Have you ever seen red elephants? The biggest population of elephants in Kenya lives in Tsavo East National Park. The elephants love to take dust bathes in the red soil, that’s why their skin looks red. Tsavo East can be reached from the Mombasa beaches by car. We booked a private one-day safari trip in May. At that time the NP was not crowded at all.
Maasai Mara Game Reserve
Maasai Mara is one of the most famous and important wildlife conservation areas in Africa, renowned for its large populations of lion, leopard, cheetah. We saw some cheetahs well hidden in the high svannah gras and spotted many elephants, giraffes, zebras, numerous antelopes and wildebeests.
We were lucky to see this baby giraffe standing right in front of us while its family was grazing at the nearby creek. I don’t know how old it was, but obviously pretty young. Newborn giraffes are 1,70 -2 m tall and can run within a few hours after birth.
If you come to Kenya you should not miss Lake Nakuru. Lake Nakuru National Park is situated just around 160 km northwest of Nairobi. The soda lake is a bird sanctuary, home of thousands of flamingos and other rare bird species. It is also home to more than 50 mammal species. The ultimate highlight for me were the rhinos. The park is a rhino sanctuary with a population of around 60 white rhinos that are by rangers around the clock. Do you know the difference between white and black rhinos? It has nothing to do with the colour. White rhinos have a wide (in Africaans wyd, in Dutch wijd -thus it came to white) mouth and feed just on grass, while black rhinos or hook-lipped rhinos in contrast – have a pointed mouth and feed on leafs from bushes and smaller trees. Rhinos are critically endangered – first of all by poaching and the illegal trade in the rhino horn. Although the horn consists just of keratin -exactly the same like human finger nails !- it is still believed in some Asian countries to have a healing effect.
The Serengeti is a savannah stretching across Northern Tanzania to the South of Kenya covering an area of around 30.000 km². It is said that the name “Serengeti” comes from the Massai language and means “endless plain”. The Serengeti is home to around 70 large mammal and 500 bird species and is one of the best places to observe lions in their natural environment.
This cutie is just a few months old. In the Serengeti we saw many lionesses with their cubs resting together in the shade of trees during the heat of the day. Lionesses give birth to 1-4 cubs in a sheltered area away from the pride. The newborn cubs weigh just around 1,5 kg and are almost helpless, they are born blind, open their eyes just around 7 days after birth and begin to walk at an age of 3 weeks. Usually, the mother integrates herself and her cubs back into the pride when the cubs are 6 – 8 weeks old. Lions go hunting at night and spend most of the day resting. Sometimes one sees just one big furry bunch with heads and paws.
Once during a safari we bumped into this big senior lion king underneath a single tree amidst the grassland. He looks a little strained since he was about to digest half of a zebra 🦓, which was obviously a bit hard to digest. We were lucky to see many lions during our time in Serengeti National Park, however their number dwindles dramatically. It is estimated that the worldwide population decreased by 43 % over the 2 decades. Isn’t that sad?!
A special moment of every safari trip is the sighing of a leopard. We spotted this fellow early in the morning in the Serengeti hanging out after the hunt well hidden in the tree with his breakfast aside. Both (the hunter and his prey) were so well hidden that I couldn`t get it with one click. Leopards often hide their prey high up in trees to prevent it from being stolen by lions or hyenas. In areas lacking these predators leopards hunt prey as heavy as a 550 kg (1,210 lb) like young giraffes since they do not need to drag it up trees. Did you know that leopards can run up to 60 km/h on short distances and are also good swimmers? In former times leopards were widespread across Africa and Asia; meanwhile they are extinct in numerous countries. In many cultures these elegant and powerful creatures symbolized the power of kings and gods. The coat of the leopard has been popular decorative clothing and a symbol of power, wealth and the exotic. Sadly, today the leopard occurs in only 25% of its historical global range.
