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Uganda with chimps and gorillas


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We just got back on July 11th from our 2011 Africa trip to Uganda. A little different from our other Africa trips because of all the primates: gorillas, chimpanzees, baboons and four species of monkeys. We had only seen the baboons and vervet monkeys before.


We went with another couple who had never been to Africa before and it was fun to see their reactions to everything. Like most people who visit Africa, they intend to go again.


We booked through Churchill Safaris after some research, including inquiries on Safaritalk. They were reasonably priced and actually took time to return our e-mails! No regrets about that choice. There are some overpriced Ugandan tour operators who offer about the same thing that we did with the same accomodations- I choose to pay LESS not more, thank you.


As usual, we took the least expensive air that didn't involve unreasonable layovers, which took up from Atlanta to Washinton DC, then Ethiopian Air to Addis Ababa, with the last leg from Ethiopia to Uganda's international airport at Entebbe. We arrived at Entebbe mid-day July 3d and our Churchill driver drove to nearby Kampala through a horrible traffic jam for which the Kampala area is well known.




They put us at the Sheraton in downtown Kampala until we left the next morning for the drive to western Uganda for our first stop at Kibale Forest NP.


After a long drive west on a mostly paved road we arrived at Fort Portal for lunch and then drove into Kibale for a chimp trek. We were told that the males were in an area of the park that was too far to reach on foot and that the fig trees were late in bloom and fruit (chimps love figs) so we would just have to look for some isolated animals. We walked for a long time seeing nothing but finally at the end of the day our guide was able to find a juvenile chimp high in a tree and a nearby mother and baby. Sorry for the poor quality of these pictures which were taken on full zoom with poor light and lots of foliage in the way (got some better gorilla pix).






A little bit disappointing we didn't see more chimps closer to the ground, but we might include Gombe Stream on our next trip.


Also saw Black and white colobus monkeys, Red-tailed monkeys and of course the common Vervet monkeys and baboons in the park near the road. Quite difficult for me to get decent pictures of the colubus as they were constantly jumping and moving.






That evening they put us up in a new lodge near Fort Portal called Kyaninga Lodge- really beautiful place with a great view.







Next day we were going south to Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Edited by USAnimalfan
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Welcome back. Hope the primates were abundant.

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The next morning we drove south and after the obligatory touristy photo at the Equator (I am under the "U"), we entered Queen Elizabeth National Park.




The common antelope in that park is the Ugandan Kob, also the one that dominates the future potential safari areas of the new nation of South Sudan. They are everywhere in QENP and have a breeding ground north of the paved road crossing the park, where we did a couple of drives.






No giraffe, zebra or ostrich in QENP but still quite an impressive place. Defassa waterbuck were also common and of course what is an African park without Cape buffalo!






This grass was higher and greener than what we are used to seeing on previous trips to Africa. We like the dry season for better wildlife viewing. Our driver/guide said that the grass was greener later than normal due to unseasonably late rains this year.


Lots of Crowned Cranes, even outside the park.




This was one of a group of hyenas that crossed in front of us near a large Kob herd. Look at how the Kob are alerted to the predators.





Edited by USAnimalfan
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The common antelope in that park is the Ugandan Kob, also the one that dominates the future potential safari areas of the new nation of South Sudan.


The most striking and abundant antelope in South Sudan - approximately 800000 of them are migrating in the Badingilo/Boma/Jonglei area - is the White Eared Kob, fairly different (also in appearance) from the Uganda Kob.


I think that there are Uganda Kob living in the southernmost reaches of South Sudan (possibly in Nimule?), but the White Eared Kob is by far the main natural attraction of this newly born country.


The Uganda Kob is a magnificent animal as well, as shown by your nice pictures.


Got that from page 45 of my Bradt Guide for Uganda, where it says the Uganda Kob is from Uganda and southern Sudan. So I guess there are 2 Kobs in South Sudan.

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Some QENP birds. The Marshalls Eagle was right next to the road letting me get a good close up.
















