Five alternative wildlife experiences in Uganda

06/01/2017 09:10

Written by Philip Briggs

Tracking mountain gorillas in the Virungas ranks among the absolute highlights of African travel, and it is the undisputed ‘must-see’ on any visit to Uganda. But the country’s location at the point where the eastern savannah meets the West African jungle means that it offers visitors the best of both these fantastic worlds – and the wildlife to match. In no other African destination can one see a comparable variety of primates with so little effort – not just the great apes, but also more than ten monkey species. And if Uganda will have primate enthusiasts wandering around with imbecilic grins, it will have birdwatchers doing cartwheels, with over 1,000 bird species recorded. So don’t be blinded by just the gorillas in the mist – there are countless exhilarating wildlife experiences to enjoy in this remarkable country.

Track golden monkeys in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Golden Monkey by Marie De Carne© Marie De Carnie, Wikimedia Commons

Although this national park is known for its mountain gorillas, the next best thing to track is the golden monkey, a little-known bamboo-associated primate listed as Endangered by the IUCN. Endemic to the Albertine Rift, the golden monkey is characterised by a bright orange-gold body, cheeks and tail, contrasting with its black limbs, crown and tail end. As a result of deforestation elsewhere in the region, the Virungas now harbour the only remaining viable breeding population of the golden monkey, which is the numerically dominant primate within this restricted range – indeed a 2003 survey estimated a population of 3,000–4,000 in MGNP alone. Excursions leave from Ntebeko at 08.30–09.00 daily and involve an easy 90-minute walk in either direction to the habituated troop’s home range.

Walk with rhinos at Ziwa

Ziwa Rhino by Bernard Dupot© Bernard Dupot, Wikimedia Commons

This is one of East Africa’s most exciting wildlife experiences. Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary’s main attraction is its population of 16 white rhinos, which can be tracked on foot by day, or overnight visitors in the company of an experienced ranger. The rhinos are very habituated as they are protected by armed rangers 24/7, so it is often possible to approach them to within 30m. Offering accommodation to suit all budgets, the sanctuary makes for a great overnight bush break out of Kampala, but it is also conveniently located for a day visit or overnight stop en route from the capital to Murchison Falls, Gulu or elsewhere in the north.

Go in search of shoebill on Lake Albert  

Shoebill Uganda Ariadne Van Zandbergen

Murchison Falls National Park might be home to some 550 species of bird, but the star attraction is undoubtedly the shoebill, an elusive and bizarre waterbird frequently seen in the delta where the Nile empties into Lake Albert. The 20km voyage downriver from Paraa to the Lake Albert Delta is favoured by birdwatchers as one of the best opportunities anywhee in Africa to see the rare bird, particularly during the rainy season. More often than not, those who take the boat trip are rewarded with multiple shoebill sightings, but nothing is guaranteed and occasionally they dip totally.

Make friends with chimps at Kalinzu

Chimpanzees Using Tools by Ariadne Van Zandbergen

The highly accessible Kalinzu Eco-Tourism Project, set alongside the Kasese–Ishaka Road 35km south of Katunguru, now ranks as Uganda’s most reliable chimpanzee-tracking option for budget-conscious travellers. It harbours an estimated 300–400 chimpanzees, including a 40-strong community habituated for tourist visits, and a slightly larger one reserved for researchers. Tracking now comes with a 95% success rate, making the site almost as reliable as Kibale Forest, and recent reports suggest the quality of sightings is usually very good.

Get up close to Ishasha’s tree-climbing lions

Tree climbing lions by Ariadne Van Zandbergen

As a rule, lions are strictly terrestrial. Indeed, Ishasha is one of a handful of places anywhere in Africa where these regal predators regularly take to the trees (the others being Lake Manyara National Park and parts of the Serengeti, both in Tanzania), and it is probably the most reliable site of the lot. Of the two circuits in the Ishasha Plains, the southern one is the more productive for lion sightings, since it passes through the main kob breeding grounds – the predators often stick close to their prey, and their presence is often revealed by the antelope’s alarm calls. This area is also better provided with the trees favoured by lions.

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