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Botswanadreams
On 5/29/2018 at 10:38 PM, inyathi said:

Before leaving MFNP, I thought if I ever return I might be tempted to ignore the negative comments about Pakuba Lodge and stay there on the basis that sometimes location is everything.

 

The best place to stay in MFNP I would say is camping in the delta. You are 24 hours on the right place. Fresh fish can be organised and having a nice cock with what can be better. On our way out we were picked up in the morning by boot for the delta campsite. In the afternoon we continued by boot to the falls, did the walk to the top and camped one night at the top of the falls. For us this was perfect organised. You should think about.  

 

Thanks very much for all your information. Very interesting like every times. 

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Botswanadreams
16 hours ago, inyathi said:

Now it is generally considered safe to drive, the trouble is simply that it’s a very long way, from MFNP it is around 273 miles or 440 Km and takes I believe roughly 8 hrs nonstop, the Bradt guide says this drive is doable in a day

 

It is doable in one day. That's right. It was a full day drive for us from Kidepo to the Delta in MFNP including a short stop for shopping. We arrived at sunset. But we had dry roads. With rain it could be much more difficult.

Nice memories for me. Thanks.  

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Africalover

@inyathi Fantastic TR, as allways very informative. Did Uganda last year in mobile camping. Kidepo, MF, Pian Upe,Kibale and Bwindi. 

@Botswanadreams : You are right Delta camping is the best place to stay in MF. We did that and it was great, right in the middle of the action.

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inyathi

@Botswanadreams @Africalover Thanks,  that's great advice about camping in the Delta. 

 

Kidepo at least according to the Bradt Guide actually has 60 bird species out of 470 that are not found in any other Ugandan park, some national parks have what I would call a star bird, in Kibale it’s the green-breasted pitta, Kidepo shares its star bird with Zakouma it is the spectacular black-breasted barbet. This bird has a quite limited distribution, it is confined to Central Africa its range is essentially a broad crescent that extends from the Kidepo area in the east to somewhere in southern Chad just west of Zakouma. The majority of this distribution falls within what I would call hostile territory, in South Sudan, southern Darfur, Garamba NP in DRC and northern CAR, this really means that Kidepo NP and Zakouma NP are the only safe places that tourists can realistically go to try and see the bird. This is why so few birders have seen this barbet, even fewer will have seen it in both parks, I’d been very lucky and seen it well on my second visit to Zakouma with help from the park management, unless you’re very lucky, it’s not a bird you’re very likely to stumble across just because you’re in the right area. I hoped I’d get lucky again here, but to maximise are chances of seeing the bird in Kidepo we would need a bit of local help, again thanks to the internet we’d decided to hire an extremely nice UWA ranger called Bernard, well I think his real name is Lotuk Benard but he’s very happy to be called Bernard. The advantage of taking him on was that not only does he know where to find the birds, but it meant that we could if necessary get out and walk whenever we wanted. Bernard is a very keen birder, he said to us that he would far rather be out looking for birds than taking tourists to see some boring old sleeping lion.  

 

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Bernard

 

After the morning wake up call with coffee and biscuits we picked up Bernard and headed straight of on our game drive.

 

To stand the best chance of seeing the barbet you need to find some fruiting fig trees, we already knew that the best trees are in an area called the Katurum Kopjes.

 

I said earlier that Kidepo is one of the most beautiful parks, it does however have one major blot on the landscape, an eyesore that due to the park’s wide-open landscape you unfortunately can’t miss, Katurum Lodge. Amin commissioned the building of a lodge in Kidepo, a fantastic sight was chosen on the side of a large kopje at Katurum, however halfway through construction work ground to a halt. The building contractor hired for the job was Asian, so of course he was expelled from the country, along with all of the other Ugandan Asians. When worked stopped they had more or less finished the outside but hadn’t started work on the interiors, so the lodge was just a collection of empty buildings. Amin was then ousted by the Tanzanians and the lodge was just left abandoned until it was for a while converted into an army barracks. The Ugandan soldiers who were based there, fed themselves from the Narus Valley contributing to the loss of wildlife in the area. When they were moved out it was abandoned again, after a while the windows were all smashed and the roofs had come off. A few years ago, Katurum Lodge was given over to a local investor Cornelius Lorika Kodet, who owns various other hotels and has been trying to put right the damage and create a new lodge from the ruins. For a while UWA put a stop to the renovation work, because of some dispute between them and Mr Kodet, he had permission from both Museveni and the Ministry of Tourism to take over the lodge, but according to UWA had not followed due process. I don't entirely understand what the dispute was about, but they've obviously resolved it, we stopped on the road below the lodge a few times and could here plenty of hammering and voices, from the builders at work above us. Unfortunately, the buildings were in a good enough state of repair that they didn’t need to knock them down, otherwise they could have employed another architect to produce a different design, I almost wish the TPDF had come to Kidepo so that they could have shelled it, but that might not have done the surrounding kopje much good. They’d put glass back in most of the windows and got new roofs on, I just hope that when they have finished they will find a way to make it blend in better, because you can see it from just about everywhere in the main part of the Narus Valley.

 

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Looking for information about the lodge online I found the following.

 

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According to site engineers Ronald Igga and Tom Ssewankambo, the new Katurum Lodge will have 47 rooms with a health club, sauna, massage, steam bath, service rooms and an underground sound proof nightclub. Annexed to the lodge will be eight serviced apartments and 65 low budget rooms.

 

Fixing Kidepo’s lodging gaps

 

If that's true, that seems like an awful lot of rooms, I've no idea how they think they are going to fill them, even if they fill only half of them that's a lot of extra people in the park, and why anyone wants a nightclub even a soundproofed one in a national park I don't know, it seems Kidepo might not remain such a great wilderness for too much longer.  

 

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Common duiker

     

The Kopjes we were aiming for, were a bit further along from the lodge site and rather smaller, Denis parked us close to the base of the kopje. We then walked around the end of it, spotting a black-throated barbet, this species is really a Horn of Africa bird, so again it’s confined to this part of Uganda, but it can be seen in northeastern Tanzania, eastern Kenya and Ethiopia, not so difficult to get to. I walked up onto the rock it rose a little bit before sloping down towards some fig trees at the far end, I’d barely walked more than a few paces, when I said “there it is” there was a pair of them in one of the figs having seen if before, I knew instantly even before raising my bins that this was the barbet. I’d never imagined that we would find it this easily and that I would see it this well, my photos while not the best shots are slightly better than the ones I got in Zakouma because you can very clearly see the red stripe on the belly.

 

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Black-breasted barbets Katurum Kopjes

 

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I don’t know how many birders have seen the barbet in Kidepo and Zakouma but I was very pleased to join this very select club. If you are driving to Kidepo there may be some fig trees along the way as you get close to the park, where you might be able to find the black-breasted barbet.

 

We the continued driving looking for more birds and other wildlife, we managed to find some beautiful white-crested turacos a bird that Nicholas had attempted to call in with no success in MFNP. I’d been fortunate to see one on my first visit to MFNP but I’d not photographed it then and could not get a decent shot now.

 

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10 Lesser kestrels

 

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Martial eagle

 

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Narus Valley buffalo herd

 

We stopped mid way through the morning for coffee and biscuits below Katurum Lodge, it was approaching midday by the time we got back to Apoka for a late breakfast.

