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Why you should explore the magical wonders of Kidepo Valley National Park

A herd of Buffaloes cross the road to the wildness at Kidepo Valley National park

A herd of Buffaloes cross the road to the wildness at Kidepo Valley National Park (PHOTO /Courtesy)

KARENGA — In 2013, Kidepo Valley National Park was listed Africa’s third in importance by CNN Travel, a US publication of Cable News Network.

And later in 2015, out of 138 parks in the major safari countries included in the study; parks known for classic wildlife viewing safaris, Kidepo valley national park was ranked 14th best national park in Africa by the Netherlands based SafariBooking.com, an online market place for African safaris that attracted over 3,000 reviews from safari adventurists and industry experts.

Although Africa is regarded as a destination for tourism, Kidepo Valley National Park, covering 1,442 square kilometres is regarded as one of the top 10 parks where travelers can find the most outstanding experiences and meet the best value wilderness experiences.

And probably this could be one of the reasons why this invaluable natural resource has been visited and revisited.

At Kidepo, you will live in the wildness like wildlife; You will wake up to a sunrise that you had never seen before, it is a mix of breathtaking landscapes, the wildlife, the culture, the people; fantastic place.

The extra-ordinary features at this park shape its outstanding beauty, which remain a myth to those who have not visited it and a secret to those who have visited it.

Kidepo Valley National Park

Bull Bull at Kidepo Valley National Park, it is the biggest elephant iin Uganda weighing about 6000 tonnes (PHOTO/ David Mafabi)

Kidepo Valley National Park is largely uninhibited by woodland and forest which are a result of the open tree savannah habitat that dominates the park hills and have been colonised by the dry mountain forest while some water courses support acacia forests.

Location 

Kidepo Valley National Park is a 1,442-square-kilometre (557 square miles) national park in the Karamoja sub-region of northeast Uganda, Karenga district to be exact. It is located approximately 220 kilometres (140 miles), by road northwest of Moroto, the largest town in the sub-region.

Kidepo has rugged savannah, dominated by the 2,750 metres (9,020 feet) Mt Morungole and transected by the Kidepo and Narus rivers. Tucked in Uganda’s most remote north-eastern corner, some 700km from Kampala and tucked between borders with Sudan and Kenya, Kidepo valley is an isolated park.

However, those few who make the journey north through the wild frontier region of Karamoja to visit it, will agree that it is among the most magnificent parks in Africa’s finest wilderness.

From Apoka, in the heart of the national park, a savanna landscape extends in all directions, far beyond the gazette area of 1442 square kilometres towards horizons outlined by distant ranges.

A little closer, the scene takes on the shape of a dazzling plateau and suddenly, the view of the beguiling volcanic Mount Morungole ranges towering majestically 2,750 metres above the plains of the most scenic wilderness in Kidepo comes into sight.

The park; planted on rocks, over looks expansive grassy plains dotted with big rocky outcrops and flanked by steep jagged mountains with the summit ridges of Napore range, Taan hills and Natera hills, part of Nyangea, Morongole and Zulia forest reserves.

The park actually straddles the Narus and Kidepo river valleys, both located in the great Kidepo basin, bounded by the highlands of Mount Morungole in the southern, the rugged Napore-Nyagia mountain range in the western area, the Natira and Lokayot hills in the north-east, the Lotukei mountains in the south of Sudan marking the north of the park.

Kidepo Valley National Park experiences semi-arid climate with just one rainy season per year (April – September) and the rainfall is light, with the Valley of Narus River in the south of the park, receiving some 890mm of rain a year, while just 635mm of rain a year falls in Kidepo valley to the north.

The only two rivers in the national park; Narus and Kidepo, are seasonal rivers, which dwindle and disappear in the dry season; the only permanent water in the park is found in wetlands and remnant pools along the southern Narus valley near Apoka, and as a result wildlife is concentrated in this area.

Attractions at Kidepo Valley national park;

Warthogs in the compound in Kidepo valley Natiponal park. As you eat, you can also watch wildlife at Kidepo. 

