Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s second largest National Park that is located in southwestern Uganda in the Albertine Rift region. The park offers breathtaking landscapes and rich wildlife and is arguably one of the most beautiful parks in Africa! Established in 1952 as Kazinga National Park, the park was renamed two years later as Queen Elizabeth National Park to commemorate the visit of her royal highness Queen Elizabeth II of England. The park covers 1978 square kilometres of one of the most diverse ecosystem in Africa including series of crater lakes, lush forests, savannah grasslands, woodland and acacia harbouring a wide range of animal, plant and bird species. It is little wonder the park has been one of the most popular safari destinations in Uganda. It is also because it is easily accessible even with public means of transport. The park boosts as a UNESCO world heritage as well as an Important Bird Area. The park is in the region of rolling green plains, east of lake Edward and south of the Rwenzori mountains.
The park is home to over 95 mammal species, which are the main attraction of the visitors to the park. It inhabits thousands of hippos that populate the water shores of Kazinga Channel, which connects Lake George to Lake Edward – known to have the largest herd of hippos. The park is an open savannah spread with acacia and euphorbia trees that provide a habitat for leopards, elephants, lions, Uganda kobs, Topi, hyenas, and big herds of buffaloes. Some of the big cats in the park are: lions, leopards, civets, genals and serval cats. The park has all the big five with the exception of the Rhinos. The park also hosts the Kyambura gorge, an ‘underground’ forest, 100m below the Kichwaba escarpment, which harbors ten primate species, including chimpanzees, olive baboons, black-and-white colobus monkeys, etc. A plethora of giant forest hogs, schools of hippos among others are usually seen in the tourist villages on the Mweya Penisula. The Mweya Penisula is found on the northern bank of the stunning Kazinga Channel where it merges with Lake Edward.
Queen Elizabeth national park is a birdwatchers haven with over 600 bird species and is an important Birding Area (IBA) by Birding International. It has the highest number of birds found in any protected area in East Africa. Lake Munyanyange adjacent to the park is a bird sanctuary as well as a migratory location for the lesser flamingo from August to November. Other areas for birdwatching include the Kasenyi plains, launch cruise on Kazinga channel and Kyambura gorge.
Queen is also gifted with the Maramagambo forest which hosts a variety of monkeys and birds. Inaddition to this, the park is also punctuated with a various plains; Kasenyi and Ishasha plains that offer scenic views of wildlife. It is within the Ishasha sector of the park that one can find the tree climbing lions. To compliment the biodivesity, the park is also decorated by the Kazinga channel, a grandeur that connects Lake George and Lake Edward, altogether offering spectacular sights of hippos and other widlife. It is this interplay of the forested landscapes, water sources and magnificent plains that makes Queen Elizabeth National Park a very exceptional destination.
Bird Watching at QENP
Uganda is gifted with a plethora of bird species. The country hosts over 1061 bird species, which is over 50% of Africa’s bird richness. For many interested in a birdwatching safari, Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of the country’s premium birdwatching destinations. The park is home to over 600 different species of birds, which is highest of any EastAfrican National Park, given a size of 1,978 km2 The extensive game park is reputed to be among the world’s top five protected conservation areas with the highest diversity of bird species. Bird populations are evenly distributed across the park’s diverse vegetation zones and water catchment areas, each vegetation field accommodating its own bird species. Because of such factors, the park is labelled an Important Bird Area by Birding International. In 1977, a Queen Elizabeth National Park observatory area was established for research on resident and migratory birds.For lack of space we cannot list all the bird species found in the park, but here are a few examples which fall in about five key groups: Rift valley endemics, riverine forest birds, savannah woodland birds, salt water birds, fresh water birds, migratory birds and lots of other categories.
An unsorted list of the park’s bird species will likely feature the following birds: Dark Chanting Goshawk, Martial Eagle, Grey-crowned Crane, Gull-billed Turn, Eurasian Roller, White-throated Beeeater, Northern Carmine Beeeater, Helmeted Guinea Fowl, Crested Francolin, Red-necked Spur Fowl, Egyptian Goose, Yellow-billed Stock, Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, African Spoon Bill, Great White Egret, Great White Pelican, White-backed Vulture, Ruppel’s Griffon Vulture, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, the Grassland African Pipit, Yellow-throated Long Claw, African Pied Wagtail, Village Black-headed Weaver, Spectacled Weaver, and hundreds of others. Bird watching is usually done as a joint activity during game drives, chimp tracking, crater lake tours, boat cruise on Kazinga channel or a visit to Katwe Salt Lake.
The park can be visited any time of the year and provides great chances to watch a variety of birds. However, migratory birds are mostly seen between November and April. Some of the popular spots for birdwatching within the park include: Maramagambo forest area, Kasenyi plains, Ishasha sector, Mweya peninsula, Lake kikorongo and lake katwe areas and katuguru areas among others.