 

Keep clicking the following photo to see the largest size

 

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View of Narus Valley and buffalo herd from the lodge

 

Some waterbucks arrived for a drink

 

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Defassa waterbucks

 

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Edited by inyathi

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inyathi

Apoka like Paraa was carrying out some re-thatching work but unlike at Paraa Lodge they were only working on the empty rooms and weren’t disturbing their guests.

 

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Re-thatching Apoka Safari Lodge

 

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Common warthogs relaxing in a wallow at Apoka

 

During our late lunch things go seriously wet for a short while.

 

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There are umbrellas in the rooms and the main building for when it rains. 

 

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An undignified fate for an elephant 

 

For our afternoon drive we set off to a different area of the Narus Valley, where much of the grass had been burnt off.

 

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Northern grey-headed sparrow and striped kingfisher

 

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Kidepo is one of only two national parks in Uganda to have zebras, the other is Lake Mburo, the plains zebras in Lake Mburo are the familiar Grant’s or Boehm’s zebra (Equus quagga boehmi) found across much of East Africa, the zebras in Kidepo belong to a different subspecies Equus quagga borensis sometimes called the maneless zebra. They are very curious animals because some of them have manes and look like just like Grant’s zebras and some of them have no mane at all and look well very odd. I don't know what the explanation is for these zebras lacking manes. Knowing that there were zebras in the park I had been wondering why we hadn’t yet seen any, driving through this different area of the park produced our first sight of a herd.

 

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Maneless zebra

 

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Heuglin's wheatear

 

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Jackson's hartebeest are quite common in the Narus Valley

 

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Back at the lodge a few animals came to the waterhole during dinner.

 

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Female Bohor reedbuck

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Jakob

I especially appreciate your photos of barbets in this thorough TR. For me they have become my favourite bird family, and the black breasted one looks like a beauty. I just love the elusiveness, noice and colorfulness of them. On my March trip to Zakouma, the lack of Barbets was actually the only disappointment to me, at least they were not to be found for me. I tried to keep on the lookout for figs & barbets but did not find any to talk about, but at least I got a quick glimpse of one barbet.

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inyathi

@Jakob Sorry to hear that you missed the barbets in Zakouma, that’s just like my first visit, I really wanted to see both Viellot’s and black-breasted, but at the time I didn’t know where to look for the black-breasted, I don’t even remember seeing any fig trees. I heard Viellot’s that time while staying at Tinga, it’s call is pretty similar to the black-collared barbet which you hear a lot in southern Tanzania and further south, as soon as I heard the call I knew it had to be Viellot’s but I was never able to find it. That I saw both the next time was thanks to a large dose of luck.

 

If you want to see African barbets Uganda is certainly the place to go, I've just had a count up of the barbets and tinkerbirds that I saw and got to 16.:) 

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inyathi

The Kidepo Game Reserve as it once was, was created in 1958 just before independence, in order to create the reserve, the colonial authorities evicted the pastoralist Dodoth people and the Ik people who lived by hunting and farming, the Ik were forced to relocate to the slopes of Mt Morungole. In 1962 Milton Obote upgraded Kidepo from a game reserve to a national park.  The park has two very different halves, the Narus Valley in the west and the much drier more thickly bushed Kidepo Valley in the east. The eastern half is home to a variety of species not found in the west, including both greater and lesser kudu, mountain reedbuck and Guenther’s dikdik. Due to a combination of the fact that it’s much drier, past poaching and that there’s no road network viewing game in the Kidepo Valley is really not easy. There is just one road that goes over the Kidepo River to the Kanataruk Hot Springs (see map post 71) and on over the border into the Republic of South Sudan, the springs are right on the border. Just next to the springs, presumably to stop any South Sudanese from coming down the road and across the border, is a UPDF army camp, I would hope that the soldiers there don’t supplement their rations from the park as their predecessors used to.

 

We’d decided to drive out to the hot springs to find some of the drier country birds that live in the Kidepo Valley and anything else we might find, this is a full day trip, so we needed to take a packed breakfast and lunch.

 

The morning got off to a good start with our first and only lion in the park a nice male not far from the lodge, we may have only seen this one but we heard plenty of roaring during our nights at the lodge.

 

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Not the very best view of a lion and only brief, but with the bad news about lions, it's always good to see and hear lions just to know that they're still surviving

 

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Senegal Coucal 

 

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A curious white-faced African buffalo

 

The road out to the Kidepo River passes through ‘The Boma’ this is a 10km2  and 2.5 metre high fenced enclosure that was constructed in 2001 to provide a temporary home for various game species that UWA were intending to reintroduce starting with common eland.

 

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The Boma fence

 

During periods of lawlessness and chaos in Uganda poaching had been allowed to get out of hand, whether by local Ugandans living around the park, soldiers stationed in Kidepo or poachers coming over the border from South Sudan. The consequence of this besides the near extinction of giraffes mentioned before, was the complete loss of common eland, roan antelope, beisa oryx and Bright’s gazelle (northern Grant’s). The first of these species common eland fortunately occurs in one other national park Lake Mburo and there is a healthy population of them there. A herd of 11 elands was captured in Lake Mburo and transported up to the Narus Valley and released into The Boma. UWA in those days were not as competent as I hope they are now and stupidly they didn’t maintain the firebreak around The Boma, in 2005 a bushfire swept through this area of the Narus Valley, burning The Boma while the elands were still inside. Very fortunately common elands are famous for being prodigious jumpers, they can easily clear a 3-metre high fence, apparently all of panicked elands managed to leap to safety and gained their freedom, rather earlier than was intended. This was not a great start to UWA’s plans to restock Kidepo.

 

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Clearly any plans to introduce further species into The Boma have been put on hold for the moment, each of the gates is manned so that a ranger has to open them to let you through, one half of the gate on the Kidepo Valley side had been wrecked by an elephant and rather than repair it they were just running an electric wire across the road.

 

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What's left of the Boma gate

 

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Northern black flycatcher

 

This area of the park is a good place to find Jackson’s hornbill a species only found in this part of Uganda, in northwestern Kenya and the adjoining corners of South Sudan and Ethiopia.

 

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Jackson's hornbill male and female

 

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Brubru

 

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Common ostrich

 

Ostriches only occur in the drier side of the park this was the only one that we saw.

 

Unfortunately, the weather for the rest of the morning proved to be atrocious, it rained and was cold grey and wet pretty much all the way to Kanataruk.

 

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The Kidepo River

 

Beyond the Kidepo River, we stopped at a ranger post to eat our breakfast sheltering in the lee of a building, it was raining quite hard when we arrived not great in an open sided vehicle but it did eventually stop and we didn’t get too wet in our sheltered spot.   

 

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Just over the border from the hot springs in South Sudan is Jabal Lotuke a big mountain that dominates the view, at one point Amin wanted to move the border and claim Mount Lotuke for Uganda.

 

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View of Mt Lotuke in South Sudan

 

Having established that the hot springs are indeed hot, there wasn’t really anything to see besides the view of Mount Lotuke in South Sudan, the view looking east or south into the park is not spectacular as the mountains are very distant, but of course the bad weather didn’t help.

 

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Marsh at the Kanataruk Hot Springs 

 

The reason for coming all the way out here was too look for birds, the main bird people come here for is the Karamoja apalis, for us finding it wasn’t a major priority, there’s a small population in northern Tanzania and we’d seen it there in the Serengeti.

