The spread of Covid-19 across the globe in the last 3 months has left the tourism industry heavily ravaged by its resulting consequences. Currently about 97% of the countries worldwide have been affected by the pandemic with cases of Covid-19 patients.
In the fear of masses falling sick and losing their lives, governments across the world responded by declaring lockdowns stopping people from moving from one place to another in order to control the spread of the virus.
The tourism industry is all about people traveling from one place to another to discover and enjoy new experiences and since people currently cannot even move freely in their home countries, international travels are now left in limbo.
International travels are on a hold and individual countries have gone on to declare travel bans to foreigners especially those coming from countries that have been severely hit by Coronavirus like the U.S, UK, China, Italy, Spain, France, among others. Unfortunately to the local tourism industry, these are the very countries where majority tourists were coming from.
Another move to control the spread of Covid-19 especially regarding to wildlife, all national parks and game reserves were temporarily closed to outside visitors to ensure that humans don’t spread the virus to animals.
The good news is that so far, no animal has been reported to have contracted Coronavirus thanks to the fast move to block human entry into the parks. This gives hope that at any point when free travel will be permitted, wildlife lovers will be able to find their favorite animal species safe waiting to see them.
The suspension if tour activities has led to dire consequences faced by majority of the beneficiaries of the tourism industry including operators of hotels and lodges, tour operators, tour guides, and those who were employed to work within the national parks. Currently majority of them are not doing anything meaning that they are not getting any income and this means living a difficult life.
Unlike in other sectors where people are hoping to resume their activities as soon as the lockdowns are lifted, those in the tourism industry cannot clearly tell when they will be able to work well again. The fear is based on assumptions that countries will be lifting their lockdowns at different intervals something that will continue to limit international travels. Secondly, it is not yet known when the government will allow foreign travelers including tourists to come into the country again even after when the pandemic has eased.
Measures to protect wildlife from Coronavirus
In addition to the restrictions put up by the government to control the spread of Covid-19 in Uganda, the Uganda Wildlife Authority also went ahead to close all wildlife protection centers to outside visitors including national parks and game reserves. Other measures include limiting the number of field staff that monitor endangered animals like mountain gorillas on the daily basis. The number of hours spent by such staff in the presence of animals is also restricted. The field staff is also tested for any symptoms of Covid-19 before they set of to meet the animals in addition to practicing other measures like washing hands, wearing gloves, face masks and social distancing.
How tourism in Uganda was faring before the Covid-19 lockdown
Prior to the outbreak of Coronavirus which eventually led to lockdowns across the world, Uganda’s tourism industry was flourishing well with popular tour activities like gorilla safaris leading the way. Gorilla trekking had become the most popular tour activity in Uganda attracting thousands of travelers from across the world to see the amazing endangered mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park where these great apes are found. Other popular safaris in Uganda include game drives in several savannah parks like Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls National Park, Kidepo Valley National Park, and Lake Mburo National Park. A variety of game species can be seen while on a game drive in these parks including lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, giraffe, zebra, antelopes, rhinoceros, warthogs, among others. Other activities including birding where you can see over 1000 bird species, primates tracking to see chimpanzees, monkeys, baboons, among others. Boat cruises, white-water rafting in the Nile, mountaineering, nature walks, cultural tours are among the other tour activities tourists have been enjoying in Uganda. Hopefully, this fun will soon return after we have together defeated the Covid-19 pandemic.
The New York Times Travel Magazine recently placed Uganda among its 52 best places to visit in 2020, mentioning that “Uganda is one of the world’s primate capitals, with 15 species (four of which are endangered”). The Times singled out gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and recommended it to travelers, mentioning that the park is a renowned mountain gorilla sanctuary protecting more than half of the world’s mountain gorillas.
The combination of her rich diversity of wildlife species, good weather, beautiful scenery, a generally gentle landscape and the friendly people is what prompted former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill to refer to Uganda as the Pearl of Africa. Indeed Uganda is a land full of eye-catching physical wonders always waiting to quench the thirst of anxious and adventure-loving travelers. What do you want to see in the wild, could it be the giant but gentle primates like mountain gorillas or the famous Africa’s “big five” in large savannah safari parks, or you want to test yourself by rafting in the longest river in the world, the Nile? With this and more, Uganda has got you covered.
What are some of the exciting activities to enjoy on a Uganda safari?