We spent the next two nights at the Katara Lodge located just east of the park boundary up a slope giving a terrific view down onto the park. We had a choice between that one and the one they call the "Sheraton in the Bush" being the luxurious Mweya Safari Lodge on the Mweya Penisula next to Lake Albert. We had already been to the Sheraton in Kampala so we picked Katara. Another wonderful place, invaded by colorful reptiles.






Edited by USAnimalfan
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Enjoying your trip report and photos very much, thank you. :)

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Great read and photo diary so far, looking forward to more!

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The next morning we saw our first lions in the Kob breeding area near Lake George. They were doing what most lions usually do in the daytime- nothing. They were pretty far off and this was on full zoom. The Kob were certainly aware of their presence.





That afternoon we drove west through the park to the Mweya Peninsula for a boat trip on the Kasinga Channel, the natural body of water that connects Lake George to the larger Lake Edward. The Mweya area has Giant Forest Hogs, but we didn't see any on the way there or back. We were kind of rolling our eyes and saying to ourselves "Why are we taking a silly boat ride?" Boy were we in for a surprise! One of the best wildlife areas on the trip was along the south shore of that channel including terrific water birds. Even saw a couple more lions up a slope, but too far away for a decent picture. If you go to Queen Elizabeth, don't miss this boat ride! I will let the photos do the talking. The small antelope is a Bushbuck, skittish and not always easy to see or photograph.
























































There were plenty of Vervet monkeys in the Mweya area and elsewhere in the park. On the way back we encountered this elephant who decided that the road was his and not ours. Our driver did the prudent thing, which was to back up a good distance on the road until the elephant turned off into the grass.









The next day we would explore the southern end of the park on our way to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park where the Mountain gorillas live.

Edited by USAnimalfan
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That's a big elephant, what a massive head he has! But backing off is surely not always a good idea, it's often an invite to the elephant to give chase!

Love your report.

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Game Warden

The photos are really conveying the sense of being on Safari. The urban safari in your first image looks like my idea of hell. Look forward to reading more. Matt

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That's a big elephant, what a massive head he has! But backing off is surely not always a good idea, it's often an invite to the elephant to give chase!

Love your report.


Not sure what you are supposed to do, but it worked this time. There were other elephants off in the bush and maybe there was an urge to get back with his group. On my first Africa trip to South Africa we had a big male pin his ears back and really charge our vehicle and we wheeled around and outran him. This elephant wasn't really charging but was very deliberately walking our way in the middle of the road.

Edited by USAnimalfan
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I’m enjoying your report lots of photos is always good, I’ll be interested to read the next part as I didn’t get to visit the south of QENP when I went to Uganda 14yrs ago. It is a great park and the boat trip on the Kazinga Channel is as you say not to be missed. It's also great to hear you saw quite a few lions.


On the subject of kob the white-eared kobs in Sudan are quite different in appearance they’re dark chocolate brown/black in colouration not dissimilar in fact to the buffalos in your Kazinga photos. However the Bradt guide is technically also correct in that they are regarded as being a race of the same species. In fact there are 3 subspecies of kob the Uganda Kob Kobus kob thomasi (Uganda N.E. DRC into South Sudan, formerly western Kenya), white-eared kob K. k. leucotis (Sudd region of South Sudan & the far West of Ethiopia) and the western kob K. k. kob. (Northern Central Africa west to Senegal) Some taxonomists consider the Puku Kobus vardoni of Southern Central Africa to be a fourth subspecies.

Edited by inyathi
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After our second night at Katara Lodge, we left the world of paved roads and proceeded south through the heart of the park to the southern portion of QENP at the Ishasha Plains. Here are topi, which are not found in northern Queen Elizabeth.






But the real attraction of this part of the park is the unusual behavior of the lions here which climb trees to sleep. The book had said that it is more common to see this behavior in the wet season (I know lions do not like being wet) so we were not convinced we would get to see lions in trees at all. But our guide knew which tracks to check out. Generally lions climb fig trees which are much more substantial to support their weight and lack the thorns of the more prevalent acacias. Over time there are now tracks around a lot of the most "likely" lion-friendly fig trees and our guide found one with two lions. We got a real kick out of this, having never seen lions in trees before. There was a young male and a mature female in this tree- last 2 pictures are of the female.




















