Uganda Travel Series Part 5
Discover Tree Lions, Elephants & More
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park on of the oldest parks in Uganda, boasts a profusion of birds, and 95 species of mammals, the most variety of any park in Uganda. We had heard only good things about this park, and we hoped that it lived up to our exceptions, but we are really there in the hopes of seeing the famous tree climbing lions in the Ishasha section of the park. However, first we would take a Boat trip on Kazinga channel before visiting the gaming tracks of Channel Drive Circuit and the Kasenyi Plains. The park is a popular destination for visitors around the world, because of its prolific variety of game for viewing, and boating safaris. Queen Elizabeth National Park is set against a backdrop of the Ruwenzori Mountains, although while we were there the haze made viewing too far in the distance difficult.
We will be staying at the very scenic Mweya Safari Lodge. The Lodge sits high on bluff overlooking the scenic point of Kazinga Channel (The Kizinga Channel marks the western border that starts the Democratic Republic of the Congo) between Lake Edward and Lake George, and we will continue to Ishasha after two days of game viewing, and cruising the Kazinga Channel.
Days 10-12 Queen Elizabeth Park
We arrived at Mweya Safari Lodge which is one of the more modern safari lodges of our trip. Similar to a resort in the United States, but with a few deluxe permanent tents on the outer perimeter of the property overlooking the channel. We were assigned one these individual tents. It was really lovely and comfortable. We had air condition which is exactly what we needed to combat the heat and humidity found in this park, and the view from the front porch with chairs overlooking the lakes and channel was stunning. We didn’t have much time to settle in before we are scooped up by our driver and deposited at the boat dock for our boat tour of the Kazinga Channel.
The lodges boat is big enough to walk around, and had two levels making it possible to get out of the harsh sun. There is a narrative guide on board who spoke English, and refreshments available for purchase. Shortly after pulling away from the dock, and crossing the channel we start seeing a large abundance of hippos, buffalo, elephants, impalas, and lots of water birds. Queen Elizabeth Park is known as one of the best birding parks in Africa. With over 600 species of birds documented, and has one of the largest concentrations of hippopotamus in the Kazinga Channel.
The boat tour was the highlight of this section of the national park. The photographic opportunities were endless, and the guides on the boat were eager to answer any questions we had about animals or fauna. Watching the interaction of elephants on this particular day, made me so happy, and my affection for this intelligent and emotional creature expanded tremendously.
There is a local fishing village at the end of the channel before the boat turns around and heads back to the dock. It is an interesting place to see high on the bluff. The locals come down to the water to bath, gather water, wash clothes, store boats, and conduct fishing business. It was strange to see the Elephants so close the village, and the locals seem to find it quite natural. We really enjoyed the relaxing boat tour, and would highly recommend it.
Mweya Safari Lodge
- The lodge was is very well run with a nice lobby, and big chairs where you can get a good WiFi signal when the power is on in the morning and at night.
- The pool and bar area are very nice to relax and enjoy the view.
- The restaurant put out one of the better buffets of our trip.
- This particular lodge has a full gym, and a very nice modern spa. We indulged in an excellent massage in an air-conditioned room before we turned in for the night.
- Game drives in Queen Elizabeth National Park can be split into two areas, the Channel Drive Circuit and the Kasenyi Plains.
- The management and staff are excellent, and went beyond the call of duty when we had a family emergency in the US.
Game Drives Queen Elizabeth National Park
We awoke the next morning, and due to a family emergency in the States we did not take an early game drive. There are many lions in this section of the park, but we unfortunately did not get to view any due to our late start.
The game drives are split into two areas, the Channel Drive Circuit and the Kasenyi Plains. We took them both.
The Kasenyi Plains offers rolling savannah plains, and grass lands. This area stretches out towards Lake George. The drive is scenic, and I remember seeing: Ugandan KOB, warthogs, bushbuck, waterbuck, and baboons. As I mentioned we did not see lions, but were told that there were lions in a big bush by a ranger sitting in his vehicle. We were not allowed to get near the bush, we waited, but it was hot, and the lions were not going anywhere. We moved on and headed back toward ehe Channel Drive Circuit.