According to Mr Johnson Masereka, the chief warden at Kidepo valley National park, the plains teem with big buffalo herds midget crocodiles cool off the day in Narus valley while the king of the jungle watches its kingdom atop a rock as ostriches dance while at a distance, Karamojong youth perform the edonga dance.

Gifted by nature
Gazetted as a national park in 1962, Kidepo hosts more than 77 mammals and about 475 bird and 692 plant species.

Mr Masereka says the park has 28 unique animal species not found anywhere else in Uganda and that these include: striped hyena, aardwolf, caracal, cheetah, greater and lesser kudu, klipspringer, dik-dik, bright’s gazelle, and chandler’s mountain reedbuck. Occasional visitors to the park from South Sudan include the African wild dogs.

He added that other animals in Kidepo but also found in other parks include: African elephant, zebra, buffalo, waterbuck, jackson’s hartebeest, lion, leopard, and both black-backed and side-striped jackal.

“And it is possible to sight a good variety of wildlife simply by scanning the valley with binoculars from the comfort of either Uganda Wildlife Authority offices or Apoka lodge,” adds Masereka.

According to Mr Masereka, the future of the park is getting brighter and that the park’s fortunes are rising and rising indicating that so far even before the year ended, they had collected UGX1,604,932,174 in the financial year 2018/19 up from UGX 1,295,867,511 in the 2017/18 FY.

“Five to 10 years ago, we hardly got 100 tourists a year. Today, we get 2,500 to 3,000 a year and this has added to our revenue and I am sure that if we can market this park maximally, we can even go above UGX 2 billion,” said Mr Masereka.

Mr Zacharia Lokwee, a tourist guide at Kidepo valley national park says Kidepo is not like any other park in Uganda because its plains are surrounded by Blue Mountains teeming with thousands of buffalo herds which cannot be seen anywhere else in the country.

“And because the park has limited water sources, it is possible to see elephants, lions and giraffes in a small radius, especially during the dry season without driving in circles” said Mr Lokwee.

He revealed that Kidepo is known for its birds of prey, 58 species of which have been recorded and that these include lammergeier (gypaetus barbatus), verreaux’s eagle (aquila verreauxii), the pygmy falcon (polihierax semitorquatus), and Egyptian vulture (neophron percnopterus).

He explained that some of Africa’s rarest and most sought after birds in the park are: the Karamoja apalis (apalis karamojae) and black-breasted barbet (lybius rolleti).

Some of the monkeys at Apoka compound in Kidepo valley national park. 

He explained that Kidepo is the only park in Uganda where the biggest and fastest birds in the world -ostriches, are found adding that Ostriches can also be found in Pian Upe game reserve in Nakapiripirit district.

According to Mr Lokwee, who took us on a tour, the park contains one of the most exciting fauna of any Ugandan national park with 77 species of mammal, several of which are (in Uganda) restricted to Kidepo and Karamoja sub-region.

“Just look at those localised carnivores; the bat-eared fox, the stripped hyena, Aardwolf, Caraca and Cheeta, lion, leopard, spotted hyena and black-backed and side stripped jackal, these are not in any other park,” Mr Lokwee points at the animals as he explains.

He revealed that the less common ungulates include the greater and lesser Kudu, Chandlers, Mountain Reedbuck, klipspringer and Guenther’s dik-dik.

Just as we were about to disembark from our guided tour of the national park, “Bull Bull” strolls in. Everybody is excited, although filled up with fear we all wanted to get a close glimpse of “Bull Bull”.

Weighing about 6,000kg, is huge, seems to be having a lot of destructive power, but he is gentle and friendly despite his love for alcohol that makes him keep around people’s houses all the time.

Mr Stephen Nyadru, the tourism warden at Kidepo Valley National Park says that much of the park is composed of open savannah grassland, dominated by a mixture of acacia and other perennial grasses plus dry thickets, short trees and shrubs.

He said the vegetation is usually dry for more than half of the year and antelopes such as guenther’s dik-dik, which is found nowhere else in Uganda, are usually seen in such a habitat.

He explained that during the dry season, the only permanent water source in the park is found in the broad Narus Valley near Apoka.

