Kidepo Valley National Park
Kidepo Valley National Park covers an area of 1442square kilometers in Kaboong district of Karamoja. Nestled in the dry valleysat the boarder of Sudan and Kenya, the park stands on rugged terrain in the outskirts of north eastern Uganda at a barealtitude ranging from 914m and 2,750m at Mount Morungole above sea level.The park was first considered a game reserve in 1958 By the British colonial government in an attempt to save animals from immense poaching and bush clearing owing to the tsetse fly epidemic.
The park is about 700km from Kampala and stands tall in an isolated remote part of the country. Kidepo Valley National Park was gazetted as a national park in 1962 by the then newly independent Uganda under Milton Obote for the conservation and protection of wildlife. The park has been ranked among the finest raw wilderness in Africa with over 475 bird species and 77 mammal species.
Kidepo Valley National Park is the perfect place to view animals in the wild natural habitat. Among the wildlife that you will see include; cheetahs, spotted hyenas, elephant, wild dogs, Zebras, African buffalos,bat- eared foxes, Lions,bushbucks, waterbucks, Oryx, Reedbucks, bush pig, side-stripped Jackals, Kudus,Oribis, Giraffes and leopards.
The park is also a birding site to reckon with. Kidepo Valley is among the best birding sites in Uganda. Some of the rarest bird species like the Clapper ton’s Francolin can only be found in Kidepo in Uganda. Other birds that you can see are; red-and-yellow barbet, common ostrich, Kori bustard, little bee-eater and Dark chanting goshawk.
Kidepo Valley National Park faces harsh climate conditions most of the year due to its location in the semi arid area of the country. The park is dotted with scanty shrubs, open tree savannah and euphorbia candelabrum. Sausage trees and desert dates have made the park famous as they grace the dry wilderness. The soil in the park is mostly made of clay and this makes it barely able to support plant life.
The Kidepo and Narus rivers are the main source of water for the wildlife in Kidepo Valley National Park. However both rivers are seasonal and disappear during the dry season leaving behindpoodles of water on the bed of theKidepo and Narusvalleys respectively.The most permanent source of water for the animals through all seasons in the park is the Kanangorok hot spring in Lotukei at the boundary of south Sudan.
Kidepo Valley National Park boosts of a variety of attractive physical features that give the park that extramagnificent appearance. Apart from being a source of water for animals in the dry season, the Narus valley is a major wildlife viewing point in the park. Other features that will stick out are the Namamukweny valleyKanangorok hot spring, morungole mountain ranges, illomejj hills among others. From the deep valleys, to rugged mountain ranges and rolling hills, Kidepo Valley is definitely the place to be.
Location and how to get there:
Kidepo Valley National park is located in the remote outskirts of north eastern Uganda. The park is located near Karenga in kaabong district in the rocky terrain of Karamoja.It is cuddled in the steep valleys between Kenya, Uganda and Sudan. The rough terrain of the park is highlighted by rolling hills and the Morungule mountain ranges fading into the horizons.
Kidepo Valley National Park lies 220km northwest of Moroto, the largest town in the sub region. From Kampala by road, one would cover a distance of roughly 520km for about 12 hours. ThePark can also be accessed by air through Aero Link. The flights are scheduled from Entebbe International Airport to Kidepo.
Attractions in Kidepo Valley National Park:
Visiting Kidepo Valley National Park is an exciting adventure especially because of all the birds that you can see. The park attracts bird lovers from all over the world especially because of the rare birds it harbors.For example; the Clapperton’s Francolin can only be found in Kidepo and nowhere else in Uganda. Other rare birds would bethe Abyssinian Roller, Purple Heron and Abyssinianground Hornbill.
The Apoka Rest camp is the begging of your amazing birding experience. The Narus and Namamukweny valleys are a must visit while birding. The birds that you should expect to see are; black breasted barbet, Chestnut weaver, Purple grenadier, pygmy falcon, Rose-ringed parakeet, Greater Kestrel, Fox Kestrel, D’Arnaud’s barbet, Golden Pipit, Rufous chatterer and White-bellied go-away bird among others. The best time to see birds is in the morning and evening.
