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Big Cats ... and more Big Cats

QENP DAY TWO - THE LION SHOW

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We arose quite early for our morning game drive with the Uganda Carnivore Program, greeted by overcast skies and rain. Our guide, James Kalyewa, is a senior research assistant who rode in our van along with his lion tracking apparatus. The tracking antenna was connected to a radio transmitter tucked in his shirt pocket, close enough to his ears for him to listen intently for sounds that the rest of us could not discern. James was in possession of a permit to take the vehicles off the dirt roads and into the savannah grass, so that when James heard something, it prompted an abrupt direction to Joseph, driving our van: "Left!" "Keep going straight now!" Before long, he led us to our first of several pairs and trios of lions, both females and males.

The first two lionesses were sleepy and blinking against the morning light, one of them prominently sporting the tracking collar that led us to her:

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The sight of lions in their natural habitat is so mesmerizing, we gazed at them and clicked our cameras again and again until they stood up and ambled away. Then we were off again, James' ear to his pocket.

Our next pair of lionesses seemed as sleepy as the first and one of them was also collared. They sat close together in the grass, one grooming herself. We were surprised that they did not seem to take notice of our vehicles. I wondered if they had just enjoyed this nearby African kob male for breakfast.
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As we waited for more signals to inspire James, we observed some cape buffalo groups, a trio of male waterbuck, and a big warthog hanging out by his habitat:
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Nearly an hour passed by before we caught up to this next trio of lionesses, who first thrilled us with their display of sisterly affection, and then thrilled us again by walking between our two vans as though we weren't even there!
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The next pair of lions we found were male; one a juvenile, another an adult with an injured paw. The injured male is the one with the larger mane; he was so peaceful and regal!
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We happened upon a final trio of males in close proximity to the last pair. James identified this group as being brothers of the same mother to the male pair we had just left. He explained that when male lions mature, they leave their families and become competitors. James worried that this trio was aware of the nearby brothers, including one with the injured paw; indeed, it seemed like all three lions were training their attention in the direction of this other pair, possibly with the idea to fight them since one was injured and they were outnumbered. James instructed our drivers to begin to slowly move the vans, gently herding the lion trio away from their two brothers. The lions were not happy to be nudged, as they were lazy and wanted to rest. But our vans slowly kept behind them, prompting them to another part of the plains. We watched from our van as they headed away toward an iconic acacia, with the Mountains of the Moon looming in the distance. Fantastic!!
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Our group with James and his tracking equipment. What a memorable morning!
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Posted by lindaconnor 17:25 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

Leopard!

JUST WHEN YOU THINK YOU'VE SEEN IT ALL

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Just adjacent to the Kasenyi Plains, where the African kob are plentiful and the prides of lions lay in wait for them, there is an active salt-producing crater lake called Lake Bunyampaka. It sits alongside an assortment of small shops with scarves, carvings, and other mementoes, as well as a family-owned shop where one can buy a coffee or soda. There is a small salt extraction industry on this lake, and the salt pans that assist in the evaporation and collection are visible on the surface of the lake. Joseph showed us the salt that remains after natural evaporation occurs.

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After a break for coffee and souvenirs, we returned to Kasenyi Plains for what was left of our morning game drive. What we observed next left us practically speechless.

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Even James was rattled! He loudly whispered, "A leopard! Get a picture before it's too late!" There is no doubt we were extremely lucky to get a glimpse of a rare leopard, especially one moving slowly enough to be photographed. It was unbelievable to see how the high savannah grasses almost perfectly camouflaged his spots.

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One more unexpected sighting remained: an African rock python, slowly and rythmically puffing out with a hiss as if to warn us away. No problem --
even though this was a juvenile python (a mere 2.5 meters long), we were not tempted to come closer!
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Our morning game drive was a complete success that is to be relived again and again in my memories.

Posted by lindaconnor 17:56 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

More QENP Wildlife

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After the adrenalin rush of seeing so many lions, a rare leopard and African rock python on our early morning game drive, our group was ready for a break! We returned to the Bush Lodge for lunch, and then took a drive to the Mweya Peninsula to spend an afternoon at the Mweya Safari Lodge, an upmarket resort with a swimming pool and poolside refreshments! We relaxed for a few hours, enjoying the patio view of Lake Edward and the Kazinga Channel boat launches.

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On Friday morning, we were up early again for our day packed with activities: early morning game drive, afternoon boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel, and evening drive through the QENP Explosion Crater area. Our game drive rewarded us with waterbuck, an African hawk eagle, a herd of elephants including a mama herding her baby across an open field, African kob, and a herd of cape buffalo.

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We were lucky to have a geography professor with us, who identified clouds on the windward side of the Ruwenzoris as demonstrating orographic uplifting, or the altitude at which water vapor becomes saturated and turns into clouds!

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Our afternoon boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel identified so many different types of birds and wildlife too numerous to share all the photos here. There were pied kingfishers, yellow billed storks, blue herons, different types of cormorants, spoonbills, spur winged plovers, black billed stilt, hammerkobs and more. There were also an abundance of waterbuck, hippos, elephants, and fish eagles.

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There is a fishing village that existed prior to this land being dedicated to national parkland in 1952, and the residents were allowed to remain in order to continue fishing as their livelihood. The village is still there today, and they must confine their fishing to Lake Edward.

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Posted by lindaconnor 12:28 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

QENP Explosion Craters

A BREATHTAKING LANDSCAPE!

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We spiraled up to higher altitude -- the highest in QENP-- along Crater Drive and past the Baboon Cliffs to get to the Explosion Crater area. These were violent volcanos that spewed ash, rock, and debris far and wide somewhere between 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. The remaining landscape is filled with calderas, craters, and crater lakes surrounded by lush greenery and forestland. This was a fascinatingly beautiful drive, and the singlemost vivid reason why I want to return to Uganda.

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Caldera on the top (only a third of it! It was enormous!) and Crater on the bottom.
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Two more photos of craters. They were otherworldly!!
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Magnificent crater lakes.
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I am not sure of the altitude, but we were way up there. Breathtaking views of the landscape below. Absolutely my favorite drive of the trip!
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Posted by lindaconnor 14:23 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

The Final Leg of our Trip

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To return to Kampala from Queen Elizabeth National Park, we traveled first north to Kasese on Mbarara-Kasese Road, and then through Hima, Fort Portal before we turned east on the A109 highway to complete our journey. We set out early on Saturday morning for the 416km trip (approximately 260 miles) which was to take about seven hours. It was interesting to see a different part of the country on this route back, the towns were more well-maintaned than our southern route, though the landscape was still dotted with a lot of agricultural concerns. Our pace was comfortable as we chatted with our driver, Joseph, who obligingly named every tree, flower, and bird we saw while talking about Ugandan history and culture, and his considerable knowledge about the towns through which we passed. After days and days with Joseph as our guide, it was becoming bittersweet to realize our trip was nearing its conclusion.

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I had told Joseph throughout the trip that my one wish, so far unrealized, was to photograph a gray crowned crane, the national symbol of Uganda. We had spotted one high above us at Nakivubo, but I wasn't able to get a photo. Joseph promised me that he would find one, and on this final trip he found not one but a pair of them. Beautiful!
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We enjoyed one more evening of food, music, and dance in Kampala with our Ndere friends, before a very late night drive to Entebbe, the city of our departure for home. We all looked much the same when we left Kampala as when we arrived, but all of us are changed for the better by this wonderful experience!
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Until we meet again, Uganda!
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Posted by lindaconnor 16:06 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

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