Apoka is the centre of tourism in the park where Uganda Wildlife Authority runs accommodation facilities.

He said this water source makes the Narus Valley the park’s prime game viewing location and that there is nothing more spectacular than seeing a herd of thousands of buffaloes going to drink water in the afternoon.

He said visitors who keep asking where to go for their holidays, should just go to Kidepo valley national park and that they will never regret.

Wonder of the country

In the swamps of Narus also reside midget crocodiles, measuring about two and a half metres. There is nowhere in Uganda where “pigmy” crocodiles are found other than in Kidepo.

Normal crocodiles are more than four metres long. It is said that their midget size is due to limited availability of food, water and space, as they are confined in a 10 metre long swamp.

Because of having water all year around, many other creatures are attracted to the swamp. These include lions, jackson’s hartebeest, buffaloes, giraffes, oribis and reedbucks. Less commonly seen are cheetahs and leopards.

Mountain climbing

Mountain climbing is the major activity here for those interested in trekking and mountaineering – a growing tourist attraction in Uganda. Here tourists will experience the beautiful scenery of this mountain.

Mr Nyadru says that climbing Mt Morongole, Summit ridges of Napore range, Taan hills and Natera hills through the national park is a roadless wilderness and an unforgettable experience for tourists.

“The hills can only be explored on foot, on routes that range from day walks to extended hikes over several days to reach them,” said Mr Nyadru adding that “of course with the help of our guides,” .

He revealed that a trained ranger guide is required on all treks even when the local porters will make your hike easier.

He explained that the best times for climbing hills are during the dry seasons of August, September, October, November and December through March and that no technical climbing equipment or skills are required to reach the main peaks.

“Hill tops are the main destinations, while along the way, you will see interesting and unique flora and fauna, caves, gorges and animals of all kinds that don’t need to be disturbed,” said Mr Nyadru.

He reveals that rain gear and both cool and warm clothing are required as the area is subject to sudden weather changes. You could also carry a camera, binoculars, hat, torch, wildlife guidebooks and insect repellant.

Background

Kidepo was gazetted as a game reserve in 1958 before it was made a national park in 1962. Before that, Dodoth pastoralists, who are Karimojong, and Ik farmers lived in the area. These tribes now live outside the park and offer visitors an insight into their cultures through community tourism.

A visit to Karimojong communities offers visitors a chance to interact with the pastoralists and enjoy cultural dances such as edonga.

The IK, who are the smallest ethnic group in Uganda, live on the slopes of Mount Morungole that stands at 2,750m and is crossed by the Kidepo and Narus Rivers that nourish the park’s wildlife. Their unique way of life is an experience to visitors.

Kidepo main attraction

Perennial water makes River Kidepo an oasis in the semi-desert which hosts over 86 mammal species including lions, cheetah, leopards, bat-eared fox, giraffes, spotted hyena and black-backed and side stripped jackal, these are not in any other park in Uganda, as well as almost 500 bird species.

Zebra at Kidepo Valley National Park

The 68-year old elephant “Bull bull”, which weighs about 6,000kg, and has destructive power though he is known to be gentle, could be one of the best tourist attractions at the Kidepo National park.

Kidepo Park

Kidepo Valley National Park lies in the rugged, semi-arid valleys between Uganda’s borders with Sudan and Kenya, some 700km from Kampala. It is found in Kaabong District, North Eastern Uganda, sprawling over 1,442 square kilometres.

The park actually straddles the Narus and Kidepo river valleys, both located in the great Kidepo basin, bounded by the highlands of Mount Morungole in the southern, the rugged Napore-Nyagia mountain range in the western area, the Natira and Lokayot hills in the north-east, the Lotukei mountains in the south of Sudan marking the north of the park.

Accommodation

There is Apoka Tourism Centre, overlooking the game-rich Narus Valley and home to an up market lodge and simple UWA-run cottages, Apoka is the park’s tourism hub. But besides this, there are the popular Savannah cottages and now the recent Adere Safari lodge with a modern swimming pool in the wilderness.

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