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Less Travelled Gem

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The Pearl of Africa – The preferred travel gem

The world travel trends are reforming so enthusiastically and immensely as people voyage preferences, interests and expectations revolutionize. This is so true even in African safaris where many holiday makers in Africa tour are opting for safaris off the beaten track and those that offer unique safari styles and ‘new experience’ expeditions. One of the key beneficiary to this varying trend is Queen Elizabeth national park in Uganda. This is a wonderful national park; sometimes dubbed ‘the Pearl of Africa or Switzerland of Africa’ boasts the world biodiversity haven.

The wide bio-diversity means that Queen Elizabeth National Park contains the most astonishing number of species – almost 100 types of mammal and 606 different bird species! From open savannah to rainforest, from dense papyrus swamps and brooding crater lakes to the vastness of Lake Edward, it is little wonder that QENP boasts one of the highest biodiversity ratings of any game reserve in the world.

Such incomparable diversity make this superb safari territory, with elephant, abundance of hippos, the indefinable giant forest hogs and handsome Uganda Kobs all regularly sighted around the tourist village on the Mweya Peninsula – which also boasts a marvelous waterfront setting in the shadow of the Rwenzori Mountains.

The Kasinga Channel alone is said to contain the world’s largest concentration of hippos, but interestingly enough not many crocodiles! Other wildlife includes warthogs, buffalo, rare aquatic Sitatunga antelope, Giant forest hog, beautifully horned Uganda Kob, Topi, Waterbuck, Elephant and leopard. There are no giraffe, zebra, impala or rhino.

Hunting exhibits such as stuffed lions, leopard skins, deer heads and elephants’ tusks may still be found adorning some hotels and lodges, but the emphasis is certainly more on shooting with a camera these days. Much of Uganda’s wildlife was poached out in the past, especially elephants, but now the area is protected and elephants numbers are boosted by those entering the park from the Congo, where poaching is still a problem.

Some rare and odd birds inhabit this park and keen birders come from all over the world to clock up a sighting of the peculiar, pouting shoebill (or whale-headed) stork. This giant bird stands 4-foot high (more than 1 metre) and wears a rather timid expression. This and a myriad of other birds and animals are best viewed from a boat on the Kasinga Channel.

Several of the National Parks and lakes have changed their names more than once since independence in 1962, and not all maps have kept up with the changes. For example the Queen Elizabeth National Park was called the Ruwenzori National Park for many years until it returned to its royal colonial name. Meanwhile the Ruwenzori Mountains to the north of Queen Elizabeth N.P. were formed into the new Ruwenzori National Park in 1991.

Elsewhere, the remote Ishasha Sector is famed for its tree-climbing lions, the Kyambura Gorge harbours habituated chimps, the Maramagambo Forest is home to an alluring selection of forest monkeys and birds, and flocks of flamingo are resident on the crater lakes.

Kyambura (or Chambura) Gorge on the north-east boundary of the park, is real Tarzan territory with thick treetop canopies and vines dangling down to the soft forest floor. The terrain comes complete with chimpanzees who crash about and chatter high up in the branches. If they don’t feel like being seen, they just keep one step ahead of the out-of-breath terrestrial visitors.

The park lays 5-6 hours from Kampala on a surfaced road via Mbarara, and can be reached on a dirt road from Bwindi accessible by public transport. There is a landing air strip at Mweya lodge for light aircraft or a larger airstrip at Kasese town.

Simply, this fertile equatorial area is especially scenic, with two lakes connected by a channel overlooked by a high peninsula. You will also find volcanic craters, grassy plains and tropical forest making it one of the highest biodiversity ratings in the world.

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