One of the most thrilling activities that you can undertake in the park is hiking and nature walks. The most common hiking trails pick off from Apoka tourism centre through endless savannah plains to Namamukweny valley. They usually last about an hour. This trail is a great one to view birds like red-cheeked cordon-bleu, Mosque swallow, and Four-banded Sandgrouse especially in the valley.
Guided nature walks can also be undertaken in the fascinating Kidepo basin which is sparingly dotted with Ostriches. Enjoy the white sands of the Kidepo valley river adorned by borussus palms. Other hikes go up further north east to the Morungule Mountains where you will meet the Ik people who have made the slopes of this mountain their home.
The Ik are a small ethnic group living on the slopes of Mt Morungule near the border of Uganda and Kenya. They live close to the Karamojong and Turkana of Kenya who had constantly raided them owing to their small size in the past. The Ik language is part of the Kuliak subgroup of Nilo-Saharan languages. The Ik mainly carry out subsistence farming as their source of livelihood and even grind their own grain.
The Ik live in small villages called “clusters” that make up a larger community. They have granaries in each “family” where they store their grain to enable them survive during drought and famine. The Ik have been discovered to sometimes send away or even permanently expel children from the age of three or four to fend for themselves. These children join a group of other kids, “the junior group” of the same age group and teach each other survival skills. The senior group would comprise of kids from eight to thirteen.
Some scholars like Joseph Tainter have argued that art fragmentation of the Ik is mainly due to the harsh famine conditions where each person has to depend on their personal resources for survival. Other scholars have also visited the Ik like Colin Turnbill who wrote about their culture and way of life in a book called “The Mountain People”
The cultural encounter involves meeting the local communities living around Kidepo Valley National Park. In this case, this would be the Karamojong community. The Karamojong are an ethnic group of agro-pastoral herders living mainly in Northeastern Uganda. They normally move every after between 3-4 months to neighboring districts to find resources for their herds. The Karimojong language is part of Nilo-Saharan language group.
The Karimojong herdsmen keep large herds of cattle, sheep, goats and chicken. A herd is the measure of a man’s wealth and social status. These animals were used to settle social disputes and business transactions in the ancient day karamoja culture. Dogs are the major part of the security system in a Karamoja manyata. They are taken along on grazing trips to protect the herds and their masters.
Their lifestyle resembles that of the masaai of Tanzania and Turkana of Kenya. A young Karamojong male is required to wrestle a woman he intends to marry. And if he wins, he would then be initiated into manhood and also allowed to marry that woman after bride price negotiations. This practice is done to ensure a man’s strength to care for his family.
Owing to the fact that the Karamojong keep moving from place to place, they construct temporary shelters called manyattas that they can easily demolish should the need to move arise. The Karamojong are a very artistic group of people. They make necklaces, bracelets, earrings and anklets from very colourful beads. They also make stools, interior decorative wall hangings and plenty of other artistic pieces. All their products are locally handmade and you can purchase these directly to carry home with you.
The Apoka region is the heart of tourism in Kidepo Valley National Park. The tourism centre is set on undulating plains of wild savannah, coated with distant mountain rages over the horizon. Overlooking the fascinating Narus valley, the Apoka centre is the perfect place to hire game trucks, cooking utensils and purchase drinking supplies.
The Apoka Tourism Centre is home to the Apoka Safari lodge which is almost the only up market accommodation is Kidepo Valley National Park. The lodge is managed by Uganda Wildlife centre and has various beautiful cottages. There is a ranger station where you can get a game ranger to guide you during game drives and game walks. There is a craft shop where one can purchase books, arts and souvenirs. Food, however,is cooked upon request while at Apoka.
The word “Narus” translates to “soggy place” in Karimojong. This is especially true as the valley sustains a descent amount of water even during the dry season. The local people used to herd their cattle in this valley just to quench their thirst. This unique feature enables the valley to retain a good number of wildlife throughout the year hence the notation that it is the prime of game viewing in Kidepo ValleyNational Park. The valley receives an annual rainfall of 89cm of rain which way higher than that of Kidepo valley.
The Narus valley lies at an altitude of 4000ft above sea level and is mainly covered in endless grasslands, short red oat grass, guinea grass and fine thatching grass. The trees are red thorn acacias and drumstick trees sparingly dotted across the rolling hills ofvalley. Its famous sausage trees and fan palms line the water courses of the Narus valley. Its ground is covered in red clays and loams which enable the Narus valley to retain enough water that lasts a longer time than the Kidepo valley.