Gorilla safaris to see mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park both in the Southwest always top Uganda’s itineraries. Uganda’s tourism figures show that gorilla trekking is the most attractive tourist activity in the country attracting over 70% of the country’s visitors each year. Trekking the endangered mountain gorillas who share about 98% of the human DNA in their natural habitat has been described by travelers as the best wildlife experience in the world. Indeed the one hour spent in the presence of these gentle giants while watching them play, feed and interact is commonly known as “the magical hour”. Although gorilla trekking is available in Rwanda and DR Congo, Uganda still remains the most ideal destination for the activity because of its affordable gorilla permit, 100% chance of seeing the gorillas and security around the park. Rwanda is also stable in terms of security unlike DR Congo but the high price of the gorilla permit which is sold at $1,500 per person leaves trekking in Uganda far cheaper and affordable at $600 per person. Given that mountain gorillas are endangered animals, strict rules for their conservation limit the number of their visitors to 8 per group per day. This means that each group of mountain gorillas is visited once per day by a group of 8 trekkers in order to protect them and allow them to continue thriving in the wild. Uganda also offers gorilla habituation experience which allows travelers alongside rangers to take part in the process of making gorillas get used to the presence of humans. The gorilla habituation process lasts four hours a day unlike gorilla trekking which lasts an hour and a habituation permit is sold at $1,500 per person.
Game viewing/game drives
Uganda is one of the few countries in Africa that have the famous Africa’s “big five” which include lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. A Uganda game viewing allows you to see all of them in the country’s large and beautiful savannah parks like Murchison Falls National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park. In the latter you can see the famous tree-climbing lions alongside many other species including several species of antelopes, zebra, giraffe, warthogs, baboons, among others. Game viewing in Uganda also takes place in Lake Mburo National Park which also offers a unique experience of horse-back riding in addition to other safari activities in the park including boat cruise. Kidepo Valley National Park in the northeast is another destination for amazing game drive experience. The park has an unrivaled game viewing experience given a small number of visitors due to its remoteness hence allowing the lucky few who make it there to enjoy everything the park has to offer without any form of competition.
Like gorilla trekking, chimpanzee tracking is another primate safari in Uganda but this time with a visit to see our closet relatives the chimpanzee who also share about 98% of our DNA. Chimpanzee tracking in Uganda is more popular in Kibale Forest National Park , a place famously known as the Primates Capital of the world. The Park boasts with 13 types of primates within its boundaries with a huge number of chimpanzees, several monkey species, baboons, among others. In Kibale Forest National Park, chimps and other primates are seen in the Kanyanchu primate walk organized by the park’s management. However, Kibale is not the only place in Uganda where visitors can see chimps because these cousins are fairly scattered across the country and can be seen in many other areas in large numbers. Other popular spots for chimpanzees in Uganda include the Kyambura Gorge in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls National Park and at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Lake Victoria near Entebbe International Airport where they are protected in captivity.
Uganda is arguably the best bird-watching destination Africa majorly because of its easy access to the birding area and the presence of over 1000 bird species within its borders. Uganda is a home to over 150 bird species that cannot be found anywhere else in east Africa including 7 species of horn-bill, 5 species of honey-guides, warblers, sunbirds, flycatchers, among others. The best spots for bird-watching in Uganda include Kibale Forest with a variety of forest birds, Semuliki National Park with some Rift Valley endemic bird species like the Rwenzori turaco, Budongo forest, Bwindi forest, and Queen Elizabeth National Park a home to over 600 bird species.
Mountain and Volcano climbing
Lovers of mountaineering safaris should also not look anywhere else apart from Uganda. The Pearl of Africa has got 3 main mountaineering safari destinations including Mount Elgon, Mount Rwenzori and Mgahinga National Park. Hiking to the top Mount Rwenzori leads to its glacial peaks including Margherita, the third-highest peak in Africa (5,109 ft above sea level). The route to Margherita peak goes through some beautiful sceneries of different vegetation zones with some fauna species and birds and snow-caped slopes. Hikes to the top of Mount Elgon leads to its highest peak of Wagagai at over 4,000 feet above sea level and its considered an exciting alternative to many other mountaineering destinations in east Africa. This is because of Mount Elgon’s variety of attractions including wildlife and waterfalls, milder climate and a lower elevation that doesn’t require any special experience ant technique to climb. There are 3 Volcano summits in Mgahinga National Park available for mountain climbing and all of them give you beautiful views from their peaks. Clear views of surrounding areas of Rwanda, DR Congo, the Virunga ranges and Bwindi Impenetrable can be seen from the top of the Mgahinga Volcano summits.
Mountain hiking safaris are not so common in Uganda but the presence of Mount Rwenzori also known as the “Mountains of the Moon” with its beautiful snow-caped peak of Margherita at 5,109 meters above sea level is increasingly attracting more adventure-loving tourists.
Margherita of the Rwenzori Mountains in western Uganda is the third-highest peak in Africa only behind Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The peak is one of the several Rwenzori Mountain ranges in Rwenzori national park which is one of Uganda’s 10 national parks.
Majority of the travelers who visit Rwenzori national park are targeting to hike and reach the Margherita Peak though the beautiful scenery that features glaciers, waterfalls, and lakes also makes the place more attractive to visitors.
The mountain has got stunning views of glaciers and the snow-caped peaks lying just a few kilometers from the Equator and this is also complemented by its many natural habitats of endangered species of flora and fauna including the giant heather.
