Friday, 22 July 2016

Uganda July 2016 - Mammals

I am just back from a two week Ornitholidays tour to Uganda. 'Birds and primates' was the theme: one major highlight was our 90-minute visit to a family of Mountain Gorillas in the highlands of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Our trackers led us down a steep slope, slipping on vines and logs as we went, until we found the gorillas at the bottom. But they were on the move, climbing the opposite hillside! Eventually they settled down to feed and rest, and we were able to get our breath back too.

There are 17 in the Oruzogo family, with an alpha male (silverback, above) and a beta male, not much younger. Perhaps in a year or two this large family will split into two, as the older male will not tolerate a second silverback. There were several females and youngsters, all climbing small trees to feed on the vines they love. An adult gorilla can eat 25 kg of vegetation in a day, so feeding is a fairly constant activity. We had a great team of trackers and porters, who helped us over the challenging terrain - often having to pull and push us! 

On another day, in Kibale Forest, we tracked a family of Chimpanzees. This 17-year-old was on the ground when we found him, but he soon climbed a tree for a mid-morning rest. Other family members were already sleeping in a large fig-tree, while another was testing the green fruits and finding them still unripe.

The western Uganda forests - close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo - are also home to various monkey species, notably the handsome Black-and-White Colobus. At present the forests are well protected, but there is great pressure from the ever-growing human population that lives all around it. The considerable income from gorilla tracking permits (over US $25,000 per day in Bwindi alone) is ploughed back into forest conservation, including the training of forest guards and trackers.

In more open country near the Queen Elizabeth National Park, we had to wait for these heavyweights to cross the road. This landscape is a transitional one, between the forests further south, and the acacia savanna in the Ishasha sector of the park. 

Following a tip-off from other drivers, we soon found this pride of Lions draped over the branches of a huge fig-tree in the Ishasha Loop. Their main prey is an Impala-like antelope called Uganda Kob (below). During the chaos of the Amin presidency, unpaid soldiers killed most of the park's game animals, but they have recovered their numbers very well. Controlled burning in some areas ensures fresh green grass, which in turn attracts both herbivores - and inevitably carnivores too. 

Due to a camera battery malfunction, my photography was virtually non-existent this trip: how could I have forgotten to pack a spare!? I am very grateful to Mark and Carren for allowing me to use their images. My next blog will feature a few of the special birds we watched. 


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