Queen Elizabeth National Park (Queen NP) is Uganda’s most visited park because of its diversity in wildlife. Its vast fields of sprawling savannah are a natural habitat for over 95 mammal species and an estimated 612 species of birds, making it one top game viewing destinations in East Africa. The big attractions in this park are wildlife expeditions in Mweya Peninsula where herds of buffalo and elephant are commonly sighted grazing with antelope, kob, and dozens of other grass-eaters.
The best way to view game in this park is to take a boat cruise on Kazinga Channel, a popular watering spot for many animals in the park. You will find hundred of hippo luxuriating in its waters as elephants bathe on the shores. If you’re lucky, you might catch the unusual sight of lions watering alongside gazelles and leopard. But the most astounding item in this park is the famous tree-climbing lions of Ishasha.
Tree climbing lions are an extreme rarity in Africa. There only three places where they can still be spotted, and nowhere else are they more commonly sighted than in Queen NP. Besides here, tree climbing lions can also be seen in Tanzania, close to Lake Manyara, and in South Africa. The difference between these places and Queen is that they you have higher chances of seeing them at Ishasha.
The park’s vegetation consists largely of bushy grassland, acacia woodland, lakeshore vegetation, swamp vegetation and forest grassland which support a large variety of animal and bird life. Its long list of wildlife includes Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Hippo, Crocodile Cape Buffalo, Uganda Kob, Waterbuck, Warthog, Hyena, Giant Forest Hog, Topi, Antelope, among others.
With an astonishing 5000 hippos, 2500 elephants and over 10,000 buffalo thriving within park boundaries, QENP guarantees sightings of some of Africa’s most iconic species. Her most illustrious and elusive inhabitants are its felines: the lion, leopard, civet, genal and serval cats. Lions are found throughout the park, but the most renowned live in the southern sector of Ishasha. Solitary leopards are nocturnal experts in camourflage, merely catching a glimpse of them is a feat. Many of the smaller cats are nocturnal too and best spotted on night game drives.
There are over ten species in the park, the chimpanzee being the most popular. Vervet and black-and-white colobus monkeys are commonly spotted in the trees, but the boldest of all are the baboons; don’t be shocked when sneak into your car and steal food right out of your hands.
When it comes to birding, Queen NP’s bird list is a birder’s paradise. The park’s diverse variety of habitats, ranging from savannah to wetland and lowland forest, are home to over 600 species, the biggest bird list of any protected area in East Africa. It is classified as an Important Birding Area (IBA) and is one of few places in Africa where birders can spot both East and Central Africa species, and the several species of European and American birds that migrate south when its winter in the north.
Majority of Queen NP’s long list of birds are a must-see for real birders. Key species include the Martial Eagle, Black-Rumped Buttonquail, African Skimmer, Chapin’s Flycatcher, Pink-Backed Pelican, African Broadbill, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Black Bee-Eater, White-Tailed Lark, White-Winged Warbler, Papyrus Gonolek, Papyrus Canary, Corncrake, Lesser and Greater Flamingo, Shoebill Stork, Bar-Tailed Godwit, Malachite Kingfisher as well as the Great Flamingo.
QENP is renowned for birding, boat safaris and wildlife expeditions. But besides these are several other things you can do, especially if you are here for a long stay.
Wildlife Safaris: The best time for wildlife expeditions is early in the morning. For a classic safari experience, the tracks through Kasenyi, the North Kazinga Plains, and the Ishasha Sector guarantee sightings of buffalo, antelope and elephant sightings, along with warthogs and baboons. Taking an experienced guide in the early morning or at dusk is the most successful way to track down a pride of lions, and maybe even the odd leopard. Guides are available from 6:30am onwards.
Boat Safaris: Queen NP operates launch drives along the Kazinga Channel two or four times a day with an excellent view of wildlife and birds waters at the channel’s shores and guaranteed sightings of hippos.
Birding Expeditions: The best birding hot spots in the park around Kazinga Channel, Kasenyi Area, Mweya Peninsula, Maramagambo Forest, Ishasha Sector, Lake Kikorongo, Katunguru Bridge area and Katwe Area. Tucked beneath the shady canopy of the Maramagambo Forest is the “Bat Cave”. The cave has a viewing room in which visitors can observe the bats as well as the pythons that live alongside them.
Chimp Tracking: An ideal activity for primate lovers is chimp tracking in Kyamabura Gorge, an atmospheric rainforest with a large population of chimps and monkeys. The rich vegetation of the gorge makes it ideal for spotting birds as well, and though chimp sighting are not guaranteed, you won’t miss the sound of these jungle misfits following you around and teasing your ears with primate calls.
Nature Trekking: Hiking in tropical forest and open grassland is one of the most rewarding experiences you can get. Mweya Peninsula offers savannah and woodland with beautiful views and bold warthogs. At the southern end, visitors can enjoy an easy stroll along the Ishasha River, where they can spot a variety of forest and savannah bird and mammal species as well as the unique experience of getting close to hippos on foot.
Culture Experience: What’s an African safari without a taste of traditional village life as lived before modernity made contact with Africa. As part of its conservation program, the park works with communities living near QENP to provide tours of various aspects of traditional village life, including traditional huts, dances, cuisine, and opportunities to participate in community development programs and activities. Fees for these tours go towards supporting community empowerment and conservation initiatives.
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