Their hearts beat twice the rate of human hearts in order to pump blood up their two and a half metres necks. Towering over scattered acacia vegetation and all the creatures, the giraffes scan for danger over the horizon.
Down the valley, a short distance away from thundering Murchison Falls, along the mighty River Nile, crocodiles indefinitely open their jaws cooling off the day’s heat. This scene is typical of Murchison Falls National Park located in Uganda’s largest and oldest conservation area. The park is a gem of wildlife that hosts 76 species of mammals and 451 of birds.
Among its variety of big and small game, it is the only park in the world that hosts more than 70 per cent of the world’s rothschild giraffes also known as the Uganda giraffe. The rothschild giraffes are native to Murchison Falls National Park and are categorised by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered. There are about 2,500 rothschild giraffes in the world.
Murchison Falls National Park hosts 700 of them, according to Uganda Wild Life Authority 2012 census report, making the park home to 75 per cent of the total world population of rothschild giraffe species.
Murchison Falls became one of Uganda’s first national parks in 1952. It lies within the larger Murchison Falls conservation area which is the country’s largest, protected area measuring 5,663 sq.km.
The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile, which plunges 45m over a narrow gorge measuring seven metres wide creating the dramatic Murchison Falls after which the park is named. The stretch of the river from the falls to Lake Albert provides one of Uganda’s most remarkable wildlife sceneries. The river banks attract animals such as elephants, giraffes, buffaloes, hippos, nile crocodiles and aquatic birds.
For bird lovers, the park has a variety of birds with 451 species recorded. The list includes the shoebill stork, the goliath heron – the largest heron in the world – and pairs of elegant grey crowned cranes - Uganda’s national bird.
Also seen along the banks of the Nile are the blue-headed coucal, swamp flycatcher, squacco heron, African jacana, sandpipers, denham’s bustard, Abyssinian ground-hornbill, black-billed barbet, black-headed bonolek, bastern brey blantain-eater, biapiac, bilverbird, weaver birds, pied, giant and malachite kingfishers, red-throated bee-eater, white-browed sparrow weaver, speckle-fronted weaver and African quail-finch.
The northern section of the park contains savannah and borassus palms, acacia trees and riverine woodland. The south is dominated by woodland and forest patches. Most of the game viewing is done on the northern side, which is also home to the rothschild giraffes. There are many attractions in the park but the rothschild giraffe deserves special mention since it is native to the area.
Apart from giraffes the park hosts a variety of animals that include huge herds of buffaloes, elephants, leopards and lions. Other animals are jackson’s hartebeest, bushbucks, Uganda kob, waterbucks and warthogs. During boat cruises on the Nile to the bottom of Murchison Falls, a variety of birds and hippos can be sighted. Most striking are the crocodiles. You cannot find such concentrated numbers of crocodiles anywhere else in Uganda than along the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park.
A boat cruise to the bottom of the falls is one of the must-do activities in the park. The other boat ride is to the delta through a wide, calm stretch of water to where the Victoria Nile flows into Lake Albert. This ride is good for birders to see goliath herons, great egrets, African fish eagles and the rare shoebill.
Along the way to the bottom of Murchison Falls, there is a spot called the “Crocodile bar” where crocodiles converge waiting for the unfortunate fish and other animals that accidentally step in water at the top of the falls and get dragged down by the falls. The young, the old, the big and the small crocodiles all converge and wait for this manna from the river. Some lazily sleep while others open their jaws for hours.