We saw one more lion off the main road in a tree. I have always been amazed at what the guides and trackers can see with their naked eye while driving along bumpy unpaved roads, but this takes the cake. I had a hard time even seeing this animal in my binoculars and you can barely make out the lion in the middle of the tree with the camera on full zoom.






I really got a kick out of this sign posted in the Ishasha area of the park:





After exiting QENP we continued south gaining altitude on some pretty bad road to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park where we checked in at the Buhoma Lodge located just inside the northern boundary of the park. Here we saw our fourth monkey species on the lodge grounds, being a very striking L'Hoest's monkey. We were tired from the day's journey and I told myself that I would catch a monkey picture later, as I was told these monkeys commonly visited the lodge- stupid me. I wouldn't see one again before it was time to leave.


The last picture is of the view from our front porch. We would do our gorilla trek the next day.







Edited by USAnimalfan
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We were kind of rolling our eyes and saying to ourselves "Why are we taking a silly boat ride?" Boy were we in for a surprise!

I actually enjoy the odd riverbourne gameviewing experience, it adds a really different perspective to an area.

Really enjoying your report and pictures.

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Those Dang Erous Animals, always have to be on the lookout and beware of them. Great lions in the trees. I'm a kob fan. I only had one viewing of the L'Hoest's monkey too. Glad you enjoyed that "silly boat ride" and got some great shots. The cormorants are always out in force at the point.


Anyone wondering whether there is anything to see in QENP can just tune in to your report!

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We decided to do this trip before we got too old to do a gorilla hike but were undecided whether to do this in Uganda or Rwanda. Because of the altitude differences and shorter travel time, we decided against Rwanda, although I was told there are usually more open areas to see the gorillas in Rwanda. One advantage of Rwanda that we did not consider was that they try to put younger people on the longer hikes and older folks on the shorter ones. Uganda does not do that, as we were to soon find out the hard way.


From the Buhoma location where we were there are three habituated (used to people) gorilla families that are visited in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP (it's really not impenatrable at all, at least not where we went). We were to see the Habinyanja family, a family of 18 (or possibly 19, not sure- one was killed by poachers recently and there was a new baby). The books say that depending on how far the family wanders, the time can be from 30 minutes to ten hours, but that the average is a few hours. Well we definitely drew the short straw and ended up with by far the longest hike of anybody that day. I would say at least 8 hours in and out, and a lot of steep terrain going up a ridge and then back down the other side. And nobody in our group was younger than late 50's. Not sure I would have made it had it not been for the porters that we hired to carry our stuff. I prefer to call them "pushers", as they will push you in the small of your back up the steep slopes, which helps a lot. We were told to take 4 bottles of water apiece, and we had none left at the end. The 23 year old young man in front in the below picture was my "pusher" and I never saw him take a drink, get short of breath or perspire at all the whole time.


No doubt the toughest hike I have ever done and it's a safe bet that's a record I won't break in this lifetime. The guide estimated we walked 15 km after we returned, although he avoided direct answers to our "how much further" questions on our way into the forest.







But we "found" them. Actually they send in an advance team to locate the gorillas and then radio back the location, so there is vitually no chance of not seeing them. Pretty amazing to be that close to them and these habituated ones act like you aren't even there. They say to stay at least 7 meters away, but 2 females who were "play-fighting" got very close to us. So here are a few pictures:






















































Too many gorilla pictures? Like having too much money- no such thing!!


The last one is as good as I could get of the big silverback who stayed hidden a lot until he had had enough of us and moved his family out of the area. With the drive to our trailhead and back, it was dark when we got back to the lodge and so we didn't have time to do anything else in Bwindi. We joked with each other that it was a once in a lifetime experience because if you tried it again it would probably kill you. Quite an unforgettable day, although I would have preferred the Rwanda rules regarding shorter hikes for older folks. But close encounters with Mountain gorillas has to rank as my #1 Africa wildlife experience.


We would leave the next morning for our last park, Lake Mburo.

Edited by USAnimalfan
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You are so right about the value of the porters-pushers. But you made it with the photos to prove it. A tough hike makes the reward all the more satisfying.


