Lions before Gorillas

Lions before Gorillas

Sunrise in Ishasha.
Lions, hyaena, topi, waterbuck, warthog, and of course lots of kob, filled our two days of game viewing in the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP).

This is the closest it came to rivaling game viewing in Kenya and Tanzania. This group – like the vast majority of travelers – come to Uganda for just a few days to see primates, not for big game. But we wanted a more complete experience, and wanted to see the big game wildernesses.

And Ishasha is the best. The terrain remains unusual, with more non-acacia, deciduous trees more akin to the great rain forests just nearby. There are many more Euphorbia candelabra, and the grasses aren’t as diverse, coarser and fast growing.

But in the little Ishasha area of the southern part of QENP, converging rivers and an active plateau that is sinking, plus the fact that it is adjacent the large Virunga National Park in The Congo, create the conditions for the best big game viewing in the country.

This was Doreen Yashen’s first safari. Everyone else had been multiple times, mostly to Kenya and Tanzania, and expectations were not high. But when we saw our first real herds of non-kob ungulates, topi, it was a real treat for Doreen.

We had seen large families of buffalo further north, but at quite a distance. Uganda is not managing tourism for big game well. All parks exclude off-road driving, which really isn’t necessary given the visitor loads, and has cut very few tracks through the parks, leaving massive distances that can’t be traversed in the park.

Main highways cut parks like QENP in two, with a traffic pattern that certainly discourages movement back and forth in the park. And on the smaller park roads routinely you see workers on bicycles or motorcycles.

These are not conditions conducive for increasing wild animal populations and habituating them to tourists.

But more tracks have been cut in Ishasha and it’s a much smaller place. So we got much closer to the buffalo families.

The highlight was the early morning game drive that started out only a few hundred meters from camp with a hyaena kill of a baby kob. We just saw that at a distance, but then we stayed with the hyaena as they began eating and tearing apart the prey.

And at the end of the morning we watched a mother lion with two cubs skulking about – but never actually hunting – a variety of animals that walked by them. We got our fix on their location by watching a male kob pronking and snorting at them.

And the icing on the cake for Doreen especially came the next morning when a pride of 8 lion including two magnificent black-maned males was found.

Colobus swing in the branches just across the river from our camp, and Great Blue Turaco seem to have held a convention right behind my own tent! I watched five of them at once.

With the improved (mostly Chinese) roads being built all over the country, Ishasha is now less than a half-day drive from Bwindi. This makes it an ideal safari extension to a primate only safari.