There are four national parks in Uganda that offer the opportunity for wildlife drives: Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Kidepo Valley and Lake Mburo. With more mammal and bird species than any park in Uganda, Queen Elizabeth offers the greatest variety; however, Murchison Falls offers the larger mammals in greater concentration and also giraffes, which aren’t found at Queen Elizabeth. At both parks you’re very likely to elephants, buffaloes, hippos, bushbucks and kobs; and, although it’s not so easy to spot predators, with a bit of luck you’ll also see lions and leopards.
Wildlife drives at Lake Mburo are very popular because it’s the only place in the south with zebras and eland. These beauties can also be found in seldom-visited Kidepo Valley, which offers the chance to see cheetahs, ostriches, kudus, bat-eared foxes and many other animals found in no other part of Uganda. Game drives are available in Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve too, although most people come here for chimpanzees.
Regardless of where you drive and what you’re seeking, taking a UWA ranger-guide will almost guarantee more and better encounters. It must be stated again that Uganda doesn’t have the mammalian bounty of Kenya and Tanzania, but, it also doesn’t have the masses. In Uganda, two trucks watching the same scene is a crowd.
Advantages to driving include covering more ground and getting closer to the animals, but nothing beats stalking animals on foot, and you can do this in the company of an armed ranger-guide in all parks mentioned above except Murchison Falls. Of course, bird-watching and gorilla and chimp tracking take place on foot too.
Gorilla tracking is one of the major draws for travellers in Uganda. These gentle giants live in two national parks: Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla.
Chimpanzee tracking is a very popular activity in Uganda and there are several places where it’s possible. The main ones are Kyambura Gorge in Queen Elizabeth National Park; Kibale Forest National Park; and Budongo Forest Reserve, part of Murchison Falls National Park. Another good option is the little-known Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve. It has a thinner forest and so often offers the best viewing, and, because there’s plenty of savannah around, the little guys are a little more likely to be seen walking upright. Although the troop at the private Kigaju Forest has yet to be habituated, it’s found quite often; and this is by far the cheapest place to seek out chimps. The half-habituated troop in the Kalinzu Forest Reserve near Queen Elizabeth National Park is only found about half the time.
As with tracking the gorillas, you get to spend one hour with humans’ closest living relatives; although they move much further and faster, so the chance of actually finding them is a little less certain. Still, the likelihood is quite high (80% to 90%); and unlike the gorillas who sometimes just laze around doing next to nothing, chimpanzees put on a show, swinging through the trees, fighting, mating and generally whooping it up. All this makes the day-long encounters that are also available at Kibale and Budongo very appealing.
Though golden monkeys lack the cache of chimpanzees, tracking this very rare primate in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is also rewarding.
Uganda is one of the world’s best bird-watching destinations, a twitcher’s fantasy offering 1041 species; that’s almost half the total found in all of Africa. Even non–bird-watchers will be enthralled by the diversity of beauty among Uganda’s birdlife.
The country’s unique geographical position, where eastern, western, northern and southern ranges merge, allows visitors to view the 24 Albertine rift endemics (such as African green broadbill and handsome francolin) in Semuliki National Park on the same trip as dry-season eastern specials (karamoja apalis and red-billed oxpecker) in Kidepo Valley National Park.
The country’s top guides are members of the Uganda Bird Guides Club (www.ugandabirdguides.org). Bird Uganda (www.birduganda.com) has detailed site reports for all national parks and many other hot-spots.