As for those short hikes for the mature visitors in Rwanda--the first morning out on my last visit the "easy" gorilla group took off up the mountain unexpectedly and the hikers were gone all day. In contrast, a more challenging group to which I was assigned decided to venture down the mountain so we had an easy hike. The best laid plans are not always the same ones the gorillas follow. The big thing is you saw them, and nice views to boot.

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That is quite a hike,....but what a reward :)


Loving every bit of the report, and am sure watching the "tree-climbers" and the primates must have been a heck of an experience. Great pics, by the way!


Thanks for sharing!



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The next morning we drove east through some small towns and rutted mountain roads towards Lake Mburo NP. It always seemed like there were a lot more vendors at the roadside markets than customers. The local long horned Ankole cattle were common in this area.









But the national animal of Uganda has to be the goat- they are everywhere!






Anyhow after making slow progress through the mountains we finally intersected with the paved road that connects Kampala with the southwest corner if the country and the border crossing to Rwanda. We arrived in time for a drive at Lake Mburo NP before dinner. Here, on our last night, we stayed at probably the nicest accomodations of all, Mihingo Lodge.



The chalets were located on rock outcrops with a great view. Vervet monkeys are everywhere around the property, including this one taking a drink out of the pool.












The Bradt Guide says: "Lake Mburo is an underrated gem of a park" and that is certainly true. No lions here (or almost none) but there is really a lot of wildlife here, a denser population than we saw in QENP. Here impala take the place of Kob as the dominant antelope species, and zebra, absent from QENP, are common. Topi and warthog are also easy to see. There are eland in this park also, but we only saw one through binoculars at a watering hole and didn't get a picture.



















Edited by USAnimalfan
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There is a family of Thick-tailed bushbabies (or Greater Galago) living in a tree next to the main lodge and every night around 8 PM or so they come for a feeding and to entertain the guests. They only use natural foods for them and red lighting for these nocturnal animals. They have named all the members of the family, which included some attractive solid black ones. Sorry, but I haven't mastered night photography yet!





The next morning we had a short drive in the park including a visit to the lake before we drove back to the airport. No need for a lawn mower to keep the grass short here on the lakeshore. The warthogs did the job just fine.











Well that's about it for this report. I had a few more vertical gorilla pics that I could not get to post vertically using Photobucket.


For anybody considering doing this, I would recommend doing the gorillas towards the end of the trip, just in case you get the killer hike. The chimp hike was on flat ground and was much easier. Glad we did that one first. Also I think you adjust to Uganda's higher altitude by being there for several days.


We think our next trip will be to the Serengeti for the migration- we missed it in the Masai Mara. Maybe with Lake Manyara for a few more lions in trees and Gombe Stream for more chimps.

Edited by USAnimalfan
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  • 2 weeks later...

Here is a distant shot of the young male in south QENP taking a snooze in a fig tree. I meant to include it before. Why they do this (here and in a few other areas in Africa) is not certain.



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  • 2 years later...

Enjoyed your Uganda TR. We are going this Sep and really looking forward to it.

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I enjoyed this as well. @@johnkok not to hijack this thread but since it's old can you tell us your plans for Uganda? And why there instead of Rwanda?

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I enjoyed this as well. @@johnkok not to hijack this thread but since it's old can you tell us your plans for Uganda? And why there instead of Rwanda?



I suppose this is a bit of hijacking but I'll answer here anyway. (I might also post this into the Trip Planning section)


Firstly, Uganda instead of Rwanda - the main thing I had in mind (once gorillas and time frame was determined) was that I wanted to stay within one country. I mostly have limited time when on safari and I tend to ask to fly rather than drive. Also, having to go through particular border checkpoints for immigration formalities is a pain, and chews into safari time.


