We arrived at Mweya Hostel yesterday evening. En route we passed the equator, so we are now in the Southern Hemisphere. We also saw a group of forest elephants and a hippo right along the road before arriving. At night there were many bats flying around eating up the insects. We also saw a few church mouse lizards which are apparently called this because they are often found in churches and are very patient waiting for long periods for a fly to pass which they gobble up for dinner. An elephant was also just outside the bushes near the camp.
Queen Elizabeth National Park was formed in 1952 under the name Kazinga National Park. It was renamed, however, in 1954 after Her Majesty visited the park.
This morning we woke up early for a game drive. We were greeted by a beautiful sunrise over the Kazinga Channel which connects Lakes Edward and George. The sunrise started as a dark purple and then changed to reddish, then to orange and finally yellow. There was a group of elephants right next to the road which was pretty incredible. In the trees there are also huge nests built where main branches stem off of the tree which are for the hammerco birds which have some crazy looking heads. They are also known as the “king of birds.”
We also saw another hippo, two rabbits and a spotted hyena. We crossed over into another part of the park where we saw a female lion. It was incredible just to sit and watch her for a bit. We were also the only vehicle for awhile, which was awesome. There were also a lot of loser buffalo sitting around.
We drove for a little before spotting 5 more female lions in a group laying in some tall grasses. I thought here were only 2, but the guide insisted there were 5 and he was right. Soon they started to move around and chase a few kob around. We think they were hunting as they were forming themselves into a circle (and we saw one more down the road a bit). The guide said that normally the lions form a large circle around their intended prey and send one of the young lions to chase it. The others come in from the other sides and aid the young lion. The lions were super close to us and we watched them for quite a while. Many other vehicles joined us while we observed the lions which was a bit annoying, but the guides said during the peak periods, there might be 40 or more vehicles all one right after another which would be WAY too many for me!
We also saw a few vultures and crested cranes – the national bird of Uganda – before heading to the fishing village.
There at least 11 villages which can be found within the national park. I am a bit torn on this strategy as these people do damage the environment and kill animals (the night before we arrived, they poisoned an elephant which the guides say was very friendly and would allow you to pose with her and feed her bananas), but I am not sure where they would go or what they would do if they were to be forced out. On the other hand, these folks are not native to this area, but are migrants who have formed temporary villages on many different lakes. Either way, they are there and they greatly benefit from the tourism industry. Not only do the hotels and restaurants (also inside the national park) buy most of the catch share of tilapia from the fishermen, they also receive 20% of the park’s revenues – though mostly in-kind through the construction of schools and health facilities.
Several of the fishermen had just returned from gathering their morning catch, it was interesting to watch as they arranged their nets for the next day’s journey. There is no limit to how many fish they can catch and good fishermen catch 200 – 300 each day. The guides say there is a minimum size (though I highly doubt this is enforced). This kind of bothers me, though they say that there are plenty of fish compared to the number of fishermen, but without some sort of restriction and enforcement, it is likely that the fish stocks could become depleted sometime in the near future as they have been in other neighboring countries.
Another thing that bothered me was how much the guide insisted that the people in the village were happy because they were making money, were able to drink as much local brew (made from bananas) and pay as many prostitutes as they wanted to, but the people didn’t seem very well off. Most of the kids seemed to have either a shirt or pants, but not both. The outhouse latrines were all clumped together which would be an area into which I would not even venture (plus they’re really close to the lake which probably means everything is being washed into the lake). Also everything just seemed dirty.
The folks in the fishing village also receive money from extracting salt from one of the nearby crater lakes. (There are around 59 crater lakes in this area.) This process is also not controlled in any way and to claim a plot in the lake, you just need to put up a “fence.”
We returned to camp for breakfast and were greeted by a warthog family. We then walked up to the information center where they have skulls of some of the animals including an elephant as well as a dead bird and pinned butterfly collection. Uganda has over 1,200 butterfly species which is nearly twice as many as there are in the US. I sat on the porch for a little and just watched and listened to the birds. In Queen Elizabeth National Park alone, over 600 bird species have been seen.
In the afternoon, we went on a boat ride in the Kazinga Channel. The Kazinga Channel is completely natural and is 40 km long and 8 m deep. Along the way we saw many elephants – some in the water – some mongoose, monitor lizards, crocodile, loser cape buffalo and a lot of birds. The birds included the Nile/Egyptian geese, African spoonbills, African skimmers, African fish eagles, vultures, pink storks, pelicans, scarlet ibises and I don’t remember what else! Many of these birds are migratory and come from as far away as Finland. The guides said that if we had come 1 month later, we would not have seen many of these birds since April is the last month they remain in Uganda. In the mornings, it was incredible to lie in bed and just listen to all of their different calls. It is like a symphony of birds. I wish I could effectively capture all of the sounds since words obviously cannot do it justice.
In the evening we went to a little eatery which overlooks the channel. We had a drink and just chatted as the sun set (though it was cloudy and sets on the opposite side from where we were). When it got dark, we could see a crazy lightning storm occurring on the opposite side of the channel. It was pretty incredible to watch – reminds me of the summer evenings sitting on the porch at home. Soon, though, the wind started to blow the storm to our side of the channel, so we ran to take cover from what we thought for sure to be rain, but ended up being a strong wind and lightning storm which blew over us quickly as well.