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Kidepo Valley National Park

Kidepo Valley National Park (KVNP) lies in the rugged, semi arid valleys between Uganda’s borders with Sudan and Kenya, some 700km from Kampala. Kidepo is Uganda’s most isolated national park, but the few who make the long journey north through the wild frontier region of Karamoja would agree that it is also the most magnificent, for Kidepo ranks among Africa’s finest wildernesses. It has a profusion of big game and hosts over 86 mammal species and over 475 bird species.

Water is the most vital resource in this park. With just one short wet season, between April and October, KVNP has a long dry spell that fills the remainder of the year. During the dry season, the only permanent water in the park is found in the wetlands and remnant pools of the broad Narus Valley near Apoka. These seasonal oases, combined with the open, savannah terrain, make the Narus Valley the park’s prime game viewing location.

The Kidepo valley system in the east and north-east occupies the remaining two thirds of the entire park. Nyangea-Napore hills and Morungole and Zulia hill ranges hold the sources of most rivers in Karamoja, including River Nalakas and River Kidepo.

WILDLIFE

With at least 86 mammal species475 bird species and 692 plant species, Kidepo Valley National Park is among the most biologically diverse in Uganda, rivalled only by Queen Elizabeth NP and Murchison Falls NP.

The park contains one of the most exciting faunas of any Ugandan national park. Along with the neighbouring Karamoja region, it houses many species found nowhere else in Uganda, 28 of the 86 species of mammals in KVNP are not found in any other of Uganda’s national parks.

Some of the animals unique to this park include the eland, striped hyena, aardwolf, caracal, cheetah, greater and lesser kudu, klipspringer, dik-dik, Bright’s gazelle and Chandler’s mountain reedbuck. The beisa oryx and the roan antelope are believed to have been extirpated from the region.

Many of the other large mammals found elsewhere in Uganda such as African elephant, zebra, buffalo, waterbuck, Jackson’s hartebeest, lion, leopard, and both black-backed and side-striped jackal, are found here. Other large species regularly seen here are bushpig, warthog, giraffe, bushbuck, bushduiker, and oribi.

The Narus valley is very important for the elephants in the park and also holds a population of Nile crocodiles, which, during the dry season, is restricted to a 10km long section of the Narus River that retains water intermittently in depressions or pools. Perhaps due to limited availability of food, water and space, the crocodiles have a diminutive size with a maximum length of 2.5m.

BIRDING

The park boasts an extensive bird list of around 475 species, making it second only in Uganda to Queen Elizabeth National Park. A few species of note are the Ostrich, Kori Bustard and Karamoja Apalis.

Kidepo is notable for its birds of prey. Of the 56 species recorded, 14 – including Verreaux’s Eagle, Egyptian Vulture and Pygmy Falcon – are believed to be endemic to the Kidepo and Karamoja region. There has, however, been no comprehensive survey of birds in Kidepo and visitors stand a good chance of adding to the current list.

The park is outstanding for its birds of prey, of which 58 species have been recorded including lammergeier, Verreaux’s eagle, the pygmy falcon, and Egyptian vulture. Fourteen raptors are unique to this park in Uganda. Of the hornbills which are characteristic of the savannah habitat, five species are represented. Some of Africa’s rarest and most sought after birds occur in KVNP, including the the Karamoja apalis and black-breasted barbet.

PARK AMENITIES

Tourists can visit the park any time throughout the year, although conditions in the park are more difficult during the rainy season. It is usually advisable to use 4x4 vehicles while in the park. Available tourist accommodation in and around the park includes lodges notably Apoka Safari Lodge, Nga Moru Wilderness Camp, and alternative budget accommodation at Apoka Rest Camp managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority. 

ACTIVITIES IN KIDEPO

Birding: Apoka Rest Camp is a great spot to begin your Kidepo birding experience. Birding can also be done on the fringes of the Narus and Namamukweny Valleys. Among the birds seen are the Abyssinian Roller, Purple Heron, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill and Clapperton’s Francolin, which is found only in Kidepo. The activity can be arranged both in the morning and evening.

