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.
With at least 86 mammal species, 475 bird species and 692 plant species, Kidepo Valley National Park is among the most biologically diverse in Uganda, rivaled only by Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park.
The park contains one of the most exciting faunas of any Ugandan national park. Along with the neighboring 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, bush duiker, 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.
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 Karamoja Apalis and black-breasted barbet.
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 4×4 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 THE PARK
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.