Written by Chris Rasmussen
Yesterday was our day in the park, Queen Elizabeth National Park to be exact. This was named after our present Queen Elizabeth who loved Africa very much, in fact was in Africa when her father passed away and she became Queen.
We awoke early, 5 am, from our thatched covered bungalows to be escorted, with luggage, to coffee in the main lounge. We were to meet our guide at 6:30 for a tour of the Savannah; we hoped to catch sight of a lion before they bedded down for the day. As we drove down the darkened road, elephants foraged in the ditch and shoulder barely 10 feet away from us, but we could hardly see them with their dark gray coats matching the dark gray morning. It was too dark to take pictures but Spencer assured us there would be plenty to view and shoot later on our river trip.
The guide jumped into John’s Toyota van and we headed off in search of the elusive lions and other wildlife. She informed us various tidbits of animal behavior and facts as we drove deeper into the park. One of the first animal spied were water Buffalo alone or in small groups of 2 or 3. She informed us these were old males, too slow and too weak to keep up with the herd and abandoned. She referred to them as “losers”. Spencer and I were quiet, not quite sure how to digest this new nomenclature. Soon, as we wandered around the rutted dirt roads we stopped before running into a Hippo sitting quietly in a deep mud puddle.
Not only was it disconcerting to see the Hippo there but it showed how deep the road ruts were. As we drove on we saw Wart Hogs running in packs of 3-5, kneeling down to eat the fresh grass of the Savannah and thousands of kobs roaming the land.
Kobs are deer like animals with spiral curving horns and the favorite food of lions. Their cousins, the Waterbucks are larger and probably more like our elk. While numerous, they were not as plentiful as the kobs. A pride of 5-12 lions will consume 4-6 kobs per day.
After searching for lions for 3 to 4 hours we were starting to get discouraged. We followed the kobs looking for herds running heater skelter away from a predator but still didn’t see any. Our guide got word of a couple lions a few miles away and we headed that direction. Kathleen, our doctor in the group, asked about gestation periods and litter sizes as we drove towards the lions. Our Ugandan guide in British English explained about kobs and cubs; I was a little confused. Apparently, kobs come 1 to a litter every 6 months and cubs come 4 to a litter about the same time. We saw a pair of lions, male and female, far into the distance, lounging lazily in the grass. After a few minutes another male appeared 100 yards away and also sat down.
We had seen our lions, our patience had been rewarded and we headed off to our next adventure.
As we turned off the main road towards the fine Mweybe Lodge, 22 kilometers in the distance, we ran into the famous rutted, rumbling and pot holed Ugandan roads. This one was even paved at some distant time but it didn’t seem to offer much respite. The lodge was magnificent, perched on ridge overlooking the wide channel connecting Lake George and Lake Andrew. There were geckos and lizards scurrying across the grounds as we sat on the terrace restaurant and dined on Nile Perch and “Mexican pizza.”
The boats were several hundred feet below us waiting to take us on the river cruise. We were accompanied on the double decker “Hippo” boat by a group of British “birders” who oohed and ahed at black headed weaver, white egrets, red breasted herons and local pelicans while I noticed large mammals and ferocious looking crocodiles.
There were more hippopotami than we could count but no elephants. Apparently, the recent rains allowed them to drink in the forest without coming down to the water’s edge. There were also many solitary water buffalo here but this guide was a little more “politically correct” and just called them older retired males, not “losers”. They sat peacefully on the shore, facing the water knowing if they heard a predator approach they could quickly run into the water and swim safely away. Spencer and I thought retirement could be a lot worse than this.
We got back into John’s van and started the slow ride to Mbarara, weaving through park roads looking for monkeys and elephants. There seems to be a lot of baboons and we finally found a white faced monkey family to pose for pictures. Waterbucks and wart hogs scurried across the landscape but no elephants. We saw their scat but it was old and dried. We finally left the park and headed towards Mbarara, 120 kilometers away. Just before heading up the hills, out of the plains, a small herd of elephants appeared on our left and we got a couple distant pictures; mission accomplished. The roads were so bad it took us 4 hours to travel the 70 plus miles. We passed through the mountains, through more tea plantations and small Ugandan villages. We arrived in Mbarara tired and achey, dirty and gritty but satisfied and amazed at all we had seen this day.
God has a wide and varied kingdom and we saw a new and wonderous slice today. Thank you, God.