Game Drives: Wildlife is most active in the Narus Valley early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Park rangers are at hand to protect and help visitors spot wildlife, including lions, elephants, leopard, bush duiker, jackal, bushbuck, bush pig, Kavirondo bush baby, buffalo and much more.

Kidepo Valley Scenic Drive: Though wildlife is scarce in the arid Kidepo Valley, the hour-long drive to Kanangorok Hot Springs passes some magnificent landscapes. North of Apoka, beyond the river crossing, the road passes between rock outcrops and hills before descending into the Kidepo Valley, crossing the Kidepo Sand River and traversing open plains that extend past Kanangorok Hot Springs towards mountains across the Sudanese border. This is the part of the park where ostriches are most commonly seen.

Nature Walks: The Lomej Mountains can be reached on foot in four hours, the hike starts at 7am. Shorter guided walks of around two hours can be taken through the Narus Valley extending over a 5km radius from Apoka Tourism Centre. Visitors can also wander along the splendid Kidepo River Valley between banks of attractive borassus palm forest. Namamkweny Valley can be reached in one hour from Apoka. Visitors can also meet members of the IK tribe during prearranged hikes to the Morungole Mountains outside the park.

POPULAR DESTINATIONS IN THE PARK

Apoka Tourism Centre

Overlooking the game-rich Narus Valley and home to an upmarket lodge and simple UWA-run cottages, Apoka is the park’s tourism hub. Ranger guides are stationed at Apoka to escort tourists on game drives and walks. For those without their own transport, park trucks can be hired. There is a craft shop with books and souvenirs; bottled water, sodas and alcoholic beverages can also be purchased here. Food is cooked on request and cooking gas and utensils can be hired by individuals who wish to cook for themselves.

Narus Valley

Narus Valley is a rolling grassland plain enclosed by distant mountains. The valley has permanent water, and for much of the year the park’s wildlife congregates here. Thus, the area is well provided with game tracks, with four loop circuits exploring the valley around Apoka. Many creatures such as lions, Jackson’s hartebeest, buffaloes, giraffes, oribis and reedbucks can be seen in the valley. Less commonly seen are cheetahs and leopards.

The Narus dam and the water hole near the Tourism Centre are perfect observation points for game, especially during the dry season. At the southern end of the Katurum loop, Katurum kopje is an attractive destination with superb views north across the valley towards the Morungule mountain range.

Kidepo Valley and Kanangorok Hot Springs

For most of the year, a lack of surface water means that little wildlife is found in Kidepo Valley, though it is still worth the drive to visit the dry Kidepo River to stroll along its 50m wide bed of white sand between banks covered with borassus palms. Kidepo means to pick from below and the valley was visited by people coming to gather fallen borassus fruit for fermenting to make palm beer. The Kanangorok Hot Springs lie 11km beyond the Kidepo River on the Sudan border. This is a glorious place to sit and view the mountains beyond the frontier.

Mount Morungule

Mount Morungole stands at 2,750m and is crossed by the Kidepo and Narus Rivers that nourish the park’s wildlife and this natural habitat as a whole. The Morungole Range marks the southern boundary of the park and rises from the plains a few kilometres northeast of Apoka. This region can be explored on foot with a ranger. The mountain slopes are home to the Ik people, the smallest ethnic group in Uganda, with their own unique culture.

Namamukweny Valley

Namamukweny is a Napore word meaning a place with no birds or a lonely place with few people – though regarding the birds, quite the opposite is true! The valley is inhabited by a large number of bird species such as the Eastern Paradise Whydah, White-crested Turaco, Common Bulbul, Abyssinian Roller and Green Wood Hoopoe among others. It is located in the north-west of the park and can be accessed by car or on foot.

Lomej Hills

The Lomej Hills are a short drive from the headquarters. They are a good viewing point for birds and wildlife, including the mountain reedbuck.