Then having put single-country as a "thing", it was a question of what else we wanted to do in the country on top of the gorilla-trek. We have no experience of Uganda nor Rwanda. But a general look around on the web seemed to point towards Uganda as having more "safari destinations" (rightly or wrongly) so we chose Uganda as our first foray into this part of Africa. Not the best informed nor scientific decision making to be sure :-)


Uganda plan:

There is a major new consideration for me for this safari - hard mountain trekking - so it is potentially not only 3 hours or more (one way) of continuous walking, but walking/scrambling at high altitudes. I recall my trek up to View Point from Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley (150 - 1,000m above sea level) in Borneo (Sabah in Malaysia). I do not have the altitude of View Point but boy was it hard for me, lugging only my 300mm. I would guess that View Point was not more than 500m, perhaps closer to 350m.


To put those altitudes in perspective (as much for me as for you):

Queen Elizabeth NP is 900 - 1,800m above sea level

Kyambura Game Reserve is next to Queen Elizabeth NP and is 1,100m asl

Bwindi is 1,160 - 2,600m asl

Kibale Forest National Park is 1,100 - 1,600m asl


Compared with some places I have been:

Serengeti NP 920 - 1,850m asl

Masai Mara 1,500 - 2,170m asl

Table Mountain 1,085m asl


Swiss Alps: St.Moritz 1,800m asl

Peru: Machu Picchu 2,430m , Cusco 3,400m asl


HK Victoria Peak is 554m asl (what a joke compared to the others)

Great Wall at Badaling, Beijing averages 1,000m asl

Malaysia: Genting Highlands 1,740m asl, Cameron Highlands 1,600m, Fraser's Hill 1,200m asl


And just to round it off:

Everest is 8,800m asl (nope - never been and unlikely to go)

Long-haul aircraft cruising altitude 10,000m asl - will be doing on Qatar Airways getting there and back, but all I have to do is be lazy


As for my specific bookings, I have used andBeyond (Wendy Bruens) as our safari travel agent even for non-andBeyond properties for years. We asked Wendy to put this together for us. So our 10 nights look like this:


Arrive at Entebbe Airport via Doha from HKG on Qatar Airways

1 Night at Serena Lake Victoria Hotel, Kampala

Flight from Entebbe Airport to Kasese Airstrip

2 Nights at Kyambura Game Lodge, Queen Elizabeth National Park (about 1,100m above sea level)

Road transfer from Kyambura Game Lodge to Bwindi

3 Nights at Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (1,160 - 2,600m asl) - for 2 separate gorilla treks (being a masochist)

Flight from Kihihi Airstrip to Kasese Airstrip

4 Nights Ndali Lodge, Kibale Forest National Park (1,100 - 1,600m asl)

Flight from Kasese Airstrip to Entebbe Airport

Leave Entebbe Airport, via Doha to HK on Qatar Airways


I'm hoping the 2 nights in Kyambura (QENP) helps with the acclimatisation before the hard work of trekking begins in earnest in Bwindi.


Preparations include the wife and I trying to get our old knees into some sort of shape before the end of September. Walking continuously for 3 hours is already a challenge, let alone scrambling up and down hill in a rainforest for 3 hours. Then add that altitude factor. I recall that time I rushed back to my tent (the nearest one from the Lodge) from the vehicle when I was in Masai Mara. Upon clambering back into the vehicle, I was panting. As I had forgotten that it was at altitude, I thought I was coming down with something. I also recall handling Machu Picchu at a gentle pace.


For the gorilla trekking, I asked andBeyond to give me something definitive for my safari as I had come across what I thought were conflicting do's and don'ts, and this is what they advised:

Tracking Gorillas:

• A small lightweight, frameless, waterproof back / day pack

• Light waterproof hiking boots

• Leather or heavy canvas (garden style) gloves

• Waterproof, squash-able hat

• Waterproof rain pants, a rain suit or poncho with hood

• Short sleeved shirt or t-shirt

• Long trousers should not be heavy, but should be the light weight trekking variety

• A water bottle or canteen – bottled water and a packed lunch will be provided

• Hiking sticks


A porter (or as someone else has said, a pusher/puller) each for my wife and I will definitely be hired to help us along. It seems they are from the surrounding villages and I assume the US$10-15 each should be welcome income.


I expect the chimps would also be interesting but I am also really looking forward to the different birds in that part of the world.



Edited by johnkok
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