 

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Abyssinian roller

 

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Grey-headed social weaver

 

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Hartlaub's bustard

 

On the return journey the weather improved and it became very hot and sunny, at some point along the way we stopped to have our lunch.

 

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D'Arnaud's barbets

 

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The only game we saw outside of the main Narus Valley, was a herd of buffalo on the road and they didn’t hang around, the animals aren't as habituated away from the main Narus Valley, if you’re not a birder or your time in Kidepo is limited then it’s probably not worth doing this trip or not worth going beyond the Kidepo River. Whether if they put some more roads in, it would increase the chances of seeing game in the Kidepo Valley I don’t know.

 

While we had as I had expected encountered a few tsetse flies along the way for some reason perhaps to with the weather they weren't really biting and didn't bother us that much at all.

 

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White storks

 

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Returning to the Narus Valley 

 

According to all of the information about the park very occasionally a few white-eared kob turn up as vagrants from South Sudan, the major kob migration Africa’s second largest large mammal migration across eastern South Sudan into the Gambella region of Ethiopia takes place some distance north of Kidepo. I’ve seen it suggested that they were once found in the park, but are now extinct, before leaving the lodge on our final morning I bought a park map, in the information on the back it states that white-eared kob would be introduced to The Boma. This idea was clearly abandoned I’m not sure why perhaps because of the difficulty of capturing white-eared kob in South Sudan, vagrant kob do I assume turn up, the Mammals of Africa says that white-eared kob are still sporadic migrants to Kidepo but I don't know if these kob were ever resident in Kidepo, Martin told us back in MFNP that there were a few vagrant white-eared kob there in a remote part of the park, this seemed a little unlikely but I don’t know why he would have said it if it wasn’t the case.

 

By fortuitous coincidence just before leaving the UK the BBC Wildlife magazine had an article about kob in Kidepo. Apparently back in 2013 two Uganda kobs mysteriously turned up in the Narus Valley, they thought according to the article that they had come from some where in the South Sudan section of the Kidepo Valley, this seems slightly unlikely to me. If you zoom in on the IUCN red list distribution map for kob in South Sudan the distribution east of the Nile is marked leucotis (white-eared) and west of the Nile thomasi (Uganda). Further south in Uganda the Uganda kob is obviously found east of the Albert Nile as it occurs throughout MFNP and a bit further east, I might have though that it’s more likely they came from somewhere near MFNP except that it is a long way from Kidepo, and they would have had to go around the Nangeya Mts to reach the park. Wherever they came from they bred increasing to a herd of 10, UWA concluded that the kob obviously liked the habitat in the Narus Valley and as they have around 40,000 Uganda kob in MFNP, they decided that they should capture a whole batch from there and move them to Kidepo, they have brought in 112. There’s now a growing herd of them in Kidepo and they may move more.  The author of the article during his time in Kideop went and visited the Ik people on Mt Morungole and while he was there he showed one of the elders, photos of various animals from Kidepo and asked him to name them, when he came to a kob, his response was “Aha, we call that one dorok,” another elder said “I remember my grandfather’s stories about hunting those” so maybe there were kob in Kidepo in the recent past. One interesting point raised is that the kob having come from MFNP are used to being preyed on by lions, however, until these kob arrived in Kidepo none of Kidepo’s lions had ever seen a kob before. The lions in Kidepo almost specialise in hunting buffalos, since they are the most abundant prey, of course hunting buffaloes is dangerous, as the kob population increases the lions will start to hunt them more and more often and may in the process learn that they are much easier and safer to kill than buffaloes, this could then lead to the buffalo population growing even more to point where the park has too many, only time will tell. The arrival of the Uganda kob has added a little extra variety to the game in the Narus Valley, although, they came from a remote part of MFNP that few tourists get to, so they were not habituated before they arrived in Kidepo.

 

This online article about the move states that 150 kob were moved and curiously that there are 55,000 kob in MFNP, there’s quite a difference between 40,000 and 55,000 I’ve no idea which figure is correct.  

 

150 Uganda Kob find new Home in Kidepo Valley Park

 

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Uganda Kob

 

We got back to the lodge just before 16:00 and spent the rest of the day at the lodge.

 

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View from the swimming pool at Apoka Safari Lodge

 

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One of the old generals visiting my room

 

Unlike at Semliki Safari Lodge, where they just had one big table in the dining room at Apoka they had a big table and individual tables, small groups would each have their own table.  In order to make your stay at Apoka Safari Lodge that much more special, rather than always eat in the dining room they would sometimes set your table up somewhere else. Our personal waiter Ponsiano decided that this would be the night to put our table on the rock above the swimming pool, so that we could have our sundowner at the Lodge and then eat out under the stars.

 

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Sundown 

 

Not that there were a lot of stars but luckily it didn’t rain. One morning our breakfast table was set up in the pool house, on another occasion for lunch it was put under a tree in the “garden”, I joked at the end of our stay that the only place he hadn’t set up our table was at the top of the tower and then looked up to see that another group were being given breakfast up there, great for the guests I’m sure, but not so easy for the waiters having to take their food up to them.

 

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Sunset 

 

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Edited by inyathi

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inyathi

In the morning the plan was to birdwatch our way through the Narus Valley and then out of the park to bird the road following the park boundary, the mix of bush and cultivation makes this a good area for birding.

 

One of the main routes through the Narus Valley goes over a little stream where there were always various birds.

 

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Malachite kingfisher

 

Fortunately, I like snakes because on our way through the park we came across the biggest fattest puff adder I’ve ever seen disappearing into the grass beside the road, even Dennis and Bernard were impressed they’d not seen such a big one. The markings are quite different, but if I’d been somewhere else more forested, I might have thought based on it’s size that it was a Gaboon Viper.

 

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Puff adder

 

Unfortunately I didn’t have any luck photographing the birds and don't have any shots worth posting, but however we did see one of our targets the white-fronted black chat, and also saw another pygmy sunbird, brown-rumped buntings and white-crested turacos.

 

On the way back, besides a huge herd of buffaloes, we found plenty of elephants moving through the Narus Valley, we had in fact seen a few individual elephants already but it was great to see herds of them in this beautiful setting.

 

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African buffaloes

 

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Savanna elephants in the Narus Valley

 

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Elephants and Jackson's hartebeest

 

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Savanna elephant and African buffaloes 

 

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Elephants, buffaloes and a common warthog

 

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Nile monitor

 

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Hamerkop

 

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We arrived back at the lodge around 10:45 had breakfast then relaxed had lunch and went back out again at around 15:20.

 

While having lunch in the garden a female waterbuck and her calf wander past.

 

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Defassa waterbuck calf

 

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Good advice I always follow on safari

 

Heading out towards a natural waterhole, I was very pleased to see a distinctive large grey beast, knowing the story of the eland reintroduction I’d been very keen to see one, and wasn’t sure we would. 

 

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A rare sight 2 common elands (the second one is under the tree on the left)

 

There are in fact now thought to be around 50, capturing and moving large animals huge distances is obviously not cheap but again as with the giraffes I hope they will bring more in even if it’s just a new bull, to add genetic diversity. Great to know that the eland survived and are doing well.

 

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"Can you take us to Apoka" warthog taxi , common warthog and piapiacs

 

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Bohor reedbucks

 

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White stork

 

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Common eland

 

We then went up and out of the park again passing a dead buffalo covered in vultures and a herd of kob.

