The history of Queen Elizabeth National Park is very different to the majority of African protected areas in that human habitation can be traced back on the Mweya Peninsula over 50,000. Even up until the beginning of the 20th century, the area was used for cattle production by first the WaSongora people and then the WaGanda people.
This changed when first rinderpest and then trypanosomiasis hit the area, devastating livestock and forcing an evacuation of the area from 1913-14. Although people returned throughout the ‘20s, trypanosomiasis levels rose, forcing a second evacuation and keeping human population levels low as the century progressed. Into this void came the wildlife.
By the 1960s, the new park had one of the highest large mammal population densities in Africa. This suffered in the 1970s and 1980s due to systematic poaching by the army and civil war. However, significant numbers of animals were able to cross into the neighbouring Congo, which was at that time peaceful. So when order returned to Uganda, the populations of large mammals were able to re-establish swiftly.
It is thought now that numbers are back close to the levels seen in the 1960s.
Queens has approximately 5,000 hippo, 2,500 elephants and 10,000 buffalo. There are no rhino, but there is no historical evidence that they ever existed south of the Nile river and north of the Kagera river. Found across the plains, woodlands and shorelines, this means you will enjoy great sightings in multiple locations. Photo opportunities will be numerous, but so will the chance to just sit and observe these very special animals in their natural habitat. Other frequently seen herbivores are warthog, waterbuck, Ugandan kob, topi and the sitatunga antelope of the wetlands around Lake George.
For the Big Cat lovers, there is also plenty to appreciate. Lion are found throughout the park (with the lion research programme providing great access in the Kasenyi area), but they are most famous in the southern Ishasha sector where the population has learnt to climb fig trees to escape the flies. There are also leopard, civet, genet and serval present. These are all much more elusive, many nocturnal, which makes a sighting all the more special.
In the trees - and foraging in the undergrowth in some cases - reside 10 species of primate. Largest of these are the chimpanzees, found in the hidden forests of Kyambura and the expanse of Maramagambo, and the olive baboons (make sure they don’t try to steal your lunch). Just as intriguing and worth looking for are the supporting cast of black and white colobus, red colobus, red tailed monkey, L’Hoest’s monkey, blue monkey, grey-cheeked crested mangabey (Uganda’s only indigenous primate) and the vervet monkey.
When any protected area includes a significant range of habitats, you know the birding is going to be incredible. Queens won’t let you down in this respect. There are over 600 species waiting to be spotted and recorded. While the famous species like the Shoebill stork, pelican and flamingo grab the attention, each habitat is home to a myriad of other superstars - large and small. So set aside a week between December and February and come and see what you can find.
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