During the wet season, the NarusRiver overflows flooding the valley bed. The swampy vegetation thrives therein reducing the valley to a mud-filled soggy wetland. The Katurum kopje track is the commonest game track undertaken by tourists leading to the Katurum kopje, a raised spot for better view of wildlife. The tourists can also make four loop circuits exploring the valley with a distant view of Apoka.
There are various wildlife viewing points in the Narus valley so at least there is greater chance to view almost all animals residing in the valley. The various viewing points include the Narus dam, the Katurum kopje and the water hole near the tourism centre which provides the best views even during the dry season. One can even see the Morungule mountain ranges in the horizons from the Katurum kopje. The Narus valley also has consistent game tracks which make wildlife easier to locate.
The Narus valley of Kidepo Valley national Park is rich in wildlife and some of the animals you will see include;Lions, spotted hyenas,wild dogs, bat eared foxes, elephants, zebras,Jackson’s hartebeests, buffaloes, giraffes, oribis, cheetahs, Caracal, Warthogs, Uganda Kob, the dikdik, side striped jackals and reedbucks. On a lucky day, one can even spot some leopards.
Birding is also at its best in the Naurus valley. Herein reside some rare bird species that can easily be spotted by a bird lover. A wide range of birds swing about in trees in the open savannah and are easy to see. Some birds that you can find include;common ostrich, singing bush lark, silver shrike, vivacious bird, little weaver, scarlet chested sunbird and yellow billed hornbill among other birds.
The Kidepo valley, from which the park derives its name, lies at an altitude of 3,000ft above sea level. The valley is dissected by the Kidepo River which is the source of water for animals in this valley. However, during the dry season, this river nearly dries out leaving behind a 50m wide bed of white sandwhose banks are lined with borassus palms. The locals often use borassus palms to make palm beer.
The valley receives an annual rainfall of 64cm which is able to sustain the wildlife in the valley and also its wild vegetation. The Kidepo valley is dotted with palms and whistling thorn acacias. The soil in the valley is black-chalky clay and sandy-clay loam and thus cannot retain water for longer periods of time.
There is little wildlife in the Kidepo valley because it is usually dry most of the time. However, onemight spot animals like; Lions, buffalo, cheetahs, caracal, aardwolf, kudus, mountain reedbuck, Guenther’s dik-dik, patas monkey and Rothschild’s giraffe.
The Kanangorok hot springs are located in Kidepo Valley National Park in the far northern part of the park. The springs lie 11km beyond the Kidepo Riveron the south Sudan border over tall grass bushes, thorn acacias and bush thickets. The Kanangorok springs are natural hot springs, nestled between hard rocks, with hot waters of over 50 degrees Celsius oozing through cracks of those rocks. They provide the best view of the distant mountain ranges in the horizon.
Standing tall at an altitude of 2,750m above sea level, The MorunguleMountain is the highest altitude point in Kidepo Valley National Park.The mountain dominates most of the park’s rock terrain rising from the savanna plains northeast of Apoka.The mountain marksthe southern boundary of the park and is dissected by the Kidepo and Narus rivers. The mountains can be explored with a game ranger on foot.
The slopes of the MorunguleMountains are a home to the Ik people who are the smallest ethnic group in Uganda. The IK are also known as “the mountain people” and have a total of about 10,000 people. They were displaced from Kidepo, their original home, when the park was gazetted in 1962. They mainly rely on farming for their survival. Tourists can have the opportunity to hike 8km up the mountain to meet the Ik and learn about their unique culture.
“Namamukweny” is a napore word meaning “a lonely place”. The valley is a birding haven located innorthwestern part of Kidepo Valley NationalPark with plenty of bird species too see including; the eastern paradise whydah, White- crested turaco, common bulbul, Abyssinian roller and green wood hoopoeamong other birds. The valley can be accessed by car or by foot with a game ranger.
The Lomej hills are only a short minute’s drive from the headquarters. The hills are a great hiking point and offer fascinating views of birds and wildlife especially mountain reedbuck.
The Lonyili Mountains are located between Kitgum and the Sudan boarder. They are covered in wild montane forest vegetation. They are a great place to spot colobus monkeys. However, the road is currently out of order and one would need to contact Uganda National Wildlife Authority before visiting.