The glaciers of the Rwenzori are the highest and most permanent source of the River Nile and also give birth to a multitude of fast-flowing rivers and waterfalls. In addition to this, the stratified vegetation along the its slopes and the several animal species that inhabit it make Rwenzori exceptionally scenic and beautiful.
The unique alpine flora of the Rwenzori includes several species of which some are endemic to the Albertine Rift for example the giant heathers, groundsels and lobelias that occupy the altitude zones. The community around the park also benefits from its various wild resources and it is also a vital cultural heritage for them.
Rwenzori national park, established in 1991, occupies an area of about 1,000 sq. km and its most notable features include Margherita, the third-highest peak on the continent, waterfalls, glaciers, and, rivers and lakes.
Mount Rwenzori ranges
The Rwenzori Mountain ranges stretch for 120km and they comprise of various peaks including Mount Stanley, the highest peak (5109m), Mount Speke (4890m), Mount Baker (4843m), Mount Emin (4798m), Mount Gessi (4715m), and Mount Luigi di Savoia (4627m). These peaks are separated by deep gorges.
Trekkers that hike to the top of the Rwenzori go through various vegetation zones ranging from tropical rainforests to alpine meadows to the snow zone. Each vegetation is inhabited by different species of flora and fauna including the giant groundsel, lobelia, tall heather covered in moss on one of the peaks.
The montane forest
The montane vegetation zone of Rwenzori lies between 1800-2500 meters above sea level. It is characterized with moderate trees and a broken forest canopy. The common trees in this zone include red stinkwood, the yellow-wood tree, pordocarpus, symphonia globulifera, milanjinus, wild bananas, begonia, among others.
This zone lies between 2500-3000 meters in the good soils along the gentle slopes. The thick litter of bamboo leaves always cover the ground producing more nutrients on decaying. As you approach the steep and rocky slopes, bamboo is gradually replaced by tangled undergrowth. The bamboo zone has also got a giant lobelia, and lobelia gibberoa that grows in the wet and swampy areas of this zone. Other tree species that grow in the bamboo zone include hagenia abyssinica, podocarpus milanjianus, dombeya, afrocrania, among others.
The heather zone lies between 3,000-4,000 meters, an area with poor soils encouraging the growth of heather forest on ridge tops, rocky and moderately boggy places. Thick Sphagnum moss in this zone cover the tree stems while branches are draped in Usnea beard lichens. Common plants in the heather zone include Disa stairsii, the coral pink ground orchid, and impatiens runsorrenis. Valleys are covered with huge bogs that are mixed with carex runsorrensis that grows in the tussocks. There is mixed woodland with small shrubby trees in well-drained slopes whereas Groundsel trees and lobelias are also found in this zone. Moss and everlasting flowers form the undergrowth in this zone.
Animals in Rwenzori National Park
Just like vegetation, animals in Rwenzori national park also vary with elevation with the common species including forest elephant, chimps, hyrax, black-and-white colobus, L’Hoest monkeys, duiker and the Albertine Rift endemic the Rwenzori turaco.
Trails for trekking Rwenzori
Treks to hike Rwenzori are done through the various trails available in the park that include the following;
The central circuit trail, this is the oldest trail in the park and a more traditional one that is considered less challenging compared to others. Other trails of Rwenzori national park include Kilembe trail, Mahoma trail, Rwenzori Mountains Cultural Trail, and Bulemba Ihandiro Cultural Trail.
Two twin cubs were born on Christmas day at the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC) also known as Entebbe Zoo. According to the spokesperson of UWEC, Mr. Eric Ntalubwa, “the cubs were born in the wee hours of Christmas Day”.
The cubs were birthed a lioness known as Mutagamba, who was named after Uganda’s former Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, the late Maria Mutagamba. “Mutagamba has proved to be a good mother and she is looking after the cubs”, said Ntalubwa.
Mr. Ntalubwa added that this is the second litter for Mutagamba who is seven years old, her first litter came two years ago and included three cubs namely; Zuri, Paradise, and Africa. All the 3 are still alive and doing well in the zoo while the latest birth brings the total number of lions at the zoo to 9.
The father of the cubs is the late Letaba who passed on after a road accident early this year. Mutagamba was born to 13-year-old Biesa and fathered by the famous late Kibonge. The gender of the two cubs has not yet been established because their mother has denied both the caregivers and vets access to them.
“We cannot tell the sex because the mother is very protective and does not allow intrusion,” said Ntalubwa, adding that the cubs are vulnerable and are protected by the lionesses.
“They will hide their cubs for six to eight weeks. Although the cubs are still in seclusion, they are playful and are treating the patrons at Wildlife Education Center to noises,” he said, adding that they will be unveiled to the public in the next two months after approval by the vets.
Dr. James Musinguzi, the Executive Director of UWEC said this was the first time animals at the center had produced on Christmas day. “This is a Christmas gift for us at the center and the conservation fraternity,” he said.