The Channel Drive Circuit follows along the shores of the Northern Kazinga Channel, and there are lots of bumpy roads to explore. Some go down to the edge of the channel, while others are inland. We saw many herds of elephants standing around the candelabra or cactuslike euphorbia trees. There is little shade to be found inland for such large creatures, but a large grouping of candelabra trees seems to give them some relief. The elephants do not eat the succulent leaves, because they are filled with milky latex, and it is highly toxic. I guess that is why there is such a large abundance of them in the park.
Hidden in tangled thickets are a large variety of birds, and other wildlife. It took the keen eye of our guide and driver Ben to find many of them for us. He found for us the elusive giant forest hog, hidden in the thickets. I did not get a good picture, but after so many gaming drives, you start wishing for new animals to discover.I was happy to add it to my list of animal sightings. We also saw hippos, duikers, waterbuck, jackals, waterhogs, and many birds even on our late start. There is oddly no giraffe, or zebras in the park. You will also find no wildebeests or rhinos.
Heading To Ishasha
On this day we are headed to the remote southern Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth park, where we hoped to be lucky enough to see famous tree lions in the massive fig trees. However, as we are loading up the car our driver Ben says come see the Mweya Safari Lodge lawnmowers. Right out front on the hotel lawn are 5-6 warthogs down on their front legs munching away at the grass. They have no fear, and I ask if I can take a photograph. I get pretty damn close, it is pretty amazing to get to see them and examine them at such close range.
The Famous Ishasha Tree Lions
We did not stay long we needed to get going as we have 124kms or 77 miles over rough African roads. The trip to Ishasha is not that exciting, but we saw lots of baboons and monkeys, and a few locals along the way. Our driver stops as other vehicles pass and asks about the tree lions…no one has seen any in two weeks. We are not feeling great about traveling such a long distance for one night, and no tree lions in sight. Ben famous line was “We shall see.” We cross our fingers, and move off the main road, and on to the “circuit tracks”. There in the distance is a giant fig tree. Sure enough, Ben has found us some tree lions, and it puts a smile on all our faces. Up in one tree are 3 female and 1 male lion resting comfortably among the large branches. They are either sleeping or gazing outing out in the distance. They show no fear or real interest in the crazy tourists, driving around and around the tree taking photographs. With only one another vehicle at the tree watching the lions, it was a welcome change from our past game viewing experiences in the other parks.
Ben wanted to try another tree that he had seen lions in before, and we drive for 5-10 minutes to another place, where once again our luck continued. High up in the branches are 2 male lions. I got a kick out of one, as you could hear him snoring up in the tree. They change positions often, but don’t seem to move to far off their main branch once they get settled in. We drove back to the first tree to see the lions, and found out first hand than lions can and do fall out of those trees. I was so shocked I got a good laugh out of it later, but I was hoping that the young juvenile male was uninjured. He stayed hidden in the bushes after his fall…do lions feel embarrassment? Too Lazy to climb back up? Injured? …who knew, but we never saw him climb back up.
Ishasha Safari Lodge
The guide told us Ishasha is usually a very hot location, but on this leg of our journey we had some rain which cooled down the very beautiful and remote permanent tented camp. Sitting on the Ishash river, guests are warmly welcomed with large and spacious tents, a main lodge with a bar where meals were served, a riverside fire pit, and an all male staff eager to take care of their guests.
We have a tent very close to the main lodge. It was an easy walk to enjoy the big comfy chairs that provided a resting spot to read, relax or connect to WiFi. During the early evening a herd of elephants and a troop of baboons came down to the water to drink which was lively entertainment to see from our front porch of our tent. The sun went down, and dinner was served by lantern at individual tables according to the size of your group. There were only the 2 of us, and it felt very romantic sitting in the middle of nowhere, eating deliciously prepared dished, listening to the sound of elephants or buffalo down at the river. After dinner we had drinks with another group and exchanged stories, and photographs before the staff safely escorted us back to our tents.
After rising early, it was wonderful to see the morning sunrise on the river, but after a quick breakfast it was all over too soon. With the car loaded up and we headed out on our next adventure in Bwindi, and the inspiration for this entire trip….gorilla trekking.
Next Post…..Gorilla Trekking In Bwindi