Located southeast of Kidepo Valley National Park in Moroto district, Matheniko Wildlife Reserve stands on 1,520 km squared of land at the border of Kenya and Uganda. The Reserve has semi arid conditions and is mainly dotted with dates, acacia and butterfly pea trees.
The Reserve is rich in wildlife like cheetahs, buffalos, leaopards, roan antelopes, lesser kudu, elands, serval cats, mountain reedbuck, topi, wildcats, bright’s gazelle, blue duikers, bohor reedbuck, stripped hyena, waterbucks, jackals, Uganda kobs, common duikers, and primates like Olive baboons, Patas and Vervet monkeys
Matheniko wildlife reserve is often a final destination for birds in the Somali-Masai corridor. Some of the birds that you are likely to see are; black-headed plover, thick-billed honeyguide, Verreaux’s Eagle, Egyptian vulture, Ethiopian swallow, Pygmy falcon, Clapperton’s francolin, Eastern Bronze-napped Pigeon, the Abyssinian ground Hornbill and the mountain yellow Warbler among other birds.
Bokora Wildlife Reserve is seated on a 2,056 square kilometers stretch of dusty and arid plains in Moroto district. The reserve is located in Karamoja region, southwest of Kidepo Valley National Park and is the second largest single wildlife protected area in Uganda. Wildlife often migrates from Mt. Elgon Nationak Park through this reserve to Kidepo Valley.
The most popular game viewing point in the reserve is the Loporokocho swamp which is swarming with wildlife like hartebeests, oryx, reedbucks, spotted hyenas, Topis, Lions, Oribis, Zebras, Buffalos and Elands among other animals.
Bokora Wildlife Reserve is also a great place to watch plenty of birds including Ostriches, Alpine chat, Jackson’s hornbill, Grey cuckoo-shrike, Lemon Dove, eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Hartlaub’s Turaco and African Hill Babbler among other birds.
Where to stay:
This is the only high-end lodge inside Kidepo Valley National Park. The lodge overlooks the Narus River valley with a view of savannah landscape and wildlife. The lodge has luxurious sitting rooms, ten spacious bedrooms with private verandas and ensuite bathrooms with tropical huge showers. The lodge has a swimming pool carved off a big rock with a well stocked restaurant and bar. The area is remote so one has to remember that there is limited food and water supply.
This is a mid range located 33km on the edge of Kidepo Valley National Park. The lodge offers a rich view of the savannah landscape, rocky outcrops, the Narus valley and Mt Morungule. The lodge has self and non self contained tents with solar lighting. Some tents have a terrace and balcony. There is a well stocked restaurant and bar with 3 course meals and a fixed menu.
Nga’moru is translated from the local language to mean “a place of many rocks”. This is a mid range camp set on high rocky ground close outside the park overlooking the Narus valley and the wildlife like buffaloes, zebras, giraffes, ostriches, cheetahs and waterbucks. Enjoy campfires while listening to animal noises like lions and laughing hyenas.
The camp has comfortable and spacious rooms with en suite bathrooms, solar panels and veranda overlooking the park. There is warm and cold water in the showers. The camp also has a well stocked bar and restaurant. Meals and dietary requirements will be considered upon prior notifications.
Apoka rest camp is a budget facility under Uganda Wildlife Authority. It offers intense wilderness camping with a spacious camp fire area. The camp has a toilet, bathroom and water. However one is urged to park their own beddings and personal necessities and a tent.
Alternatively, one can hire a tent. It is a must to stay with a ranger in the wilderness. The camp is near Narus valley with a view of wildlife from your veranda. One needs to carry personal food and drinks. Cooking can be organized by camp staff at an extra cost.
NB: Dietary concerns should be made known and booked for prior to the trip because the park is in a remote area.
Best time to visit:
The dry season occurs in December-March and June – August; during this time, water is scarce so animals come out looking for it. This is the best time to see the animals since they are concentrated at water points. However, the weather is hot, arid and the horizons are hazy and dusty. This makes distance views unclear
The wet season runs from April to May; during this time, birding is at its best as the vegetation flourishes. The horizons are lush and green with clear distant views. The weather is cool and the air is fresh. You might not need sunglasses during this period. However, animals move to higher ground in the wet season to escape flooding in the valleys. This may make it harder to locate the animals.
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