Dr Musinguzi says that the cubs will be named Emmanuel and Manuela along with other names depending on their gender since they were born on Christmas day. Traditionally, the names given to animals here depend on circumstances through which they were born while some are named after personalities and sponsors.
“At the moment, we haven’t yet established their sexes, we respect the natural instincts of the mother and we cannot remove the cubs for the sake of determining their sex,” he said.
As the number of lions in the protected areas continues to decline, Dr Musinguzi says that there is a plan they are working on with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to reintroduce some into the wild. However, he says that this will be done following the guidelines of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Quick facts about lions in Uganda
The life expectancy of lions in the wild is 15 years while that of those in captivity is 20 years. Lions in captivity (UWEC) live longer because they get food and medical care while in the wild they have to work hard for food and sometimes fall sick.
Lions start siring offspring at 3 years while the females start at two-and-half years and the cubs start hunting at four months. The population of lions in Uganda is about 400-450.
About Wildlife Education Center (UWEC)
UWEC also known as Entebbe zoo is located at Entebbe along the northern shores of Lake Victoria, 40 km South of the capital Kampala. UWEC is the largest zoo in Uganda with over 100 species of animals and plants.
There are both large and small animals in the zoo including lion, elephant, hyena, leopard, antelopes, chimps, several species of birds and snakes, among others.
Both the animal and plant species in the zoo are kept mainly for conservation, research and study purposes. Several visitors including students regularly visit the zoo to see and study about the animals while wildlife researchers also visit the place to study both plants and animals.
It is Christmas season again and you must be thinking of a special place where you can go and spend the holiday while having the best experience and at the same time relaxing your mind. Well, here is the ultimate guide into some of the best holiday spots in Uganda that can give you maximum value for your money while leaving with lifetime memories.
When it comes to maximizing a Christmas holiday, there is nothing that beats the experience of spending time interacting and exploring the beauty of nature, that is seeing amazing animals and birds and at the same time trying your hand at some of the adventurous excursions.
These and more are the experiences you can enjoy when you visit one of Uganda’s 10 national parks that are scattered around the country. Here is the brief guide on what to do and see I n some of the best Uganda’s national parks where you can go for the best Christmas holiday experience.
These are self-contained places, meaning that facilities like accommodation are available so you don’t need to worry about that at all. All Uganda’s national parks are surrounded by good lodges and camps and it is up to you to choose a facility that suits your needs and budget.
Lake Mburo National Park
Lake Mburo National Park is one of the destinations for Uganda wildlife safaris and a good holiday hideout. The park offers amazing wildlife experiences like game viewing where you can see some of the common species in the park like zebras, giraffes, and antelopes. The presence of Lake Mburo that covers over 20 percent of the park’s surface means that you are assured of breathtaking water experiences like swimming, fishing, and boat cruise. Lake Mburo National Park is also the only safari destination Uganda with horseback riding safaris.
Lake Mburo National Park possesses the proximity advantage over other safari destinations in Uganda. The park is located off the Kampala-Mbarara highway and it can be reached within 3-4 hours’ drive from the capital Kampala
Kidepo Valley National Park
If you are looking for an isolated destination with untapped wildlife and cultural experiences, the Kidepo Valley National Park in Northeastern Uganda is your answer. It may be the remotest national park in Uganda but the unique wildlife, and cultural experiences in Kidepo that can’t be found anywhere else in the region are worthy the long drive that you have to endure to get there. Flights to Kidepo are also available from Entebbe International Airport for those who can afford the service while it may take you up to 24 hours on road to get there.
Once you are in Kidepo, expect to enjoy uninterrupted game drives and see the park’s hidden beauty that features amazing wildlife species and beautiful hills, rivers, and valleys. Big game like elephant, buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard, zebra, giraffe, to name a few are all available in Kidepo. Two unique tribes of the Karamojong and the IK are found at the outskirts of the park and these offer amazing cultural experiences to visitors that leave them with a special sense of love and belonging to them.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Southwestern Uganda is the home to incredible primates and man’s close relatives, the mountain gorillas who share about 98 percent of our DNA. These amazing primates are the reason why Bwindi is one of the most visited national parks in Uganda especially by travelers who come for gorilla safaris to enjoy the breathtaking gorilla trekking experience.
A visit to see mountain gorillas in Bwindi requires you to part with at least Shs250,000 if you are a citizen of East Africa and $600 if you are a foreign non-resident to purchase a gorilla permit that allows you to trek these endangered primates in their natural habitat.
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi is an adventurous activity given that the animals are found deep in the mountainous rainforest of Bwindi and reaching them may take you between 3-4 hours while roaming thorough the hilly and dense vegetated park.
In addition to mountain gorillas, there are hundreds of bird species in Bwindi including Rift Valley endemics like the Rwenzori turaco and large mammals like the forest elephant
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda is the second-largest safari park in Uganda. The park offers incredible wildlife experiences that include game drives, bird-watching, and chimpanzee tracking. Watching tree-climbing lions high up in the tree branches is one of the major highlights of the park while a boat cruise along the Kazinga channel is the climax of the park’s exciting experiences.
