The world-renowned Queen Elizabeth National Park is a 2000-square kilometer wonderland where wildlife comes home. The vastness of the land accommodates a host of activities and ecological zones that allow for the most natural and remarkable interplay of wildlife. From Lions to Chimpanzees and Savannahs to rich rivers, Queen Elizabeth National Park literally has it all. It is rightly touted as Uganda’s most visited national park and puts most other national parks surrounding it in its shadow.
Extending to 4 districts within Uganda, the mainland of the national park includes the Kigezi and Kyambura Game reserves, the famous Kibale National Park as well as the Virunga National Park that extends into the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is a good reason why the national park is home to such myriad wildlife – Lake George marks its north-eastern edge while Lake Edward falls to the south-west edge of the national park. The Kazinga channel also connects both these lakes, making for a perennial and lush source of water that attracts and supports a variety of wildlife, truly depicting the beauty of Africa.
Gazetted as the Queen Elizabeth National Park after the Queen’s visit in 1954, it was previously comprised of isolated game reserves created around the two lakes – George and Edward. Using the 40-kilometer long natural Kazinga channel that connects both lakes, the area was made into a national park that consisted of the most diverse animal population within Uganda. The Queen Elizabeth National Park now houses over 90 species of mammals, the highest in Uganda. It also is home to 10 species of primates and over 600 species of birds. It also stands as the most diverse areas for bird watching in all of Uganda. It is home to some rare species of primates like the colobus monkey and the L’hoest’s monkey. It is also one of the very few places in the world where you can find tree-climbing lions! You can also find Chimpanzees in the Kyambura Gorge, while the Equator also crosses through the national park. Not only this, there are land and water safaris to offer to tourists at the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Clearly, a visit to Queen Elizabeth National Park is filled with myriad experiences and would equate to one of those unmatched moments in life.
The Queen Elizabeth National Park boasts some staggering figures when it comes to wildlife. This is largely due to the fact that the national park has savannahs and grasslands along with the hills, swamps and marshlands. There are natural river systems as well as forests that provide abundant ecological variety for animals to co-exist and thrive in. As for big game, it hosts them in abundance as well. The park is home to approximately 5000 hippos, around 10,000 of Cape Buffaloes and more than 3,000 elephants. Along with the big game, there are also Warthogs, Waterbuck, Uganda Kob, Topi and even the rare semi-aquatic Sitatunga Antelope. All these figures are not a matter of natural occurrence, but also an outcome of several efforts in conservation. One of the prime examples of the conservation efforts at Queen Elizabeth National Park is depicted in the number of elephants that roam the park. Their number has risen to more than 6 times as compared to the 1980s when the first conservation attempts were enacted. Watching their efforts pay off over time is one of the most satisfying moments for all the rangers and staff involved in making the national park an effective medium of conservation.
Ishasha Sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park
One of its more famous areas is the Ishasha area – the place where the famous tree-climbing lions are found. Lions are not known to be the best tree climbers, nor do they exhibit such behaviour regularly. However, there are patches within this national park where lions are known to laze and relax on trees, even using them as a vantage point for spotting prey. While the tree-climbing cats are usually Leopards, it is a peculiar act of nature that researchers have tried figuring out for a while now. They have tried several reasons to justify such behaviour including those of tsetse flies as well as an escape from the draft of hot air that hugs the African plains. Whatever it may be, you might find yourself in luck when you visit the Queen Elizabeth National Park and witness one of the most peculiar acts in nature.
The Kazinga Channel
Another fascinating area within the national park is the Kazinga channel area that provides quite a diverse setting for many animals. It is home to Nile crocodiles as well as one of the richest areas for hippopotamus. It supports the highest concentration of hippo within the Ugandan landmass, while also being the lifeline for several marshes and swamps along its length that thousands of species of birds call home. Not only is it home to the rare shoebill stork, a trip along the Kazinga channel will allow you to notice Martial Eagles, African spoonbills, Cormorants, African Skimmers, Pelicans and Papyrus Gonolek flying right along the surface of the water. Apart from the birds and the hippos, the waters are the lifeline for most land mammals that inhabit that area. Elephants and buffalo often come to cool off and grab a drink in the sweltering heat. Nile crocodiles are the happiest swimming in these waters that are frequented by large animals that could potentially be dinner. At $30 for the cruise, all in all, it certainly comes as a fascinating contrast to the usual grassland terrain that the African safaris are loaded with. It will also be one of the best settings to grab those picturesque images that typify your African experience.
Kyambura Gorge – Chimpanzee Tracking
If these varieties of animal are not enough, you can find scores of chimps at the Kyambura gorge on the eastern side of the Queen Elizabeth National Park. The Chimp tracking activities are quite popular in this area as well. However, the rolling slopes along the gorge are quite cumbersome to traverse while tracking these chimps. A better idea would be to walk along the relatively dense forest that runs along the foot of the gorge. Chimps might not be as abundant within this area of the national park but still frequent the forest enough to catch a glimpse of a few of them. Just a little north from the Gorge area is the Kibale reserve area that is world-famous for the Chimpanzee Habituation Experience or “Chex”. It allows visitors to spend large parts of the day with the chimps and observe them in their natural habitat. It makes for one of the most fascinating experiences as one develops a sense of the intelligent behavior that is specific to these creatures, along with other intellectual traits like socialization and emotionality. However, each of these requires permits of varying length and fees, so booking in advance is highly advisable.
Lake Katwe and Night Game Drives
As is elicited through this article, a visit to Queen Elizabeth National Park is filled with experiences that will last with you forever. It forms for one of the most diverse and varied safari experiences in Africa owing to the diversity of the terrain and land features that it boasts. Even a halt at Lake Katwe to watch the salt formation is surreal in many ways. If the exposure to the abundant wildlife was not enough, a visit to the Kikorongo women community near Lake Edward makes for a fantastic viewing of local culture and allows for appreciation of their lives. A few communities of fishermen also inhabit the shores of the Kazinga channel – you will spot them while on the boat cruise. Their simple way of life along with the finesse of fish-catching they display is truly remarkable. From centres made for viewing the traditional art and craft to the dances that they perform, these cultural encounters are truly enriching and inspiring. Therefore, make sure you spare enough time to visit the Queen Elizabeth National Park – it has a range of offerings that only a handful of national parks would be able to provide. Along with the usual game drives, certain locations within the national park also provide night-drives that come as a completely different experience. Lack of visibility adds an eery sense of suspense in the air as several animals are on the prowl for prey and much-needed meals.
It is better to keep moving around and experiencing different terrains – move from the lake areas to the gorge and grasslands, finally ending with the montane forests that are characteristic of the Kibale national park. When it comes to natural diversity and abundance of wildlife, there might not be a better place to watch all these natural factors converge than at the Queen Elizabeth National Park.