Uganda – Great Apes & Wildlife with Charlotte Arthun
Uganda is a destination that always delivers an incredible experience. You can never go a moment without being inspired by the beauty of the land, wildlife and people.
After departing our guesthouse in Entebbe, our safari started on the shores of Lake Victoria. We boarded a speedboat and whizzed across the water until we reached our destination, the Mabamba Swamp. Water birds abound here, and within moments we were alongside plentiful heron, crane, kingfisher and the African Jacana. Our small boat, manned by two local guides, glided through the papyrus swamp in channels made from boats passing through this area all in search of the same bird that brings us there. After about an hour, our spotter at the front of the boat smiles. He had located a Shoebill! In the distance, we could see the distinct grey body and large bill that is unmistakably this unique bird. After getting a long distance visual, the guides are alerted to another shoebill in the area. We were able to see a second Shoebill before heading back to shore – a success!
That evening after a six hour road journey to Kibale, we arrived at the gorgeous Primate Lodge. This lodge is tucked away in the Kibale Forest. Close proximity to the heart of the forest means seeing many species of monkeys here is a daily occurrence. The following morning, our first Chimp trek began. We hiked for about an hour until we heard the distinct vocalizations of the chimpanzee, which alerted us to their location. Most of this group was in the trees, but we were lucky enough to have a very close encounter with the Alpha male on the ground, just meters from us. Their relaxed disposition with our presence always feels like an extraordinary privilege to view them in their natural state.
Later in the afternoon, we set off for our second Chimp trek. An interesting drama unfolded. The group of males we were tracking had crossed into the neighbouring territory of other chimps in search of food. Outside of their territory, they were vulnerable to attack, and were clearly more alert than when we had viewed them earlier in their own territory. Thankfully, they still felt that our presence was benign and we were able to sit amongst a group of 7 males feeding on the forest floor. Eventually, the close vocalizations of the other troop of chimps scared the males back into their own territory.
Despite having 2 amazing treks under our belt, the following morning provided something else truly extraordinary. A small family group of chimps had crossed a river. We were just starting our trek and were able to drive around and access the area without any other trekking groups. We located a mother with her baby as well as a few other sub-adults and adults. The group was on the move. Mother chimps are usually more shy and protective when they have babies. They were moving quickly away from us. We trekked up the hill in pursuit of them, giving enough distance to make them comfortable. Eventually, they felt relaxed and stopped in an open area to rest and groom. We were able to watch them for about 30 minutes undisturbed as they carried out their grooming and socializing. It was a beautiful experience.
The following day, we set off South alongside the crater valleys towards Queen Elizabeth National Park. Enroute, we did a 2 hour boat trip on the Kazinga Channel. This body of water connects Lake Edward to Lake George and is a very game rich area. Along the water’s edge, we saw massive herds of buffalo, elephants and birds. This area has the highest density of Pied Kingfishers that I have ever seen. We also saw Uganda’s two species of Pelican. Being in the boat at eye level provided excellent opportunities for photography.
That evening, we arrived at the beautiful riverfront Ishasha Wilderness Camp. We heard reports that there had been a lion in a tree earlier that day, so we set off in pursuit. To our delight, the lioness was still there, tucked very high up in a fig tree. It’s truly remarkable that these lions have learned to climb so high. It was about 30 minutes to sunset and we suspected that the lioness would descend before dark. We set up the vehicle in the best position to capture the shot, and the plan unfolded perfectly. The lioness came down exactly as predicted and the group captured some wonderful shots of this agile cat coming down the tree.
The next few days provided great game viewing, including a leopard with a fresh kob kill. We also viewed massive herds of elephants, buffalo, kob, topi and many birds. We were also lucky enough to find the lions in the trees on 3 consecutive days!
Our final stop was to Bwindi, home of Uganda’s largest population of Mountain Gorillas. Our camp is tucked into the hillside with incredible views of the Bwindi forest. Every morning, the mist rises, depicting a picture-perfect scene like out of Gorillas in the Mist. On our first trek, we viewed the Habinyanja family group. We saw about 5 members of the family, including the Silverback. It was a sunny warm day, and the gorillas were keen to stay in the shade. Towards the end of our viewing, we had the opportunity to see the mother and her small baby, about 8 months, in an open area under the canopy. The photographic opportunity was incredible. The mom was very sweet and nurturing to her baby, and didn’t show the slightest discomfort with our presence. A true privilege beyond words.
Our second trek, we viewed the Mubare group. This was the first ever habituated family of Bwindi over 30 years ago. As a result, the entire family group is very relaxed. We viewed about 9 individuals, including 3 youngsters. We viewed them in a relatively open area, watching them feed, group, climb and play. Another incredible experience.
The following morning we departed Buhoma lodge and set off on a quick one hour flight back to Entebbe where we said our goodbyes, concluding a very successful ORYX photographic tour with memories of a lifetime.