Kibale Forest National Park
Kibale Forest national park is referred to as the primates’ capital in the world. The park is a hotspot for Uganda’s primates’ safaris with thousands of chimpanzees inhabiting its forests. If you want to watch these cousins of ours as they do their activities in the forest, then a trip to Kibale should be next on your to-do list.
Source of the Nile
The source of the Nile, the longest river in the world is another holiday hotspot in Uganda. If you are not so much interested in wildlife but rather you are lover of water excursions like white-water rafting, swimming, and boat cruise, then you should consider visiting the source of the Nile at Jinja in eastern Uganda.
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Gorillas have got so many amazing facts ranging from them sharing up to 98 percent of the human DNA to living in social groups that are headed by dominant males known as silverbacks. However, like humans, it seems that there are many more facts about these elusive and giant primates that cannot be exhausted. With the experiment of mountain gorillas found in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo, we uncover more amazing facts about these great primates.
Today we take a closer look at a gorilla anatomy, with a deeper focus on the structure of the body of a gorilla to discover the amazing and unique features that very few people take note of even after being close to them.
Fact 1: Gorillas basically have four thumbs!
Just like most primates, gorillas too have opposable thumbs on their hands and surprisingly they also have semi-opposable feet! Compared to humans, the gorilla’s big toe is longer and placed lower on the foot coupled with the its flexibility to help the ape in grasping and climbing activity associated with their daily lives. This aspect is compares with humans’ shorter, forward-facing big toes that provide pushing power for walking.
Fact 2: Gorilla bones are much denser than those of humans
This fact is a proof to the gorilla’s average weight of 300-450 Ibs which is much higher than the average weight of humans. The heavier weight is as a result of apes having a high density of spongy bone which is not the case with humans. The absence of spongy bones in humans explains the high rate of breaks and fractures in humans compared to the apes. On the other hand, the great weight also makes the non-human great apes less flexible rendering them unable to swim.
Fact 3: Gorillas have a significant “brow ridge” above their eyes
This is also a common feature among other great apes apart from modern humans who rather have a curved, unpronounced brow ridge. For gorillas, their brow ridges are continuous and straight, and stick out over their eyes. Studies indicate that a large, sturdy ridge of a gorilla helps to support the weaker skull bones and also reduces strain on the skull when the animal is chewing some hard food items like nuts. Although it is commonly referred to as the “brow ridge” this part of the skull is actually called ‘supraorbital ridge’, which literally means ‘ridge above the eye.’
Fact 4: Gorillas have a longer arm length to height ratio than humans
Unlike humans who have an equal arm to height ratio (meaning an individual’s height is equal to the length of their arm span), gorillas have a longer arm length to height to their height ratio. When gorillas do stand bipedally, they measure about 6 feet tall while their arm span averages about 8 feet. This unique anatomy feature among gorillas suits their quadrupedal movement and also helps them with climbing.
Fact 5: Gorillas have a bigger head than humans but a smaller brain!
This should be less amazing considering the facts. While there is no doubt that gorillas have larger skulls than humans, the latter have got much more room in their skulls to accommodate for their brains. The average amount of space for a brain in humans (cranial capacity) is about 1325 cubic centimeters while gorillas have got only 500 cc’s. This indicates that the actual brain of gorillas on average is just 0ne-theird the size of human brains while the reduced cranial capacity of gorillas is attributed to the difference in the shape of the skull.
Fact 6: Gorillas don’t have chins!
Whereas the area underneath the human mouth sticks out and away from the skull, the same area on gorillas slopes back towards the skull. More surprisingly, researchers indicate that humans are the only animals with a bony protrusion beneath their mouths which is commonly known as a chin and the reason for this is yet to be established.
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Uganda Tourism Board is striving to promote Uganda tourism to all parts of the world. This time around, Uganda UTB has launched a campaign to promote destination Uganda in the Middle East countries. The major aim of the new campaign is to sell Uganda tourism products in the Middle East and encourage more people to come and explore the Pearl of Africa. The target UAE’s countries include United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia among others. The “Experience Uganda” campaign is aimed at providing selected GCC travel agencies unique travel holiday packages to visit different attractions in the Peal of Africa. More still travel agencies from Middle East will be given free airport transfers and pickups to ensure smooth travels. The marketing campaign was held at Hyatt Regency Hotel Dubai attended by Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, the minister of tourism in Uganda, Irene, the Ugandan ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and H.E Zaake Wanume Kibedi along with Member of Parliaments and other officials from Uganda Government. Ndere cultural troupe rom Uganda entertained visitors showcasing the unique cultures and transitional performances of Uganda. The campaign is aimed at promoting Uganda as a premier adventure and nature holiday destination suitable for families, groups, couples and young adults seeking to have a lifetime experience at affordable rates.
