Uganda’s star attraction is the endangered mountain gorilla, the bulkiest of living primates, and among the most peaceable. Staring into the pensive brown eyes of these gentle giants, who share 95% of their genes with humans, is as humbling as it is thrilling; no less so when one realizes that roughly 700 individuals survive.
Uganda is also home to man’s closest relative, the chimpanzee, a delightful ape whose evocative pant-hoot call is a definitive sound of the African rainforest. Kibale National Park is a primatologist’s dream. It hosts a population of more than 1,000 chimpanzees, of which one 80-strong community has been habituated to tourist visits, as well as half-a-dozen readily observed monkey species, including the acrobatic red colobus and black-and-white colobus, and the handsome L’Hoest’s monkey.
The country’s largest protected area is Murchison Falls National Park, where palm-studded grassland supports dense populations of lion, buffalo, elephant and Uganda kob, together with the localised Rothschild’s giraffe and patas monkey. Immense concentrations of hippos and birds can be observed from morning and afternoon launch trips along the Nile below the spectacular waterfall for which the park is named.
Set majestically in the shadow of the Rwenzori, flanking Lakes Edward and George, the lush savannah of Queen Elizabeth National Park offers prime grazing to buffalo, elephant and various antelope. A checklist of 600-plus bird species testifies to the extraordinary ecological diversity of this park. Mammalian specialities include the (elsewhere elusive) giant forest hog, and the legendary tree-climbing lions of the Ishasha Sector.
The closest savannah reserve to Kampala, Lake Mburo National Park is centred on a series of swamp-fringed lakes known for their rich birdlife, notably the secretive African finfoot. The green acacia woodland surrounding the lake harbours dense populations of zebra, warthog, buffalo, impala and various other grazers, including the last surviving Ugandan population of eland, the largest of African antelope.
In island-strewn Lake Victoria there is one particularly special destination, Ngamba Island, where guests can visit a Jane Goodall sponsored project. Here, a community of orphaned chimps, most of which were confiscated from poachers, can be visited on Ngamba Island, which lies on Lake Victoria 45 minutes by motorboat from Entebbe.
There are the snow-capped peaks of the Rwenzori, which provide a tantalising challenge to dedicated mountaineers, as well as the Virunga Volcanoes and Mount Elgon, both of which offer highly rewarding hiking opportunities through scintillating highland scenery.
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