Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) is Uganda’s most visited park for 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 a top game viewing destination in East Africa.
The big attractions in this park are game drives in the Mweya Peninsular where herds of buffalo and elephants have commonly sighted grazing with antelope, kob, and dozens of other grass-eaters.
The best way to view the 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 hundreds 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 leopards.
But the most astounding item in this park is the tree-climbing lions of Ishasha. Tree climbing lions are an extreme rarity in Africa. There only three places in Africa where they can still be spotted, and nowhere else are they more commonly sighted than in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
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 birdlife.
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Queen Elizabeth National Park’s 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 camouflage, 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 sneaking into your car and steal food right out of your hands.
When it comes to birding, QENP’s bird list is a birder’s paradise. QENP’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. The majority are a must-see for birders.
QENP’s long list of birds includes water birds, woodland, and forest dwellers in the Maramagambo Forest, 54 raptors, and various migratory species. 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.
Classified as an Important Birding Area (IBA) by Birding International, QENP 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. The best birding spots
QENP has some of the best park amenities in Uganda. There are two airstrips, good camping facilities, excellent accommodation, and game trails and park routes are well maintained.
The park’s rangers are well trained and always available for guided tours.
ACTIVITIES IN THE PARK
QENP is renowned for birding, launch drives, and game drives, but besides these are several other things you can do in the park if you’re there for a long safari. Balloon safaris are available on special order
1. Game Drives:
The best time for game drives is early in the morning and late afternoon/early evening. For a classic safari experience, the tracks through Kasenyi, the North Kazinga Plains, and the Ishasha Sector offer virtually guaranteed 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.
2. Launch Drives.
QENP’s launch drives are the finest there are in Uganda. The park operates a launch trip on Kazinga Channel two-four times a day with an excellent view of wildlife and bird waters at the channel’s shores and guaranteed sightings of hippos.
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.
4. Chimpanzee 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 Kyambura Gorge makes it ideal for spotting birds as well, and though chimpanzee sightings are not guaranteed, you won’t miss the sound of these jungle misfits following you around and teasing your ears with primate calls.
Nature walking in tropical forests 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.
6. Culture Encounters
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 Queen Elizabeth NP 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.
POPULAR DESTINATIONS IN THE PARK
QENP has many locations to visit but must-go places. The best places to visit while viewing areas within the park are in Mweya Peninsula, Kazinga Channel, and Ishasha.
1. Mweya Peninsula
Mweya Peninsula is located on the north-eastern shores of Lake Edward at the corner where Kazinga Channel joins the lake. It is the most visited place in Queen Elizabeth National Park. The Mweya Peninsula is one of the best places to start your game drive.
A game drive through the area will give you a reasonable opportunity of finding the indefinable leopard plus herds of elephant. Mammals like hyenas, waterbucks, buffaloes, warthogs, and the giant forest hog are repeatedly spotted around the Peninsula.
Its proximity to Kazinga Channel furnishes sightings of hippos from the channel water grazing peacefully. Countless bird species dwell in the peninsula as well.
The view from the peninsula stretching over to Rwenzori Mountain ranges tens of miles away. Mweya is one of the finest places to see leopards which usually dwell in the little thickets and the area is the focal base for activities in the attractive northern part of the park.
2. Kazinga Channel
Kazinga Channel is a 40m water cannel adjoining Lake George to Lake Edward. It has the perfect view of the parks’ major wildlife ventures. Carrying up to 40 passengers, the boats guarantee a seat with a view, while expert ranger guides narrate the creatures’ stories.
Kazinga Launch trips last two hours and runs three or four times a day.
The channel is an oasis for many of the fascinating species that inhabit the park, and taking a boat tour along it gives visitors the chance to cruise just meters from hundreds of enormous hippos and buffalos while elephants linger on the shoreline. An average of 60 bird species can be spotted during the trip.
Kazinga Channel has two viewing spots— North Kazinga and Kasenyi. North Kazinga is prolific in buffalo, elephants, and other animals that dwell in the grassland thickets, while the most accessible spot for lions is in the eastern part of the Kasenyi plains.
3. Ishasha – Tree Climbing Lions
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Ishasha is well known for its tree-climbing lions. Besides here, these animals can also be seen in Tanzania close to Lake Manyara, and also in South Africa. The difference is that they are rarely spotted in Lake Manyara NP while in Ishasha we have a very high rate of success.
Ishasha covers an area of about 100km south of Mweya with classic savannah vegetation that gives a genuine Africa wilderness experience. The lions like to stay in big fig (sycamore) trees which are common in the southern circuit of Ishasha.
But Ishasha has much more to offer than the tree-climbing lions. This remote southern corner of Queen Elizabeth is one of the most alluring game viewing areas in East Africa.
Large herds of buffalo, Uganda Kob, Antelope, and Elephant can be seen grazing in the plains. Ishasha also has tree-climbing leopards but these are not as popular as their bigger cousins. It is a popular passage for tourists en route to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
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