The morning game drive started off pretty exciting as 2 hyenas crossed our path. Hyenas are pretty shy and it can often be difficult to see them on the game drives. Although we saw a good number of animals, I feel like we saw fewer than the day before, though I expected to see more in the cooler morning temperatures. We saw fewer giraffes and elephants and no lions.
We did, however, go to a pond referred to as the “hippo pool” where there were – can you guess? – hippos, of course! Typically one dominant adult male lives with many adult females and the offspring (and perhaps a few submissive males). If a juvenile male wants to take over, he can fight with the dominant male. Many of the hippos have scars or even missing ears from biting each other during fights. If the dominant male were to lose, he would go to find another group and challenge the dominant male there.
In the hippo pool, there were some crazy fisherman who paddle across the lake from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to go fishing in the hippo pool. Apparently hippo dung provides a great food source for the fish, so in the hippo pool there are many, many fish. I call the fishermen crazy, because fishing near the hippos is actually quite dangerous. They can easily surface underneath a boat and flip it over. In doing so, the fishermen can be thrown into the lake and be either killed by the hippos or a crocodile or drown.
We also saw a lot of buffalo in the morning. Many were in large groups, but some were separated from the herd. Our guide explained that sometimes the males fight and the losers are evicted from the group. These losers form a small group sometimes (2 – 3 animals) for protection. Rarely they succeed in wooing females to join them and form a new herd, but most times they are just waiting to die.
I cannot even begin to describe the beauty of the park. Words definitely cannot do it justice – expansive, breath taking, awe-inspiring – are just a few that come to mind. It’s so much more than just the sights as well – the smells, the fresh, clean air, the sounds. Wow. That’s all I can say. The words and pictures do not even begin to do it justice.
The last part of our trip in the park was to go see the namesake of the park – the falls. In order to do so, we took a boat up river for almost 2 hours. On the way we saw many hippos and birds, a few crocodiles (including one huge one) and elephants.
Altogether, we probably saw 2 or 3 dozen elephants, adults and calves both male and female. The youngest one that we saw was probably about 2 years old. They had come to the river to drink water and spray it on themselves to keep cool in the midday heat. They were majestic to watch, but their actions are quite destructive. In the forests, they break many trees and bushes. Near the river’s edge, they carelessly stomp on crocodile eggs laid just offshore. In sucking up water, they destroy fish nurseries.
There are two main types of elephants – Asian and African. Within the African elephants, there are both forest and savannah elephants. The ones in Murchison Falls National Park are savannah elephants which are very wary and steer clear of humans. The forest elephants are much more dangerous and liable to charge at vehicles.
I should mention that Murchison Falls National Park is mostly savannah in the northern part and forested in the southern part with a transition area in between. In addition to the acacia, there are also sausage trees which are called thus because its fruits are shaped like sausages. The fruits are used medicinally to cure stomach ulcers and diabetes. The elephants eat them as well when they have stomachaches. There was one section of the park that was covered in palm trees – these were “planted” accidentally by elephants who eat the fruit of the tree and then defecate the seeds in other areas. I know that they showed us many more plants, but I cannot remember them all.
On the boat ride, we saw a snakebird which has a really long and slender neck which makes it appear to be a snake when it swims (yes, swims!) under water. We also saw a few fish eagles which look similar to the American bald eagle and are able to spot fish 1.5 – 2 meters deep in the water and for distances of over 2 km.
The view of the falls from the boat was impressive, but not enough for our adventuresome souls. Six of us got off of the boat to hike to the top of the falls – a distance of only 0.6 km, but a vertical ascent of 40+ meters. We were totally sweat-soaked when we reached the top, but it was totally worth it. The falls themselves are 45m high and only 6 meters wide, but over 300 cubic meters of water flow over them in the dry season. During the rainy season, it can be twice that volume and some of the water diverts to form another waterfall called Independence Falls. It has not been raining much here, so that part of the falls was dried up when we visited, but the power of the falls could definitely be felt while standing at the top. It was a bit mind-blowing to sit there and take it all in. Even as we were climbing across the rocks, you could feel them tremble a bit as the water rushed by.