A night in the wilderness where beauty lingers

Elands in Lake Mburo national park  at night. PHOTOS/ RACHEAL NABISUBI

What you need to know:

The road trip from Kampala to Lake Mburo spans 370 km leading to the smallest Savannah parks in Uganda

On a mission to unveil the proposition of Lake Mburo, the night drive is the most outstanding seeing that I have not visited any other park that brings this to the fore as an activity.

Being in the wild, moreover at night with a camera in hand, I had to ride outside the cabin on a pick up. The cool night breeze and the sounds of nocturnal birds including those of animals I cannot even identify made me glad that I was in a vehicle with two- armed rangers.

The slight apprehension, however, did not diminish the excitement I felt because it was after all my first time in the wild at 8p.m.

The road trip from Kampala to Lake Mburo spans 370 km leading to the smallest Savannah parks in Uganda. This we learn, explains why there are no elephants in this park dominated by antelopes and zebras with the apex predator by number being the leopards with reports of a lone lion.

Lake Mburo national park is located in Nyabushozi county, Kiruhura district near Mbarara in Western Uganda.

Entering the park at an unusual 7:50p.m (it is better to arrive before lunch), we were immediately briefed about it. With the team of only four people, we did not even check in our hotel rooms but started with the night game drive looking for the park’s nocturnal operators’ top of which is the leopard.

On the first night drive, we only managed to see the small nocturnal -the hare and those big eyed cat like creatures.

For instance, the bush baby also known as ‘lesser galago’ with its fur in different colours and may be lighter brown to a greyish brown with yellowish side arms and legs.

The bush baby is one of the smallest primates, about the size of a squirrel. Their plaintive cries and cute appearance may account for the name ‘bush baby.’ They have large, round eyes for good night vision and bat-like, delicate ears that enable them to track insect prey in the dark. As they jump through thorn bush or thick growth, they fold the ears flat against their heads to protect them.

My roving eyes could not miss the eland -a very large, oxlike African antelope of the spiral-horned antelope tribe.

There are water bucks which camp at the Uganda Wildlife Authority headquarters. These seem to introduce you into the night drive in the park. Male waterbucks use their horns to fight and defend their territories.

Uganda’s wild excursions remind you that nature is in charge. While we sought for the leopard, we missed it at the first attempt but with the resolve to try again.

Fortunately on the second attempt with a determined ranger, we caught sight of the leopard. The thrill is not in just seeing the leopards, it is really in seeing them at night. You might even get lucky and see it with a kill but that is very rare. On this night, we saw a mother and cub but they were forced to separate and stay on different sides of the trail as we stopped with the big search light between them on the trail.

Rebecca Asingwire, a tour night guide at Lake Mburo warned us that such adventure missions involve luck. You might either see these animals or not.

Despite various activities such as game drives, hiking and guided nature walks, sport fishing, horseback safari and birding, the night drive is one of the most exciting and interesting activities and a must do/have when in Lake Mburo.

Seeing the leopard is the highlight of the night excursion and it is satisfying if you succeed.

She noted that there are about 800,000 - zebras (species grant zebras) in Lake Mburo national park which also the biggest number of zebras followed by Kidepo. Some of the animals has included the water bucks which camp at the Uganda Wildlife Authority headquarters. This strategy, we are told, is aimed at reducing chances of being eaten by the leopards.

Other animals include; African hare, impalas, Genet cat which hunts for small rodents, buffalos, zebras, hippos, crested cranes, water bucks, elands and Egyptian geese.

It is estimated that there are about 410 bird species in Lake. Mburo.  There are also around 50 leopards which are solitary.

After the night drive, it was refreshing to finally check into Mihingo Lodge which felt like having left the wild. But that feeling was short lived.

When I was taken into my room, I thought the night wild behind me was bearing its claws even here in the cottage which is otherwise a really beautiful place.

The rooms are far apart in the wilderness and if you’ve never slept there (wilderness) alone, you might totally freak out especially for those who fear the dark. Enroute to catch dinner, we stumbled upon a snake and I was torn between jumping, running or picking a stone. The host in a very calm voice advised that you just wait, let the snake pass and continue on your way. The rules of conservation dictate that you cannot harm the snake. It underlined the need of always using a flashlight when you walk on the lodge paths.

A delicious meal was served and you would hear the songs from nocturnal birds punctuated with calls from animals all around. The constant wild feeling, however, encased in the middle of beauty seems to linger forever.  

The setting of my cottage and therefore all the others is designed to give and leaves with you a lasting impression even when you go to sleep. Half of the interior space of the cottages leave you staring directly into the night with only a wire mesh between you and the wild night outside. If you are used to sleeping within four walls totally enclosed with windows closed, here I felt like my bed was partly outside emphasised by the sounds of the nocturnal creatures in the trees over and around my cottage.

Although they sounded like they were ‘snoring’, it was done in a systematic way. The rhythms and sounds are like lullabies that should help you get to bed for a good night sleep at the end of a very long day.

I went to bed with a torch right beside me! Like a child, I was scared of the dark and sleeping alone in the room with lights off - in the wild!

I summoned courage and tried to free myself of the fear induced illusion that had gripped me and nature took charge again as I slipped away into a dreamless sleep.

Arrhh! It was funny in the morning noticing the torch beside me!

But at Sunrise, having checked in at night, I started appreciating the cottage I spent the night in. With day light, I could see the beauty and was fearful no more.

 According to the chief executive officer of Mihingo Lodge Ralph Schenk, my experience is typical with Ugandan visitors.

“For starters, it might be scary but once you take on the experience, you become strong enough to live in the wilderness,” he notes.

He happily notes that Ugandans have embraced the beauty of nature unlike in the past.

 The cottage’s ambience is great when you start appreciating all the dimensions in day light. There is a mixed touch of art that is multi-racial presenting novelty for non-African visitors and familiar artistic presentation for African or Ugandan visitors.

You cannot miss the door locks. Forget those that require you to get a key to bolt or swiping your card, it is simply a metallic curving that has to be tightened.

The multi-coloured kikoyi underlines the attempt in amplifying the African style.

Ralph Schenk, the chief executive officer, Mihingo Lodge, says many people have failed to stay in their rooms because the bathrooms are too open to nature. However, the design is that only nature and not humans that might see you take a shower. It is all supposed to leave you feeling wild even when showering.

“We wanted it to be as African as possible blending with the traditional way of building houses with a mix of being open close to nature. The bathrooms are round but open to feel the nature of the wilderness.”

The windows are made of mesh not glass that makes you feel close to nature. The doors with papyrus in between because of the African hut design.

“The tent is a traditional way of safari to Africa. They are a traditional experience big and luxurious because we made them to give an explorer’s feeling – as if without a wall,” Schenk says.

Facts about animals

Animals in the park do not sleep at the same time despite being in herds.

Mr Moses Matsiko, the head guide, Lake Mburo Conservation Area notes “They don’t all sleep at the same time to avoid being eaten by predators.” 


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