Special Uganda Packages being marketed
Among the promotional tourism products, Uganda Tourism Board is marketing include guided game viewing safaris in the open savannah parks of Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Lake Mburo, and Kidepo Valley National park. Game safaris exposé travelers to different wild animals which include elephants, lions, zebras, impalas, waterbuck, warthogs, Uganda kobs, buffalos, cheetahs and leopards among others.
Nile riverboat cruising is also a must-do on your Uganda safari. Travelers also enjoy a cruise to the source of River Nile and also enjoy the cool breezes of Lake victoria
Mountain gorilla trekking is Uganda’s most done tourist activity, which attracts the highest number of travelers from all over the world. The pearl of Africa is home to half of the world’s mountain gorillas which live in the jungles of Bwindi Impenetrable forest and Mgahinga gorilla national parks Bwindi is home to 17 gorilla families split in Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo sectors while Mgahinga is home to the one Nyakagyezi gorilla family plus some members of Rwanda’s Hirwa gorilla family which previously left Volcanoes National park and entered in Mgahinga gorilla park Uganda. At present, a single gorilla permit costs $600 for foreign non-residents, $500 for foreign residents and shs 250,000 for east African residents. These prices are to be increased with effect from 1st July 2020 to $700 for foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents and shs 300,000 for east African residents. A gorilla permit is a pass to see gorillas and hence a must have for everyone coming to trek gorillas.
Wild chimpanzee encounters is yet another exceptional experience you should not miss. Uganda is a premier chimpanzee tour destination being home to the highest number of chimpanzees. Kibale Forest National park is the number one-stop center for Uganda chimpanzee tours and is home to 13 primates. Other chimpanzee destinations in Uganda are Karinzu forest, Kyambura gorge, Budongo Forest and Ngamba island (chimpanzee sanctuary). Fortunately, chimpanzee trekking permits are quite less at $220 hence affordable compared to gorillas.
In addition to wildlife safaris in Uganda, the pearl of Africa offer travelers the best pampering and chilling experiences. Numerous luxury lodge, hotels, and resorts have been established to offer you with excellent food and sleeping services all day on your Uganda safari
Still in the campaign, the Uganda Tourism Board will also launch an online training program to enable Middle east travel agents to book and reserve Uganda safaris online. The hashtag #ExperienceUganda1st will be opened and promoted on all social media platforms to encourage more social media users to come and explore the Pearl of Africa.
Over 50 travel agencies from the United Arab Emirates attended the campaign which gives Uganda, hope for increased travel business from Middle East countries. Uganda expects to receive a high number of travelers from UAE to trek gorilla in Bwindi, go game viewing, bird watching and also experience the unique cultures and traditions of Africa’s Pearl.
Like humans, mountain gorillas also live in social groups or families even though they may live in the wild no wonder these large primates share up to 98 percent of the human DNA.
As they live in their social groups, gorillas are associated with some unique facts that are amazing and shocking. A few travelers that have got an opportunity to trek these endangered primates through the famous gorilla safaris, might have witnessed some of these facts as they met them in the jungle.
Fact 1: Groups consist of more adult females than adult males
Majority of mountain gorilla groups are made up of multiple adult females and their young all under the leadership of one dominant male (Silverback). In a few cases, some groups may possess up to eight silverbacks with each of them playing a unique role in the family.
The number of gorillas in each group varies from 2 to as many as 65 individuals and the number is determined by several factors including the ability of the leading silverback to lure females into the group.
Fact 2: Male gorillas in the group face a dilemma once they reach maturity
Once male gorillas in the group reach maturity, they got a few options to make, first, they can choose to stay in their natal group and contend for dominance. According to statistics, about 50 percent of young male gorillas stay in the in their natal group though not all end up achieving this.
The second option is to leave their natal group as solitary males to form a family of their own by stealing some females from other groups. These young males who decide to leave their natal groups are always willing to continue roaming around alone until they are successful.
Finally, these males may decide to join their colleagues in the same category to form a bachelor group. While in these groups, the bachelor gorillas learn skills that help them to become successful leaders once they form their own groups. Even in the bachelor group, gorillas still follow the hierarchy where thereby they are led by one strong silverback while others play different roles.
Fact 3: Both males and females can stay or leave the group at anytime
Unlike among other primates where both males and females tend to stay in their natal groups for their lifetime, mountain gorillas are different as they can either stay or leave their natal groups and join others influenced by different factors.
For females, they are even prone to changing groups multiple times in their lifetime leading to having offspring with several males.
Fact 4: Each gorilla group has got its unique dominance hierarchy
The hierarchy factor among mountain gorilla groups is more pronounced among the males though females have got their own form of hierarchy. Each group is led by one dominant silverback who takes key decisions including where to eat and sleep. Other silverbacks in the group take on different roles including protecting the family and resolving conflicts.
Several factors influence the hierarchy among females including age, time spent in the group where newcomers are the lowest in the hierarchy and vice versa. A particular female may also easily rise in the status if she attracts the interest of a dominant male. Other factors like offspring may also change the hierarchy of females whereby a female with a newborn may be favored to rise in rank.
