Today we left Hoima for Murchison Falls National Park. We travelled for 3 hours on a bumpy dirt road to reach Masindi – one of the larger towns in the northwestern section of Uganda. Along the way there were sugar cane fields which stretched for miles and miles. These belong to a company called Kinyasa which processes the cane for local use and also for export. There were also a LOT of ankole cows which have very long horns – a few feet long or so.
From Masindi we travelled on a nicely paved road to the park. Murchison Falls National Park is the largest national park in Uganda, reaching almost 4000 square kilometers. As we entered the park, we saw quite a few animals including the gray headed kingfisher which has a bright blue tail and is very beautiful. We also saw a few baboons and I am fairly sure that I saw a large chameleon, but no one else saw it before it ran back into the forest. One other cool bird we saw is the weaver bird which is bright yellow with a black face. The male birds construct ball-shaped nests which hang down from the trees like Christmas balls. If the male does not do a good job, the females will reject him and he will have to rebuild the nest.
Part of the way into our drive, we were attacked by tsetse flies which flew into our van from all sides. Some tsetse flies carry African sleeping sickness which killed off the native populations which lived near the park in the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1920s, the government created a small forest reserve in what is now the southern part of the park and in the 1930s they did the same in the north. These two areas were connected in the 1950s, creating Murchison Falls National Park.
We checked into the Red Chilli Camp, had lunch, then left for a game drive. To get to the area where the majority of the animals are, we had to take a ferry across the Victoria Nile. The Victoria Nile starts about 80km west of Kampala and flows northwest through Murchison Falls National Park where it creates Lake Albert. From Lake Albert, the Albert Nile flows out and north to Sudan and eventually through Egypt and The Nile.
Once we reached the other side, we hopped back into the van and headed around the park. Along our drive, we saw SO many different animals, it was incredible. There are 5 different types of antelope in the Park – okapi, kobs, hartebeasts, bush buck and water buck – and we saw MANY of all of them.
Warthogs were unexpected favorite animals. The way they trot along with their tails straight up waving like flags in the breeze and their Mohawks flapping around is really cute. It made me laugh every time that I saw them. We also saw several giraffes, many different bird species (storks, guinea fowl, egrets) black and white colobus monkeys and buffalo.
The coolest part, though, may have been when we drove through the thickets and saw a female lion. She posed for a few photographs before a young male lion followed behind. Our guides told us it was very rare to see male lions, so that was definitely amazing.
The giraffe species that we saw in the park is called Rothschild’s giraffe and the interesting thing about them is that their spots get darker with age. They can actually live up to 35 years. We were very lucky to get very close to one of the older ones and observe him for a while. Giraffes are very majestic as they walk with their heads held high and they love to eat the leaves of the acacia tree. The acacia tree has very long, sharp thorns (3 – 4 inches long), but the giraffes are able to use their long tongues to pick the leaves.
We watched the sun set over the savannah as we rushed back for the last ferry back across the river. Upon reaching camp, we took refreshingly cold showers, ate dinner and headed to bed. We slept fairly well until we heard a loud munching sound outside of our window at 4am. It was completely dark outside (there are a few hours each night when they cut off the electricity at camp) so it was very difficult to make it out at first, but there was a HUGE hippopotamus right outside of our banda window! Apparently hippos spend most of their day in the water staying cool and at night they wander up to 10km, eating the whole time. This one had probably come from the Victoria Nile to our camp which might have been 2 – 3 km away, but all uphill which surprised me he would walk so far, but there he was! After the excitement, it took me a while to fall back asleep, but we had to rise early for a morning game drive.