Game Drives at Queen Elizabeth NP
Recognized as the park with the highest number of mammal species in Uganda, Queen Elizabeth National Park is an outstanding location for both morning, sunset and night game drives. Night game drives are organized for passionate tourists who wish to see the park’s top predators at close range. The probability of seeing Leopards, Lions, spotted hyenas, Jackals, bush dogs, serval and other wild cats is higher at night. Grazers, primates, horned angulates, and wild pigs are the most accessible during the day. Hippopotamus, Elephants, cape buffalo, topi, water buck, Uganda Kob, Bohor reedbuck, bush buck, are all perfectly visible during the morning or evening game drive at the Kasenyi plains. Sometimes our safari vans have to wait for several minutes as a buffalo herd cross the trails. What adjectives could possibly describe the imposing sight of an enormous elephant herd crossing elegantly form shrub to shrub looking for the most succulent leaves!
The southern sector of the park, Ishasha, is famously known for its tree-climbing lions that are an exceptional attraction and one among the major highlights on all safaris taken within Queen Elizabeth National park. Here the lions are constantly spotted hanging on braches of huge fig trees. So be alert and observe all trees carefully as you drive through this beautiful savannah landscape.
Chimpanzee Tracking at QENP
In the eastern part of Queen Elizabeth National Park the stunning Kyambura Gorge is found surrounded by savannah landscape. The 12 km long and 1 km wide gorge is covered with dense forest. Down in the gorge flows the Kayambura River. The gorge is also known as ‘the valley of apes’ due to a small population of chimpanzees inhabiting the forest, which has been habituated for tourism. Chimps normally stay in groups known as troops, of about 30 – 80 and is estimated that over 24 chimpanzees in Kyambura gorge are habituated for tourism. You will also enjoy more within the atmosphere and ecosystems of Kyambura Gorge that contains numerous bird species, chimpanzees and monkeys. A plethora of plant species and vegetation that is highlighted by tall trees can also be spotted within the area.
When doing the chimp tracking at thick Kyambura Gorge forest, visitor enter a different world. From a distance the loud calls of the chimp will lead you the way right towards them. You are allowed to observe them for one hour before heading back to the starting point. In the gorge you are likely to encounter many other species of animals such as elephants, buffalos, bushbucks, primates and sometimes even lions, which come down to the river to drink and cool down.
While at the Kyambura gorge, tours last between two to three hours and start at 8am and 2pm daily. The chimps can be visited twice a day by a maximum of 6 people. Chimpanzee trekking is a very fascinating experience, involving you witnessing the activities of humans close relatives, sharing over 98 percent of their DNA with humans. The average weight of an adult male chimpanzee is estimted between 35 and 70 kilograms, with a height of approximately 3 meters while the adult female weighs between 26 and 50 kilograms with a height of between 2 and 4 feet. A chimpanzee’s life expectancy is at 40 years whereas that for those living in captivity can extend up to 60 years. A permit is required before engaging in the activity and reservations for Chimpanzee tacking are actually made at Mweya Visitor Information Centre. Currently, the chimpanzee trekking permit at Kyambura gorge costs USD 50 and this money is exclusive of the park entrance fees. This is however cheaper as compared to the cost at Kibale National Park. Other than the chimps, Kyambura goge also hosts various species of primates that include the black & white Colobus monkeys, olive baboons and the red tailed monkeys among others.
One of the most beautiful parts of Queen Elizabeth National Park is the crater area. This part of the park is interspersed with many craters, some of which are covered by savannah, dense forest of filled with water and create beautiful crater lakes. From there you have a spectacular view of whole park, which should not be missed out.
If times allow, we recommend to bring along some drinks and snacks for a picnic break while enjoying the sunset in this scenic landscape.
Spice up your game drive and book the Lion Experiential. Accompanied by the park’s ‘Cat Doctor’ you will leave the main tracks and drive on unbeaten tracks to get as close to the lions as possible. Learn interesting facts from the carnival doctor about the park’s lions and have the opportunity to see the doctor in action, when he changes colars or checks on his lions.
A truly morable experience for all ‘Big Cat Lovers’. The experiece enables you to learn more about the lions in a unique and more detailed way.
The experience is an initiative of the Uganda Carnivore Program, which is an organization dedicated to the monitoring, research, and conservation of predators in Uganda. The lions, which usually exist in pride of between 3-25 individuals are usually representatively radio-collared and tracked by the use of telemetry and geo-fencing technology, something which presents a nearly 99% chance of seeing them. To avoid placing pressure and stress on the animals, only a limited number of people are allowed to take part in the activity. This experience of lion tracking usually lasts between 1 to three hours (depending on a number of factors) and is scheduled either in the early morning or evening! During this experience, you are always advised to take note of nocturnal vocalizations or roars and their intensity, including hyena calls and any other distress calls from prey. At the end of the experience, you would have collected a number of skills that are used in lion tracking that include the identification of their territory using scent and scraping the ground with their hind feet among others. You would also have gained some knowledge of their group dynamics, composition and behaviors.
In order to take part in the experience, one is required to pay 50 USD to the Uganda Wildlife Authority Information center and 10 USD to the Uganda Carnivore Program. However, these payments do not include the entry fees and you’re advised to book in advance!