Beautiful scenery, weird and abundant localized wildlife, and great fun on the Kazinga Channel headlined our day in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
QENP wraps itself around the Ugandan side of Lake George, and all of Lake Edward, and includes the famous Kazinga Channel which connects the two. Because of the on-again, off-again disturbances in Uganda’s north near the larger Murchison Falls National Park, it has become the most visited non-gorilla national park in Uganda.
When I first visited it with my wife during the Idi Amin years, we found one old and dying buffalo. There wasn’t a single other animal to be found. They had been hunted out by Amin’s soldiers.
Today the wildlife is coming back. On our early morning game drive and boat cruise in the afternoon on the channel, we saw about 25 elephant, tons of kob, lots of buffalo and hippo, and some waterbuck and warthog.
Along, of course, with many birds. The birdlife was not disturbed during the troubles Uganda has suffered and it remains now, as it was then and before, the richest avifauna area in Africa. The park has more than 650 species during the European winter when more than 100 migrants arrive.
Perched on a peninsula raised nearly 300 feet above the channel, Mweya Lodge where we stayed has become the poster lodge for Uganda. Comfortable, spacious, air-conditioned and totally modern, the staff is as good as most places in Kenya and Tanzania, something unusual for Uganda.
The view from our rooms was gorgeous: we looked northeast along the channel to Lake Edward and with binoculars could watch elephant and buffalo and hippo on the banks.
The early morning game drive would disappoint veteran travelers to Kenya or Tanzania, but it was great fun watching the “kob kourts” – the nickname for the circular territories that male kob create to lure in females for breeding.
Unlike most antelope, there’s no aggression between the males. They simply design their little areas often within 25m of each other, then sit in the middle of them, and wait. We would see groups of 4 or 5 females, like little teenage girls at a concert, flitting about the edges of a territory deciding whether to go in!
But the afternoon channel cruise was the highlight, as it always has been. The northeastern bank of the channel which faces The Congo is a geographically protected area, difficult for even the soldiers during Amin’s years to get to. It became something of a sanctuary that continues, today.
So its biomass is considerable, but unusual. Buffalo, elephant and hippo practically lay on one another, unperturbed. You’d never see that in a more natural situation.
While it was true as our boat guide pointed out that most of these were older individuals, not all of them were. We saw many very tiny hippo babies, and the tolerance that the different species shown one another was a sorry reminder of how horrible most of the wilderness was for Uganda’s wild creatures not too long ago.
And to extend theme even further, a fishing village which had been grandfathered into the park existed smack dab in the middle of the wildlife, towards the end of the channel. We watched boys swimming not 40m from buffalo and hippo.
The guide explained that there were confrontations between people and animals that had led to some notable deaths in the past, but nowhere near as I would normally expect. I imagine that the fishermen, like the animals, learned to live together peacefully as an alternative to the troubles on the other side of the channel.
So a very interesting and wildlife filled day! Tomorrow we’re off to more chimps and a more natural part of this large QENP.