Sunday September 1 2013

Kidepo national park: Where lions roll to welcome, entertain tourists


By Martin Ssebuyira

It may not be as prominent as other savannah national parks like Murchison and Queen Elizabeth. The beauty of Kidepo Valley National Park makes it a true African wilderness.
On your way from Kitgum District to the last trading centre at Karenga, before entering the park, one observes an inaccessible place. This is so because of the slippery roads and the near-flooding valleys, coupled with the potholes.
However, having been forewarned, about the roads, we travelled by a 4x4 vehicle, making our journey to the park easier.

Herds of buffaloes, waterbucks, warthogs, among other animals welcome you to the park through Lukumoit or Nataba gates.

Accomodation was set
The vehicle then heads to the Apoka bandas or lodges, to check in for our accommodation before handing us over to Uganda Wildlife Authority guides for a game drive.
“You are welcome to Kidepo Valley National park, stretching 1,442 square kilometres with two seasonal rivers Kidepo and Narusi,” Phillip Akorongimoe, the park head guide says, adding, “this is a wilderness where animals are not stationed in one place thus the fun in moving to find them where they are.”
He jokingly says Kidepo National Park’s lions always love visitors and will welcome them by rolling down and presenting themselves for photo opportunities.

We then take the southern route through Kalabe and Narusi River where I see a variety of animals and birds ranging from buffaloes, water bucks, Jackson heartbeasts, warthogs, zebras, monkeys, baboons, mongoose, monitor lizards, side-striped jackals, among others.

We later climb the steeply rocky hills of the Amampwas, a Sudanese name from the Mening tribe which means “he threw a spear at” that has a scenic view of the park to end day one.

Day two
On day two, we take a drive to the northern part of the park where we find several animals, this time with a wider variety like the tower termite mounts and ostriches. We then go to Kidepo river, which we discovered has dried up.
Akorongimoe says this river just changes from flowing on top to flowing underground but it never dries and proves his point by scratching the sand to show us traces of water.

The northern side also has the forests of the Borassus palms, where Kidepo derives its name. Karimojongs used to go to this park to pick fruits from Borassus palms and named the place “Kidep” a Karimojong word translated to “pick”.
From the river we head to the hot springs called Kanango rock. Archeological findings of bones covered by rocks show that the volcanoes which formed the rock could have solidified with these bones.

We also come across the klipspringer, a small animal found in rocks that Akorongimoe said violates the African cultures because it mates with only one partner. Another animal of interest is the black-bellied bastard.

No lions in sight
We later spend the afternoon looking for the king of the jungle but the search is fruitless because there were no lions in sight.

We do not take this kindly, so the group asks UWA rangers why we can not see the lions. Akorongimoe says the park is not a zoo, where animals are found in a cage, and that he has no “contact number” for these lions to fix an appointment but people should remain hopeful.

After a fruitless search, the group resolved to go to the park headquarters and meet the managers for general interviews about the park.

As if in response to the group’s disappointment, we return at around 9pm to find lions lying besides the road. Hitherto frustrated, the guide gains the courage to crack yet another joke, saying the lions must have heard the group’s anger.
The third day is the most tedious as the group was led to Moronoru mountains to visit the most reclusive tribe, the Ik, about 2900ft on top of the mountain. The hiking is a little tedious stretching for about six kilometres on a steep slope.
The Ik welcome the group with traditional dances and a walk through their homesteads.

The return route from the mountains is different and we trek for 20 kilometres on a steep route from Amarongole. The tedious return from the hill involved climbing and descending on four different mountains.