Fact 5: Groups may be as small as 2 and as large as 65 individuals
Though the average number of mountain gorillas in a single group maybe 10-12 individuals, there are some groups that have been discovered having as few as a single breeding pair while others may be so numerous to 65 individuals.
Male mountain gorillas do care for infants too
Male mountain gorillas are more known for their leadership
role in their respective groups or families. Each mountain gorilla group is led
by a silverback, a strong and giant male gorilla in charge of making leadership
decisions for the entire family.
However, according to the study from the researchers of the
Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in Rwanda, male mountain gorillas were found to have a
greater success in siring more infants.
Before this finding, there was a belief that male mountain
gorillas and other male primates in general only cared for getting a dominant
position in their respective groups.
The parental role of male mountain gorillas comes in
addition to their traditional task of competing with one another to win accessibility
to females and gain mating opportunities.
According to the study, it was believed that female mountain
gorillas preferably mate with males who have compassion for kids. The researchers
are now undertaking another additional study to find out whether hormones, such
as testosterone have a role in influencing these behaviors in the apes as they
do in humans.
Many critical species benefit from gorilla protection
Several stakeholders including government agencies and
non-government organizations like the Fossey Fund have stepped up to protect mountain
gorillas for both economic and conservation reasons
In mountain gorilla habitats like Volcanoes National Park in
Rwanda in particular, the government through the Rwanda Development Board has
employed several protection mechanisms including the deployment of park rangers
to ensure that both mountain gorillas and their habitat are safe.
The Fossey Fund volunteers have employed several ways of
protecting these apes for example, the researchers who carry out several studies
about the daily life and the behavior of mountain gorillas in a bid to
establish better protective measures for the apes.
It has now become clear that all these conservation efforts
do not only protect mountain gorillas but also a range of other wildlife
species who live in the same habitats with theses apes.
The researchers of the Fossey Fund in Rwanda established
that they discovered a list of at least 15 other species that benefit directly
from the protection of mountain gorillas.
The list includes a wide variety of plant and animals
including some iconic species like elephants, chimpanzees, and leopards and
several monkey types.
Other endangered and threatened species in this category
include two types of pangolins, Grauer’s swamp warblers, African golden cats,
hooded vultures, frogs, among others.
I have been living in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, for a few years, and this has afforded me the opportunity to explore not only this country but all the members of the East African community. I have traveled extensively in Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda; even to the Seychelle Islands, which officially is a member of East Africa, though over a thousand kilometers out in the Indian Ocean. One of the most exciting destinations has always been the island of Zanzibar, but recently I made a trip to the northeast of Uganda to visit the Karamojong and it is now unquestionably my favorite destination in East Africa. My travels have taken me to most of the National Parks within East Africa, including the infamous Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater of Tanzania, the Masa Mara and Amboseli of Kenya, and Rwanda’s most popular national parks….and yet it has been on my bucket list for some time now to go and experience the elusive Karamajong in the Kidepo Valley. Kidepo Valley National Park has recently been granted the #3 position in the most desired parks in Africa to visit; and once one has seen what Kidepo has to offer, it is quite understandable.
Zebras in Kidepo Valley National Park near Apoka Safari Lodge
We journeyed north from Kampala past the Ziwa Rhino sanctuary and Murchison Falls through the towns of Luweero and Nakasongola to reach Gulu. Here we took a break for lunch and a quick swim at the Boma Hotel, an oasis in the hot dry Acholi world of Northern Uganda; the Acholi being the predominant tribe in the Gulu area. From Gulu we traveled east through Kitgum and Padebe, eventually reaching the gates of Kidepo, some 4 hours later. The last hour of the drive, prior to the entrance to Kidepo, we were overwhelmed with the beautiful topography and vegetation of this area….it was like an enchanted forest. It was the dry season, and there had not been rain for a few weeks, but still, the environment was most wonderful. I had the opportunity to do this same trip about six months earlier when everything was overgrown and green; this time it was sparser, and a lot of the green was yellow. Despite the shortage of water, the overall scenery was still truly amazing; a significant part of the vegetation is cactus, which can maintain throughout long dry spells. In addition, there are ‘sausage’ trees in great abundance as well as numerous other interesting growths…. more commonly found in Kenya than in other parts of Uganda.
Giraffes are common in Kidepo
We booked into the Kidepo Savannah Lodge, a tented eco-hotel which was awesome. The view from both the tents and the main lodge building were truly incredible……with the mountains of Sudan in the distance. One of my friends was using the toilet off to the side of the restaurant/bar; within a few minutes, a baboon parked itself outside the toilet door. We were not quite sure what to do, and while debating what our best course of action would be, the baboon stood up and walked away. Within a few seconds, our friend exited the toilet, completely unaware of the intrusion. It was an exciting moment. Kidepo is full of such wildlife encounters; a week after my first visit to this hotel, the management sent me a picture of a lion that they encountered sitting under one of the tables in the early morning when they were setting up breakfast. There is little doubt that Kidepo is home to a variety of wildlife, and we humans are visitors to their land.