 

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Rueppell's vultures

 

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Uganda kob

 

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Woodchat shrike

 

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Narus Valley

 

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At a certain point on this drive we hit tsetse flies, I have experienced bad tsetses a few times, notably in Kafue NP in Zambia, in the Miombo woodland in the more remote parts of Katavi and Ruaha NPs in Tanzania and what I had thought were my worst ever on the Salamat River on my first Zakouma safari. Well that had been what I’d thought before this drive, the flies here were practically worse than all of those other occasions combined, there were so many tsetses buzzing around, it was almost like having a swarm of bees inside the car. I lost count of how many I swatted but killing them made no discernible dent in their numbers, there was no way that we could have stopped here if we’d wanted to, we just kept driving in the hope we’d get clear of them. When we went through the ranger post out to the gate, I don’t think the young female UWA ranger who let us out was very happy to be left with a few tsetse flies. Once we’d moved on the flies disappeared and we didn’t encounter serious flies again. I don't know why they were so terrible in this one location, prior to this drive I'd only noticed relatively few here in Kidepo, not many in MFNP and a few back in T-SWR.   

 

We drove around the edge of the park again for a bit looking for more birds 

 

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Kopjes outside Kidepo National Park

 

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Fox kestrel

 

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And then re-entered Kidepo through the Lokumoit Gate

 

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This gate is also known as the Katurum Gate the road takes you past the Katurum Kopjes and the turn-off to the awful lodge. The views as you go back down into the Narus Valley are spectacular, there were lots of elephants there.

 

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Elephants

 

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Denis found a beautiful place for us to stop for a sundowner, between some little kopjes, there wasn’t much of a sunset but we didn’t mind.

 

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Sundowner spot Narus Valley

 

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Sundowners

 

Edited by inyathi

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inyathi

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Sunrise in the Narus Valley

 

Sunrise on our last full day was rather better than some of the sunsets we’d had, we’d decided as it was our last day that rather than chase around after more birds we would just see what we could see in the Narus Valley. We told Denis this and that if it turned out to be lions instead of birds we’d be very happy with that. We had a very pleasant morning driving around spotting the usual buffaloes and common birds but no lions. One bird to look out for in Kidepo is the rose-ringed parakeet another species that the park shares with Zakouma. Found right across the Sahel region it is the only parakeet in Africa and is the same species found in the Indian Subcontinent and as an introduced species in the southeast of England. The last time I’d seen these parakeets was in London when I was on my way to the Royal Geographic Society to attend a lecture on Zakouma. Prior to that I’d seen them in Zakouma and previously in Asia. It’s a nice bird to see in Africa just because it’s the only parakeet and Kidepo is really the only place in East Africa where you can see it. While we certainly saw a few, often in a big old kigelia tree where we’d stop to have coffee actually seeing them never mind photographing them was very difficult, spotting a bright green bird in amongst green foliage is always tricky.

 

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One tusked elephant

 

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Common duiker

 

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Kigelia/sausage trees

 

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White-throated bee-eater

 

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Distant view of Apoka Safari Lodge

 

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African buffaloes

 

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Hamerkop

 

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Nile monitor

 

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Lesser swamp warbler

 

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Apoka Safari Lodge

 

When we got back to the lodge around 10:30 we were almost completely surrounded by thunderstorms, rain was falling all around the Narus Valley, it seemed that perhaps the rains had come early to Kidepo this year.

 

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Striped skink at Apoka Safari Lodge

 

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Rainbow skink at Apoka Safari Lodge

 

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Rain in the Narus Valley

 

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Maneless plains zebra 

 

This solitary zebra had a very nasty injury to its left hind fetlock, perhaps they can survive worse injuries than this, but I rather hoped that the local lions might find the poor beast. 

 

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There was no sunset to be seen at the end of our afternoon drive.

 

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At Apoka Safari Lodge going down from the dining room towards the swimming pool, they have a purpose built brai area for barbecuing and I guess because we and some of the other guests were leaving, they’d decided tonight was to be brai night. I certainly enjoy a good brai, but when I saw that they had put tables up around the end of the swimming pool, with lots of little paper bags with candles in them to light the edge of the pool, I thought oh dear, I really don’t think you've chosen the right night for us to eat out. Next to where the guys were cooking the meat, they’d laid out various side dishes of salad and rice and bread etc, the first rain drops started to fall as we were collecting our food and by the time we’d returned to our table and sat down, it was starting to rain quite hard, luckily our table had been placed directly in front of the pool house, so we only had to lift everything up a couple of steps to get undercover. Some of the other guests who were sat under the poolside parasols had to make a dash for the dining room. I felt very sorry for the staff, they’d clearly gone to a lot of trouble to prepare this special dinner, only for the rain to ruin everything, but I do wonder knowing what the weather had been like during the day, whether it might have been wiser just to try and brai the meat, and forget the idea of eating out and leave the tables in the dining room, but it's the thought that counts.  

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Alexander33

I’m so thoroughly enjoying this report. I’ve long been curious about Kidepo National Park, and your account is very insightful. Too bad about that Katurum Lodge — it looks and sounds quite ghastly. 

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inyathi

@Alexander33 Thanks, I hope when the renovation work on Katurum Lodge has finished that it might not look quite so bad, but you'll still be able to see so much of the Narus Valley, really though I think the number of rooms it will have worries me, that's going to be a lot of tourists at the moment you don't see many other people at all. 

 

On our final morning in Kidepo we would just go on quite a short game drive, so that we could return for an earlier breakfast as we were scheduled to fly out at 13:00. The weather again was really not great it was cold and grey but thankfully not raining.

 

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We drove through one of Kidepo’s huge buffalo herds which was great fun, probably because there were so many of them, some of the cows were quite feisty and decided to have a go at charging us. They didn’t seriously mean business so it was quiet amusing.

 

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African buffalo with sausage fruit

 

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After coffee and biscuits near the buffalo herd it was back to the lodge

 

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Green-backed camaroptera at Apoka Safari Lodge

 

The Narus Valley in Kidepo is stunningly beautiful and the park is undeniably worth visiting, almost every direction you look is an incredible panoramic view, usually with an enormous herd of buffaloes in it. It has to be said though you can drive around for quite a while without really seeing that much else, if you’re not a birder you might find after a few days you’ve run out of things to see. I don’t know to what extent the zebra population is lower than it should be, but I expected that there would be more of them, in the information about The Boma on the park map that I bought, it mentions zebras as one of the animals to be put in The Boma, this suggests that maybe the population is lower than it should be. I don’t know how bad a problem poaching is in Kidepo at the moment, a major problem has always been the wars over the border in South Sudan, troops from either side of the various conflicts would cross over the border to poach animals for meat and kill elephants for ivory. In their book Battle for the Elephants Ian and Oria Douglas-Hamilton describe the time they spend in Kidepo with an ex-SAS friend getting the rangers sorted out to try and save the park. In 81-82 Ian D-H spent some time with the park rangers, they established an observation post on Morunyang Hill in the Narus Valley right on the border with what at that time was still just Sudan. At the time the Sudanese soldiers based over the border simply regarded Kidepo as a larder, as well as a source of ivory, from their position on the hill, they could clearly see the Sudanese military camp and watch though binoculars the soldiers being sent over the border. He says in the book

 

Quote

“The first section advanced by moonlight to within a mile of the Sudanese border camp and hid themselves in the hills. That night at about ten o’ clock they heard shots ring out and watched as a fire was lit on the plains beneath them well inside Uganda. At dawn they watched thirty labourers enter the park protected by a section of soldiers. Soon afterwards they began shooting first a giraffe, then a hartebeest”.

