Elephants, Giraffes, and Hippos. Oh my! (But where were the lions?...)
On Sunday morning we began our journey to Murchison Falls National Park in northwest Uganda. We split our group into five vans: lion van, elephant van, cape buffalo van, hippo van, and leopard van. Approximately one minute after leaving Red Chilli, the cape buffalos had van trouble. Two hours behind schedule, we finally got a back-up vehicle and left Kampala for a long and bumpy ride. We arrived at Red Chilli's campsite in Murchison Falls around seven hours and three baboon sightings later, just in time to be lectured on hippo safety. Baker, one of our leaders at Red Chilli, explained that hippos would be eating grass outside of our tents during the night, and that flash photography would provoke them and cause them to bite us in half (this may or not be an exaggeration...). As promised, there was at least one hippo eating and stomping around outside at approximately 3:50 a.m. We also saw warthogs roaming around the campsite on multiple occasions. One of them tried to eat Lisa F. and I while we were taking advantage of a photo opp.
At 5:30 Monday morning (Leah's 20th birthday) we woke up so that we could be first in line for our game drive through the national park. There are ten national parks in Uganda, and Murchison Falls is the biggest. We walked down to the loading dock to board the ferry which would carry us and our vans across the Nile River to the side of the park where most wildlife can be seen. Julien avoided missing the ferry by jumping across a foot worth of Nile to make it on time. (Rate the epic-ness of his leap in your comment).
Dr. Senteza led us in the elephant van (the elephant is his family totem), and within just a few minutes of beginning our drive, we had spotted a real African elephant. Just across the road ahead there was another elephant, and then another, and then one with a calf! Seeing these elephants, the largest living land mammals on earth, made all of us in Dr. Senteza's van ecstatic to continue our drive and see what else we would find. Soon we were seeing antelope, kob, and oribi, the smallest kind of antelope. We saw parliaments (large groups) of giraffes, both close to the van and in the distance. Moses, our driver, told us that the older giraffes are darker, and they also have a third horn in the middle of their heads. Moses estimated one particularly dark giraffe to be 24 years old, which he equated to 80 human years! He's older than my grandpa! We saw cape buffalo with birds sitting on their backs, an example of mutualism (I remembered something from Bio 13!). When we saw antelope acting scared and alert, we suspected the presence of a lion, but were disappointed when one did not emerge. In fact, the only van that saw lions was Dr. Adkin's van, the lion van! They saw two lionesses, and gladly made everyone else jealous. Uganda's wildlife parks boast the "Big Five" animal species: lion, leopard, rhino, cape buffalo, and elephant. There are no rhinos left in Murchison Falls and we did not spot any leopards, so most of us had to settle for only two of the five.
Moses and Dr. Senteza explained to me that the road construction happening in the park was both to improve road conditions and to explore the massive oil reserves that lie underneath Murchison Falls. Uganda has abundant amounts of oil that is not being tapped into, mostly because there are conflicts concerning the income that could be generated from exporting oil, and the need to preserve the falls and the income that comes through tourism.
We returned to the campsite for lunch and a short nap before we departed for our three hour boat ride on the Nile. The boat took us up river to the falls that gave Murchison Falls National Park its name. We saw hundreds of hippos (called schools) lounging in the water, a few elephants, many birds (even an eagle!), and many crocodiles on the way. The day's injuries amounted to severe sunburn and extreme exhaustion.
Students: Now that you have seen the beauty of Uganda's nature and wildlife, think about Patrick Bitature's statement that Uganda does not advertise it's wildlife parks enough. Do you think that Uganda should try to market this attraction to more foreigners in hopes to attract for tourists? Also, what do you think about Uganda taking advantage of it's oil? Do you think they should harvest and export the oil for economic benefit? Or is it more important to leave the falls as it is for environmental benefit?
P.S. As I'm writing this blog, there are two hippos roaming our campsite. No pictures, please.