National Parks of Uganda
Uganda had been really good to us: impressive waterfalls, rafting the beautiful Nile, leopard sightings in Murchison, and the most scenic driving to date. After a recommendation from fellow travellers in Murchison Falls, we headed to Kalinzu Forest Reserve, home to approximately 400 chimps, including 2 habituated families. Would we add another mammal to our species list?
We woke up early and eager. Off we went with our guide Franklin and four other visitors. We trekked through lush rainforest, looking and listening for signs of the chimps: nests in trees, fallen figs, or the prominent calls they make to one another. Nothing. We walked deeper into the forest. Franklin continued to check with the trackers. Still nothing. Franklin was looking a bit distressed at this point. In her year working on the reserve, she’d never taken guests into the forest and not found the chimps. Surely we wouldn’t be her first defeat.
Around noon, we decided to throw the towel in. Franklin said the chimpanzees were being stubborn. Our group was disappointed but of course, this was nature; if we wanted guarantees, we should have gone to the zoo! Franklin asked if we could come back tomorrow to try again. We decided to give the chimps a break and head into Queen Elizabeth National Park. We would be back in a couple of days to find the elusive primates.
We arrived at Ishaha National Park a few hours later. Top of our bucket list was finding the famous tree-lounging lions. We went on our afternoon game drive; nothing, not even spore indicating the predators were in the area.
We were back at it bright and early the following morning. 6 hyena, loads of game, but still no sign of the Ishaha lions. Feeling a bit defeated after two days of bad luck, we headed back to camp and loaded up on bacon and eggs. Nothing like pork to lift the spirits. As we were finishing our breakfast, a tour group came in and informed us that they’d found the lions outside the main gate, approximately 10 kilometers down the road. Things were looking up!
We got to the location of the lions and were so excited to find only one other onlooker. Yes, the lions were in the Acacia Tree, but unfortunately for us, they were about 200 meters off the road—just visible with binoculars. My thinking was that we were outside the main gate so surely we could drive off the road to get a closer glimpse of this incredible phenomenon. Neil, the other observer agreed. Chris on the other hand was not convinced. A: he did not want to risk getting the car stuck (the grass was completely overgrown—covering the top of the car, and we could not see any of the many ditches and B: he worried about receiving the 150 USD fine for off-tracking in the national park. But…lions in trees!!
I hung out the window while Chris drove snail paced through the overgrown fields. After about 15-20 minutes of careful driving, we made it there. We watched a lioness lazily hang over one branch while her fellow mates walked down the other branches to get a better look at us. We observed with big grins on our faces: what a sense of adventure. As not to push our luck, we decided to head back. Just as the grass was starting to clear, we saw a military truck with 8 armed soldiers and two park patrol filming our off road escapade. Whoops! Here came trouble! We unsuccessfully argued that we were out of the park, paid a small fine, and promised never to do it again!
With our bucket list ticked off in a big way, we decided to head back to Kalinzu Forest Reserve and try our hand with the chimpanzees once again. Once more, Franklin was our guide, taking us and a group of six others. Unlike our previous experience, we spotted the chimps within fifteen minutes. Franklin excitedly nudged me as she spotted two large chimps running down the trail. She told us to GO and follow them.
Follow them we did, through thick, thorn-covered forest, creating new paths, we found more of the family. We watched five adults and one baby swing from trees, feed on figs, and call to one another in the most fascinating tones. Our hour with the chimps flew by and just as we were finishing up so to were the chimps; breakfast was over, it was time for them to go on and explore more of the dense jungle. We got one grand finale as the chimps danced from tree to tree making their way to the floor of the forest.
Two incredible bush experiences within 24 hours, thank you Uganda!