 

Further on he says

 

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“On the third day of operations the park was invaded by forty well-armed Sudanese soldiers. The observation post on Morunyang watched their every movement and I flew overhead to direct a patrol to place an ambush. As I circled overhead the soldiers opened up with their automatic weapons”.  

 

They were fighting a serious war against well-armed soldiers who were very experienced bush fighters, it’s remarkable really that Kidepo has any large wildlife left at all.

 

I presume that their own wildlife populations within South Sudan’s Kidepo Game Reserve have been depleted significantly in comparison. A major concern for UWA is that the elephants move freely across the border and they can’t protect them once they are South Sudan, a few years ago a project was started to recruit and train former SPLA soldiers to protect the elephants when they are in the Kidepo Game Reserve, whether this is still going on I’m not sure. The Park as mentioned is home to game species not found in other parks, like kudus but the greater is mainly found on the Morungole Massive, where you’re not likely to go, I’m not sure if anyone sees lesser kudus, I’m guessing not often because I can’t find any photos online taken in Kidepo. 

 

Undoubtedly, especially if they bring in more of them the kob population will increase significantly which would be good.

 

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Uganda Kob

 

If the numbers of other animals are lower than they should be, then UWA should be trying get the numbers up, however besides that they need to carry out further reintroductions and bring back the remaining missing species, in particular roan antelopes.     

 

In the 60s roan were common in the Apoka area of the Narus Valley and returning them should be a priority for UWA. It may be that the reason UWA has not done so is that obtaining these animals from within Uganda isn’t so easy, roan only occurred in one other park Lake Mburo, but unfortunately unlike the eland they’ve died out there as well, that just leaves one population in the Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve in the east of Uganda. According to the Bradt Guide there may only be 10 roan antelopes left in Pian Upe so it looks like the species may be headed for extinction in Uganda. This is obviously why they still haven’t reintroduced roan, UWA will therefore have to find some from elsewhere.

 

Akagera NP in Rwanda has roan antelope if there are enough there, perhaps they could get them from Rwanda, I mentioned earlier the idea of a wildlife exchange. I don’t suppose they really have enough of them at the moment but they could offer Rwanda some southern white rhinos in exchange for roan, these rhinos are not native to Rwanda but I don’t think introducing them to Akagera would do any harm and it would be good for tourism to the park. Or perhaps giant forest hogs which may be extinct in Rwanda and have certainly gone from Akagera, they’ve also gone from Lake Mburo, I don’t if UWA plan to return them there. The other option is to source roans from captivity, some time ago I read about a project reintroducing roan antelope to Swaziland, using roans obtained from Marwell Zoo near Winchester in the south of the UK. The zoo has a good-sized herd of these antelopes, I’ve not been there very recently, but I’ve seen them there in the past, while I was in Kidepo I thought this is where they should get them from, because I recalled reading that Marwell’s roan were descended from animals originally captured in Uganda.

 

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Roan antelope at Marwell Zoo in the UK

 

I’ve no idea if there’s any likelihood of this happening but what I would really like to see is Marwell get together with UWA to establish an in-situ captive breeding program for Roan somewhere in their natural habitat in Uganda. Given that Lake Mburo has only one surviving lion it would be an ideal place, they could just put them in a temporary boma to acclimatise them and then release them into the park. Alternatively take them to Kidepo and use The Boma there to breed roan or create a fenced sanctuary somewhere else to breed roans, if there really are only 10 or fewer left in Pian Upe perhaps it should be there and they should capture all of those animals and put them in an enclosure. Ideally if possible they should combine captive bred roan with some wild caught roan if not from Pian Upe then from Akagera or perhaps somewhere in Tanzania, if there’s anywhere that has enough to spare a few. I would think that they would just need to capture a couple of wild bulls to add some genetic diversity. I just hope that they can do something like this at some point and bring roan back to Kidepo, it would be fantastic to be driving around the Apoka area and see a herd of these beautiful antelopes.

 

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Roan Antelope at Marwell Zoo 

 

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Acquiring Bright’s gazelles might not be that easy there are probably still small numbers of gazelles in Uganda, Mammals of Africa states that in 1995 they were confined to the south of Karamoja and only 150 were counted. The gazelles in Kidepo were generally found in acacia bush to the east of the Narus Valley. If they reintroduce the species then unless they open up more of the Kidepo Valley tourists are really only going to have a chance of seeing them on the drive out to the hot springs. Whereas the roan antelope would be in the Narus Valley and therefore more easily seen once they’d built up a reasonable population.

 

Beisa oryx also occurred in the park, oryx are probably extinct in Uganda, the book Bovids of the World has split these oryx into different species, the oryx according to this taxonomy would not be Beisa, but Galla oryx, if they want oryx they’ll need to source the animals from the Samburu region of Kenya. The distribution map for Beisa oryx that I’ve looked at online shows a range that extends around the top of lake Turkana into South Sudan and down through northwestern Kenya west of the town of Lodwar some way down the border with Uganda. Assuming the map is accurate this means there should be oryx only a few miles west of Kidepo, so it would seem reasonable that they occurred in the park, but like the gazelles only in the east.   

 

Denis said that the gazelles were killed by the Karamajong for their hides which were used as floor coverings and perhaps traditional clothing, I’m guessing that the gazelles disappeared some years ago because when I asked Denis about gazelles, he referred to them as Thomson’s but he was clearly confused as this species has never occurred in Uganda. Kidepo is the only national park in Uganda that still has a population of cheetahs, they are sometimes seen in the Narus Valley, but only very rarely, there are only around 16 of them. I wondered in the absence of the gazelles just what these cats are preying on, I presume mainly oribis, reedbucks, and hares and maybe young hartebeest, they can take buffalo calves but only if they can get them away from the herd, I don’t imagine they’d try to take them in Kidepo with such huge herds. I would think that the arrival of the Uganda kob should be very good for the cheetahs, females and young kob would be within a cheetah’s preferred weight range for prey animals. It otherwise struck me that a major reason to return the gazelles to Kidepo would be to provide more cheetah food, where Grant’s are common they are a preferred prey species. There may also be an issue with cheetahs being poached for skins, the low numbers and scarcity of sightings could be due to both poaching and lack of suitable prey. If tourists could be almost certain of seeing cheetahs in the Narus Valley that would certainly add to the parks appeal. While I say that Kidepo is the only park with cheetahs that have been very occasional sightings in the north of MFNP.       

 

Wild dogs are considered extinct in Uganda, but apparently some dogs were seen in Kidepo in 2009, they must have wandered in from South Sudan and then likely went back there. There are supposed to be some populations of dogs still in South Sudan but not right on the border, if other vagrant dogs show up I suppose a growing population of kob might tempt them to stay around, but I suspect the chances of that happening are quite slim. However, they were once common on the plains below Mt Morunyang, interestingly while looking for other photos of Kidepo on Flickr I came across a scanned slide of wild dogs taken in 1967.

 

The following WCS biodiversity surveys of the park from 2009 recorded both kudu species but no gazelles, oryx or roan.

