February 18th, 2015
In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…
Our boat ride through the Kazinga Channel was a great success. We saw so many different animals and birds that I've lost track of how many of each type we saw. I imagine that the volume of fauna would have been drastically reduced had the archetypal King of the park been thirsty: the lion.
Luckily for all those water buffalo, the lion population of Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) prefer to doze during the day, doing their dirty work when the sun is out of the sky. There are rumoured to be 200 or so of them in the park. The chances of seeing a lion on your game drive are certainly not guaranteed; our friends Sophie and Rob are yet to see one after six months in Uganda and more than one attempt at finding them in the park.
The best time to catch them is very shortly after the sunrise, before they camouflage themselves in the park’s long, dense and yellowing grass. This meant leaving our base camp shortly before 6:30 in the morning. Driving in Uganda is interesting enough; adding darkness into the equation just makes it unnecessarily tense.
We were told that the chances of spotting a pride of lions are greatly enhanced if you take a Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) guide along with you. We collected a young, smiling man called Robert, headed across the Equator back into the southern hemisphere and into the Kazengi section of QENP.
As darkness transformed into light, we witnessed possible evidence that lions had been around in the past in the form of numerous bones and skeletons dotted around on the bare, dry floor.
We also saw a plethora of a lion’s main prey in this area: the Ugandan kob. This type of antelope, which appears on the nation’s currency, bounces around the savannah on its spindly legs. Robert told us that the males have their own territory of only 10 to 50 yards and that this can be lost in the time it takes a kob to go to the water and drink.
We drove around fruitlessly for about forty-five minutes until we soon found another 4x4 stopped and motioning us over. Quiet as a mouse, our car Pumbaa rolled up alongside and we peered anxiously out of our dusty windows.
What we saw was…well, nothing originally. The passengers of the other car were pointing at a dip in the land about ten metres away. Suddenly, a movement. A rustle in the grass. Are they ears?
It is very difficult for the pictures to do justice to what our eyes gazed upon. We had found a lion lying mere metres away from us. Admittedly, all we could see was the back of the top of its head, but a lion nonetheless. Very exciting.
After about ten minutes of waiting, hoping for the lion to show itself more clearly, Robert asked if we wanted to move on. Pumbaa drove off down a different track, in a different direction to the other jeeps on Robert’s advice. We drove for another thirty minutes before I was told to slam on the brakes. Something was in the distance.
What we could see, even from hundreds of metres away, was a male lion standing proudly, its shaggy mane golden in the ever-rising sunshine. The king of the jungle.
Remarkably, this was shortly followed by two female lions strutting past the male, presumably off to hunt.
I would have been content with seeing the head of a lion. To see three moving around and interacting was simply a dream. Hannah even saw the male lion roll over and start flailing his legs playfully in the air. An incredible experience.
This was the zenith of our lion tracking: no more were to be found. Later on, however, we came across a sad-looking elephant stood on the edge of our dirt track. We rolled to within a couple of metres of him and quickly discovered that he didn't have a fully-formed tail or tusks. Robert explained that the tail may have been a natural problem. As for the tusks…I dread to think. It is terrible to think that poaching and stealing of ivory still occurs, even in a protected national park like Queen Elizabeth.
Robert was a fantastic guide. It was he who found the pride of lions and spread the word to the point that we were joined by five other vehicles watching in awe. He was very knowledgeable and passionate about the animals, and definitely improved our game drive experience.
The amazing thing about this was that we were back at base by 10am. Though admittedly very tired, we still had the rest of the day! We used this time to drive and walk through some of the mountain towns, where shouts of, “Hello muzungu how are you!” were once again popular amongst the schoolchildren. Both Hannah and I love their bright uniforms, particularly the lilac colours.
Once again, the day had been searingly hot. One way of the climate rewriting itself in this part of the world is to respond with a rapid and violent thunderstorm. What we experienced on this night – with power fluctuating on and off with each fork of lightning – was something I have seldom witnessed before.
The storm was still raging six hours later, waking me at 2am with windows rattling in our hut. It was thus with heavy eyelids as well as a heavy heart that we left base outside QENP, Wild Tracks, the next morning. Teddy, the owner, was a fantastic, bullish and funny person to return to with stories from our animalistic adventures. Plus she prayed for us to see lions: I'm delighted that she did.
Love you all