Kidepo Valley National Park has got a variety of wildlife
The first morning we ventured out for an early game drive and we were not disappointed……in addition to the hundreds of water buffalo, various antelope, elephants, and giraffe, we encountered several lions out hunting as well as the very elusive leopard. This leopard was sitting on the side of the road, and remained there for some 15 or 20 minutes, allowing us to take a plethora of photos. This was only my second encounter with a leopard in the wild…. the first some 50 years earlier in Samburu district of northern Kenya when a leopard jumped across the road in front of our vehicle. We encountered so many animals on this first game drive, that it was some 4 hours later when we returned to the lodge for some tea.
The Rock-lions in Kidepo Valley National Park
Later that day, we ventured to a local village to visit with the Karamajong. This settlement had about 100 inhabitants, all living traditionally. They selected one person, Julius as a guide, because his English was so good, and he could explain the customs and traditions of his people to us. In addition to a tour of the huts that they lived in, we were entertained by some local dancing and singing, including the traditional jumping vertically to great heights. The Karamoja also had prepared several simple crafts for us to look at; many were functional tools that they use in their cooking and preparing of foods, but there were also a number of items that they made to sell to travelers, providing some income for the community. Julius was most informative in giving us a picture of life in Karamoja; so many of the customs were like that of their neighbors in Kenya, the Turkana, and the Samburu.
The Karamojong performing their traditional dance
Time did not permit us to journey in the hills and visit the other tribe that lives traditionally, the IK. Unfortunately, the IK have been almost completely wiped out by so-called, development. The history of the IK is not a happy one, in that the Uganda Wildlife Authority decided that in order to preserve the wildlife in the Kidepo Valley, the IK needed to be removed from the park and live elsewhere. The IK resisted moving and the Ugandan government used force to remove them; so many were killed and now there are only 10,000 IK remaining. I hope on my next visit to the North of Uganda, that I will make it a priority to visit these people and find out for myself what their demise has been. Most of the National Parks in Uganda have similar stories, where the indigenous people were given at best a second-class status to the animals….Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is another shocking example of how choices were made in favor of the animals over the people. The silver lining in that story is that the Mountain Gorillas have thrived, and their numbers are increasing yearly.
A man from the IK tribe in Kidepo
We spent a couple of more days in Kidepo, mostly going on long walks and even longer game drives. Every encounter with the local people and wildlife was most positive. From Kidepo we traveled southeast to the town of Moroto, where we made arrangements with a group called Kara Tunga; these people run a guesthouse in Moroto as well as emersion tours of the Karamojong. This was our second encounter with Kara Tunga and equally as exciting as the first. Each group that visits the Karamoja through Kara Tunga are assigned a guide/translator; together one travels some 45 minutes out of town to a Kraal where a group of Karamoja men spend the night protecting their cattle, goats, and sheep. The guide sets up pup tents, each one to accommodate 2 people; in addition, they provide dinner, which is taken sitting around the campfire with the Karamoja. Soon after arriving, a cow is selected for bloodletting, and an arrow is pierced into the throat of the cow and the blood pours out; it is captured in a couple of buckets and mixed with cow milk. This concoction is then passed around and drank by everyone present in the Kraal, including us visitors if we dare. The evening is spent singing, dancing and drinking local beer with the 15 or so Karamoja men. Bedtime is whenever one is ready, as the Karamoja stay up all night on watch….historically, they have been raided by cattle rustlers from Sudan to the north and Kenya to the east. The women of the tribe stay in a separate settlement, away from the animals, in a protected environment some distance away.
In the morning, before daylight, the singing starts again, as the Karamoja prepare for the journey to a new grazing spot for the animals. The guide packs up the tents and we all return to Marotto for a hot shower and breakfast buffet. This emersion experience costs $55 US and in my opinion is worth much more. As I said, this was my second visit sleeping at the Kraal, and I know it will not be my last; I look forward to coming back and bringing new friends to introduce to this experience.
The Kara-Tunga women in Moroto
In summary, the trip to Kidepo and the Karamoja is a long one, some 13 hours overland; but there is nothing in Uganda, or any other country in East Africa, to compare. The scenery within the park and around the park is truly magnificent, the people are welcoming and most interesting to encounter, and the wildlife will not disappoint. One bonus feature for the moment is that there are very few tourists and as such one can go for hours on game drives without encountering other vehicles; this is one of the biggest complaints in such parks as the Serengeti, where it is a common experience to wait in line to get a good vantage point to take pictures of wildlife that have exposed themselves; sometimes impossible to get such pictures without another vehicle in the shot. This does not happen in Kidepo, and it’s quite wonderful and greatly appreciated by regular safari travelers.
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David is a travel blogger who loves writing about his travel experiences