 

Biodiversity Surveys of Kidepo Valley National Park

 

There is of course one other large mammal species that was lost from Kidepo as a consequence of poaching, the eastern black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli)

 

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Black rhino skull at Apoka Lodge

 

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The last black rhino in the Narus Valley and likely the whole of Uganda was killed in 1983, the article about the kob translocation, to my surprise suggested that the reintroduction of black rhinos to Kidepo from Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is being discussed. Keeping black rhinos alive in this very remote park on the border with war torn South Sudan, will be a seriously challenge, what surprised me about this idea though is not the security issue, but the fact that Ziwa doesn’t actually have any black rhinos. Yet I have seen this idea mentioned elsewhere as well. At present to my knowledge there are only 2 black rhinos in Uganda and they are in captivity at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe, these 2 animals are hardly going to repopulate Uganda’s national parks, they’ll need a lot more from somewhere. Black rhinos are more solitary than white rhinos they don’t generally live in herds, so keeping black rhinos requires far more habitat than would be needed for the same number of white rhinos. The general rule of thumb for a black rhino reintroduction, is that you should start with a founder population of 20 animals and have enough habitat for a minimum of 40, Ziwa simply isn’t big enough, the Rhino Fund Uganda had to abandon the idea of bringing black rhinos to Ziwa. I don’t know how feasible it would be, but the best answer would probably be to fence Lake Mburo NP and make it a rhino sanctuary and reintroduce black rhinos there. The Boma in Kidepo could only be a temporary home for rhinos if they do decide to reintroduce them, unless they fence off a huge area of the park to create a sanctuary, I’m not sure how they would keep rhinos safe in Kidepo. If they just put them in The Boma for a while and then let them out to roam freely in the park could UWA really protect them, I’m not sure. Apparently, the Rhino Fund had intended to source Eastern black rhinos (Diceros bicornis michaeli) from Kenya before they abandoned the idea of trying to breed them at Ziwa, I would assume that if they are serious about bringing black rhinos back to Uganda that they would approach Kenya to see if KWS can provide some rhinos. Otherwise they might be able to source some captive bred zoo rhinos, the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic has donated several eastern black rhinos to TANAPA for the rhino sanctuary in Mkomazi National Park in Tanzania, Port Lympne has also sent rhinos to Tanzania. The only other “wild rhinos” would be in northern Tanzania and now Akagera, Tanzania doesn't have enough to spare any and Rwanda certainly doesn’t as African Parks has only recently reintroduced them there. However, at some point they may have bulls that they need to ideally move onto a new home to prevent inbreeding. The rhinos in Rwanda came from a population of Eastern blacks on a ranch in Limpopo in South Africa, if there are still some of these rhinos left there, then they could get them from there. Wherever they come from it will cost a lot of money and keeping unfenced populations safe in either Kidepo or MFNP will be a real challenge.

 

Edited by inyathi

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inyathi

There was one other point I meant to add to the part about black rhinos and then forgot. The first warden of Kidepo perhaps not surprisingly as the park was created only just after independence, was a white Ugandan Ian Ross who ran the park very efficiently in similar way to some of his well-known contemporaries in Kenya and Tanzania. Inevitably his job was soon Africanised, his replacement was a man called Paul Ssali, knowing what a great job his predecessor had done, he was determined to out do him and proved himself to be an exceptional warden. This inevitably led to him being moved on and he was sent to MFNP it was almost impossible for anyone not to fall foul of Amin and he ended up having to flee the country. I found an interesting article about him from the New York Times way back in 1982 the author John Heminway travelled with him up to Kidepo, I wasn’t too surprised to read the following.   

 

Quote

''Of course, all the rhinos are butched,'' Ssali adds. In the past, Amin's army would routinely slaughter the rhinoceroses for food.

 

A WARRIOR FOR WILDLIFE

 

I now have visions of Ugandan soldiers sitting in their base in the awful Katarum Lodge looking out over the Narus Valley feasting on rhino meat from Uganda's last black rhinos.

 

After packing up and having breakfast, we perhaps needless to say given our experience leaving MFNP had a long wait for our Aerolink plane to arrive it eventually came in an hour late. This was a bit of a bore but the flight down to Entebbe is only 2hrs and we were staying the night there before catching our international flight, so it didn’t matter. I photographed some of the wall decorations in the reception building while we waited. 

 

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Narus Valley from the air

 

Kidepo as hoped proved to be a major highlight of the safari and the park did deliver two of the Sahel birds that I’d not found in Zakouma, the white-fronted black chat and Heuglin’s wheatear and I think several other lifers. If I hadn’t been to Zakouma and also birded in Ethiopia which isn’t very far from Kidepo I would likely have scored a lot more lifers, from amongst the birds found only in this corner of Uganda. If you are a keen birder it’s definitely worth considering a visit to Kidepo if you can find time to fit it in, if you've not been to Uganda before then perhaps seeing forest species in Bwindi, Kibale and Budongo might me more of a priority. We weren’t just there for the birds, we were there in part for the wilderness and Kidepo is certainly that, driving around the Narus Valley we did see other vehicles, but very few, you do get a real sense of having this big park almost all to yourselves.  Enjoying the stunning views knowing that some of the mountains you’re looking at are in South Sudan adds to the sense of being somewhere very remote. 

 

Apoka Safari Lodge is a great place to stay but there are alternatives, very recently I think, a new lodge called Kidepo Savannah Lodge was opened in the Narus Valley. This lodge is actually visible across the valley from Apoka but it’s not an eyesore like Katurum, it’s far enough away that if you didn’t know it was there you’d very easily overlook it. I guess it really looks no worse than Apoka does as you would obviously be able to see Apoka if you’re staying at Savannah Lodge. The rooms are basically tented and from their website it looks like it could be quite nice. There’s another lodge that has recently opened or is opening near the Lokomoit Gate called Kidepo Safari Lodge. Not far from there outside the park there’s Nga Moru Wilderness Camp, also outside the park is a place called Buffalo Base.

 

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 Kidepo Savannah Lodge

 

If you’re looking for a budget option then there’s always the UWA Bandas at Apoka

 

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or there are campsites.

 

If you are willing to drive to Kidepo then it needn’t cost a serious amount of money to visit the park. As I mentioned it takes around 8 hrs to drive from MFNP and when they’ve tarmacked the Gulu-Kitgum Highway you could probably knock at least an hour off that. All of the information I’ve found online suggest it takes 10 hrs from Kampala going via Karuma, Gulu and Kitgum or 12-13 if you take the eastern route around Lake Kyoga and up close to the Kenya border. If you were starting in Entebbe then it would take a certain amount of time to get through Kampala, whichever route you take it’s too far to sensibly attempt in a single day. Although if it’s tarmacked all the way I suppose it might be doable from Kampala if you’re going via Karuma. Really you need to break the journey and stay the night somewhere, taking the Karuma, Gulu-Kitgum route, you could stop at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary or near Karuma you could stay at Chobe Lodge in MFNP as it’s not far off your route, it’s also of course possible to stay in Gulu or Kitgum. Previously because of all the unrest and cattle rustling and banditry etc you couldn’t take the eastern route around Lake Kyoga and then up through Karamoja close to the Kenya border but now it is safe to drive by this route. This route is longer but apparently more interesting and you could visit the Pian Upe WR or perhaps Mt Elgon NP I don’t know how the Ugandan side of the mountain compares to the Kenyan side. To visit Mt Elgon, you have to camp or stay in the town of Mbale.

