. Safety however is paramount and we have to remember to be respectful of the animals as we are the ones in their natural habitat.

Here are some fun facts we got to learn from our guide:-

  1. The word “hippo” is greek for “river horse”, perhaps due to how graceful they are when moving in the water.
  2. A group go hippos is called ‘ a school’ and is comprised of 15- 30 members headed by a dominant male. This is the wild, and younger males are perceived as threats by the head, so they leave or hide among the rest.
  3. Hippos are very territorial, and their “yawning”, grunts and snorts are to warn you off.
  4. When evading attack in water, dive/ swim deeper, hippos can’t swim, go deep in the water or hold their breath for too long underwater.

It was fun spotting various birds and animals that were hidden in the marshes. We spotted monitor lizards high above the trees, probably trying to catch some sun rays, female hippos with their calves away from the rest of the school to keep their little males safe from the dominant male hippo that can kill them at an instant. Lone Cape buffaloes that had been driven out of their herds and doomed to live alone, referred to by the locals as “the losers”, pied kingfisher birds swooping down on the water to get some fish, baby crocodiles chilling on the banks as a majestic African fish eagle looks on and numerous “holes” in the high banks that serve as nest tunnels for the kingfisher birds. It was fascinating to experience all this up close.

This elephant was grazing quietly just off the roadside to the channel.

If you are ever in Uganda, be sure to visit the Queen Elizabeth national park and book a boat tour of the Kazinga channel, the experience is worth it.