 

I think taking the eastern route up through Karamoja would be very interesting. If time hadn’t been a consideration then I might have been happy to drive to Kidepo, going from MFNP one option rather than just going north via Pakwach to Gulu, would be drive from Paraa right through the park to Chobe Lodge and then stay a night or two there. I would assume even if you’re staying on the south bank you could get across the river and then drive from Paraa to Chobe Lodge in time to have lunch there, you could then spend the afternoon in the area and stay the night at the Lodge. Then either leave first thing in the morning for Kidepo, or you could spend the morning exploring the Chobe area and then leave after lunch and stay the night in Gulu, or stay a second night at Chobe Lodge and spend the whole day in the area. It's not a good area for game driving, but I presume that there may be some birds that you’d have a better chance of seeing in the Chobe area of MFNP than around Paraa. There is one problem with driving to Kidepo and that is that you are limited as to how long you can stay in the park, because I believe that once you've got to Kidepo there's nowhere to buy fuel, that's as far as I know, I could be wrong.  

 

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Karenga at the foot of the Nangeya Mts. just outside Kidepo

 

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Nangeya Mountains near Kidepo National Park

 

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Northern Uganda from the air

 

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Lake Kyoga on the Victoria Nile 

 

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The Victoria Nile Lake Kyoga

 

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The Victoria Nile 

 

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The edge of Kampala

 

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Lake Victoria and Entebbe from the air

 

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Fields near Entebbe

 

Once back in Entebbe we stayed the night again at the Protea Hotel, we opted to just relax at the hotel but we could have gone out. We had no option but to stay a final night here, even if Aerolink managed to be on time for a change, I’m not sure if we would have been back in time for the Ethiopian flight or it would have been too close to want to take the risk. It did mean that we had a final morning in which we could have gone out, besides the Botanic Gardens mentioned back at the start of Part 2, we would have had time to take a boat trip out on Lake Victoria to go to the Mabamba Swamp to look for shoebills. Had we not had excellent views in T-SWR, we would have tried to see them in MFNP, had we failed to see them there or not seen them well enough then this final morning would have allowed us a third shot at shoebills. There was one other outing we were offered which I declined, but actually might have been quite fun and that was a behind the scenes visit to the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre. At UWEC formerly the Entebbe Zoo, they have the only pair of black rhinos in the country as well as some southern whites, and also chimps, giraffes and shoebills amongst other animals, which you can interact with and feed. Initially I was quite tempted because I was told they have some free-roaming De brazza’s monkeys, although I do sometimes visit zoos hence the roan antelope shots in the last post, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to a zoo at the end of my safari, I have occasionally visited zoos in the developing world that I wished I hadn’t. However, it is more of an education and wildlife rehabilitation centre than a conventional zoo and while I don’t really feel the need to pat a cheetah, I think being able to get up close to a shoebill and to feed the orphaned elephants and such like could be fun. Having watched a few videos on YouTube of UWEC it looks like it’s really not a bad place and it does only have Ugandan animals there are no exotic species, which it used to have when it was Entebbe Zoo. The reviews on TripAdvisor seem to be mostly very good, if you fancy an even closer chimp encounter than in the forest somewhere this might be worth doing, but I think it might perhaps be better at the beginning than at the end of a safari.  Having said that it maybe worth visiting, they offer various different experience at UWEC and the full behind the scenes option which I think is what was suggested to me, does cost $70 it's not exactly cheap.  

 

After watching some of the videos of UWEC and seeing that they have various antelopes including common eland, perhaps they should approach zoos overseas to see if they can obtain some roan antelopes and establish a breeding herd at UWEC. They apparently aspire to be a world class zoo and have had international help to improve their standards, they should have contacts in the international zoo community who could perhaps find them some roans. 

 

As we were not going anywhere until the afternoon to catch our Ethiopian Airways flight this time we could have a proper breakfast and enjoy the full delights of the Protea’s buffet. It was certainly an impressive spread, they even had marmite for their British guests not something I’d been offered until this point, and I suppose for their American guests or perhaps just Homer Simpson should he ever visit, glazed donuts. I guess donuts are not too different to sort of continental/Danish pastries you often get at buffet and that they also had on offer, what I did think was slightly curious was having the ingredients to make a bloody Mary cocktail, tomato juice for breakfast I can understand but with vodka? Apart from a bit of marmite on toast I stuck to the usual fresh fruit with yogurt and granola followed by eggs. 

 

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The Protea Hotel in Entebbe 

 

Having opted not to go out I decided to sit out in the garden and tried to photograph what I think was a Mariqua/Marico sunbird, the beautiful male wouldn’t sit still for a photo so I had to settle for the female and female sunbirds aren’t quite so easy to identify.

 

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Marico/mariqua sunbird female and morning glory flowers

 

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Morning glory 

 

After partaking of the buffet lunch, it was off to the airport, on safari I’m never in too much of a hurry to get back home, even less so on this occasion, when we got to the airport and learned that London was in total chaos, because the UK was in the grip of the so called ‘Beast from the East’ and much of the country was under deep snow (deep by UK standards). I suppose having had some pretty awful and at times quite chilly weather in Kidepo returning to the cold, wasn’t quite as bad as it might have been. Of course, we had to get out of Entebbe first, a storm came in when we were due to leave and we ended up sat on the plane for at least an hour, before we could take off and return to the chaos of Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, where we had a few hours to wait, knowing there was chaos at various European airports, I feared we might end up stuck in Addis for a while, but in fact we left on time and had no problems at all.

Edited by inyathi

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Botswanadreams

Many thanks @inyathi for your trip report with so many background information on Uganda history. It brought so many nice memories back to me. Kidepo was of course one of our highlights in 2014. As a non birder we enjoyed our time there very much. We took the eastern road from Sipi Falls via Moroto, Kaabong to Kidepo. Mount Moroto Hotel is an acceptable hotel for the stop over on this way. The landscape and the karamajon on this road are worth to travel this way. We only passed through Pian Upe. So not sure what you can see there. Maybe @Africalover can give us a few more information about Pian Upe from his recent visit.  

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offshorebirder

Thank you VERY much for this detailed and informative TR @inyathi.

 

You have changed my opinion on the desirability of visiting Uganda and have moved it up on the list of places to visit. 

 

 

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inyathi

Thanks @Botswanadreams I read a few articles in Ugandan papers from 2016 about a local campaign to have Pian Upe declared a national park, a few tourists go there and some of the locals were thinking that a lot more would come it was a national park, it would seem that nothing has come of this so far.

 

Thanks @offshorebirder If you’ve birded in Kenya a lot then Uganda is one of the obvious places to go next, particularly if you’re interested in forest birds, after Kenya, Uganda is one of Africa’s best birding countries it has over 1,000 species not that many fewer than Kenya. On my last visit in 97 I was really impressed by how good the bird guides are, back then Uganda wouldn’t have had nearly as many birders as go there now. I’ve no doubt there are some good local outfits in Kampala who could organise a great birding trip with some good guides who could show you a lot of birds, I’ve looked at few trip reports from some of the international birding companies some of them score over 550 species. Of course, besides shoebills and the green-breasted pitta, they go after the 25 Albertine Rift endemics along with a lot of other forest species going down to Bwindi and QENP which I didn’t do on this trip and some include Mgahinga NP in the Virungas which I’ve never been to. Because they’re driving they usually include Lake Mburo NP as it is the perfect stopover between Entebbe/Kampala and Bwindi and in recent years has become a very reliable site for African finfoot. While I didn’t go gorilla trekking on this trip, I have say that sitting with a group of mountain gorillas is one of the greatest wildlife encounters you can have anywhere. Any first-time trip to Uganda has to include Bwindi going to both Buhoma and Ruhiza for the birds and the gorillas. The shoebill is a definite must-see bird and Uganda is without doubt the easiest country to try and see it, allow enough time to do several boat trips and sightings are just about guaranteed.

 

I’ve just done a recount of my checklist and I think my total for birds is 340 and for mammals 41, while this was at times quite a serious birding trip, we certainly weren’t chasing numbers and turned down the chance to try and see a few birds that we’d seen before.  I’m sure if we’d really wanted to, we could have seen quite a few more species, but I’d always rather do a semi-serious birding trip and try and see a whole lot of other wildlife besides birds and just do a slightly more relaxed trip.

 

Given the impact that the country’s awful recent history had on it’s wildlife and national parks it’s remarkable how well the wildlife has recovered and UWA seems to generally to be doing a pretty good job, Uganda remains a great wildlife destination as a result. It’s now a lot easier to get around, the Chinese are tarmacking most of the roads and I don’t think there’s anywhere in the country that you really can’t safely go, and the choice of accommodation has improved markedly, I wanted to do a serious report on Uganda because apart from the gorillas and chimps and perhaps the shoebills, the country is seen as a bit of a poor relation to Kenya and Tanzania when it comes to safaris and I think that's rather unfair. Perhaps fortunately I always underestimate how much time and effort it takes to do a serious report,  but I think it's worth the effort, I generally think on balance that tourism is good for conservation and I'd certainly rather see more tourists than more oil drilling, within reason I hope that the country receives plenty more tourists to keep reminding them how important their national parks and wildlife are, and that they need to keep looking after them because the oil won't last forever.

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offshorebirder

Thanks very much @inyathi for this detailed TR from some lesser traveled areas.  I have yet to digest it fully, but have been taking notes and will take more.

 

Besides Shoebill and Green-breasted Pitta, African Broadbill is even higher on my want-to-see list.  I imagine lush forested areas like Bwindi and Budongo would be good for producing them?

 

And you put Kidepo Valley square on my bucket list!

 

And you did a good job talking up the Barbets.

 

 

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inyathi

@offshorebirder I've seen African broadbill a couple of times and you're right about Bwindi, one of the places I saw one was at Buhoma back in 97, if you are feeling fit and you go up to Ruhiza the highest part of Bwindi you can hike down to the Mubwindi swamp to look for the Grauer's or African green broadbill, I didn't do this when I went there, I believe it's quite a long downhill hike and pretty strenuous, but this is one of the birds that many of the serious birders go to Bwindi for, it has a very small distribution only occurring in the Bwindi area of Uganda and the eastern DRC from the western shore of Lake Kivu down to the top end of Lake Tanganyika, so Bwindi is the only place you can realistically go to see it. There plenty of other good birds to be seen up at Ruhiza that you don't have to hike for, that you might not find at Buhoma just because it's that much higher, and it's a good place to see L'Hoest's monkeys. Almost all the birding trip reports I've looked at were for July/August trips, this is clearly the prime time of year to see the green-breasted pitta in Kibale, in one of the reports I read while driving first thing in the morning to get to the starting point for their pitta walk, they saw an African golden cat cross the road in front of them, that's an exceptionally lucky sighting.

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Alexander33

Thanks so much for a detailed and fascinating report, @inyathi.  I really enjoyed it, and hope to have the opportunity to visit Uganda one day —a lot to like there. 

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dlo

Thanks for the report @inyathi entertaining and educational you have given me a few ideas to add to my trip. I totally agree about Uganda being an underrated destination there really is something for everyone and while you will have a better safari in Kenya and Tanzania you still have lots to see in Uganda with the added benefit of a very green beautiful mountainous country with more activities than anywhere outside of Namibia.

 

I really hope @offshorebirder you get to Uganda someday I'm sure you will love it. As for me only 223 days to go. 

 

Thanks again @inyathi it really was an enjoyable report.

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Kitsafari

@inyathi I've come to the TR late but it was a thoroughly enjoyable and very informative one that I took a few days to finish because of the incredible amount of details. you have a knack to get me interested in remote places that not many people would want to go. That royal mile looks so lovely for a birding stroll and you have painted a beautiful landscape of Kidepo. Very envious that you managed to see two shoebills and wild chimps. and what curious those maneless zebras are! now i've put a toe into birding waters, your TR could just lure me these parks...one day soon, I hope.thanks for all the hard work you've put into the research (fascinating history of Uganda). 

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xelas

From when I have joined Safaritalk, it has quickly became the most important, and usually the only source of informations when a new country is to be visited. Although next year trip to Uganda is already "in ink", and all prepared, reading @inyathi's TR gave me a much needed quick intro into the country and its recent (and no so recent) history.

 

Although our trip will not contain much of what you have done on this trip, it was a joy to read and to see what is waiting for us, specially as birding (or better bird photography) will be an important part of it. So thank you very much for all the effort that you have put in it, and all the photos and informations shared. No doubts that we will enjoy upcoming first visit to Uganda, and that we will want to come back for more.

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dlo
13 hours ago, xelas said:

From when I have joined Safaritalk, it has quickly became the most important, and usually the only source of informations when a new country is to be visited. Although next year trip to Uganda is already "in ink", and all prepared, reading @inyathi's TR gave me a much needed quick intro into the country and its recent (and no so recent) history.

 

Although our trip will not contain much of what you have done on this trip, it was a joy to read and to see what is waiting for us, specially as birding (or better bird photography) will be an important part of it. So thank you very much for all the effort that you have put in it, and all the photos and informations shared. No doubts that we will enjoy upcoming first visit to Uganda, and that we will want to come back for more.

 

I had no idea you were planning Uganda, that's awesome I really hope you enjoy it as much as I just did.

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Atravelynn

A tale of exploration from the 19th century,  Polish WWII History,  an explanation of Ugandan independence, the only recorded video of Josephy Kony, and a distribution map of the Bunyoro Rabbit.  What else would it be but an @inyathi trip report?

 

" Eventually we were told that it was unlikely that we would find the chimps that we had been looking for, so we would carry on looking for some different chimps.  I was almost beginning to wonder if I had been sold a bit of a con after all, my idea that I would get to spend a long time with the chimps and have plenty of photo opportunities hadn’t exactly panned out so far. Having said I was a bit confused I did know that the chimps that we had been looking for were only semi-habituated which is the point of the CHEX, so perhaps I should have anticipated that I might not actually see them, but I hadn’t."  My experience exactly and I had the same skepticism, and that was about 15 years ago when the program was just getting started.  Your CHEX chimp photo portfolio exceeds mine.  And so many other good monkey sightings and shots.

 

You may have the only shoebill kill of the forum.

 

You had to add a lot of lifers to your bird list.  Nice to know about the Royal Mile--and that Paraa is now newly thatched.

 

Like others have mentioned, I am fascinated by your alcohol pouch litter collage.  That took some doing, and all of those little packets are no longer littering the ground!

 

I am very interested in your Kidepo experience, up next.

Edited by Atravelynn

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xelas
5 hours ago, dlo said:

I had no idea you were planning Uganda, that's awesome I really hope you enjoy it as much as I just did.

 

Neither did I ... but there was an invitation that can not be refused ... :)

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