Uganda is an incredibly beautiful country with many different vegetation- and climate zones and an unparalleled biodiversity. The Albertine Rift Valley that stretches across the country is one of the World´s 36 biodiversity hotspots. Many endangered species can be found here. Uganda is a multi-ethnic state with many different cultures and local languages. However, since school education is mainly in English everyone speaks English well. The people are very friendly and hospitable. I’ve been to Uganda twice. If you have a passion for wildlife I highly recommend to visit this country. Here are some of the highlights of my trip:
Entebbe & Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre
If you happen to come to Entebbe you should not miss to visit UWEC! Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre (UWEC) is a unique wildlife sanctuary at the shore of Lake Victoria. Its mission is to rescue animals and to educate the public on conservation of wildlife. All animals live in very spacious exhibits that mimic their natural habitats. Almost all of its residents have been victims to illegal trade in wildlife, human-wildlife conflicts or associated challenges. UWEC is home to 20 chimpanzees, almost all have been rescued from illegal keepers or traffickers. In most cases they were found tied on trees and with people owning them illegally and others were intercepted at national borders. Illegal wildlife trade is a big business and a big threath to many endangered species. In some countries the keeping of exotic wild animals in private households is considered a status symbol. It´s a shame! Unfortunately the chimps cannot be released back to the wild but at UWEC they spend the days together on a big island covered with forest and bushes which is very similar to their natural habitat. To learn more about the chimps and the work of UWEC see http://www.uwec.ug
This pretty guy is a De Brazza monkey which I saw close to the shore of lake Victoria. This primate is named after the Italian-French explorer Pierre De Brazza. De Brazza monkeys are endemic to Central Africa and live in swamp areas and forests not more than 1 km away from waters. That´s why they are – unlike most other primate species – extraordinary good swimmers. This one is a big male which can weigh up to 7 kg. De Brazza monkeys are said to be rather shy and escape as soon as humans get close but luckily this one was not shy at all. BTW: not only the monkeys are named after this explorer, the capital of the Republic of Congo, Brazzaville is, too.
Have you ever met this reptile? I had not until I spent some time in Uganda. This big Nile monitor lizard was crossing the way right in front of me in Entebbe. The lizzards live close to human settlements but are usually shy and run away. This one allowed me to get pretty close with my mobile. Nile monitor lizzards grow up to 2 m and are the second largest reptiles in the river Nile. They can secret a venom but it this not fatale to humans.
Don´t they look impressive? The Ankole Long Horn Cattle is raised in the Rift Valley along the boarder between Uganda and Ruanda in a semi-arid strip called the cattle corridor. People there are very proud of these animals, regarded as one of the world´s most beautiful breeds of cattle. Although they look so dangerous they are rather shy. This herd is waiting for the herdsman to release them to the pastures in the morning.
Jinja- The source of the River Nile
Have you ever been to the source of the river Nile? In Jinja, East Uganda is the place where the Nile begins to flow from Lake Victoria through Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea. It takes the water 3 months to complete this journey of 6400 km. Did you know that the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were immersed in the river Nile here at Jinja? At the riverbank there is a monument to him (swipe to see) and an information panel telling about his life and his outstanding role in history.
Lake Bunyoni is one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen. It is situated at an altitude of around 2000 m. At some points it is up to 900 m deep and thus it is the second deepest lake in Africa after lake Tanganijka. Bunyoni means: place of many little birds. 200 different bird species live around the lake. There are 29 islands on the lake, most of them are inhabited. On one of the islands there was a hospital for Lepra-patients from entire East Africa. At the peak times up to 5000 people have been treated there. Today the hospital building is a boarding school.
We watched these crested cranes near lake Bunyoni. This beautiful bird is one of Uganda´s national symbols. It is depicted on the country´s national flag and coat of arms. It lives mixed wetland habitats, on riverbanks, around dams and open grassland. Formerly widespread in several east-African countries it is now facing extinction. Sadly, it´s population in Uganda crushed over the last 4 decades by over 80% due to loss of habitat.
Queen Elisabeth National Park
This NP is situated in the West of the country at the border to DRC at an altitude of 1000 – 1300 m. You’ll find here savannas, tropical rainforests, swamp land and crater lakes along the Rift Valley. The park is home to more than 100 mammal species and 600 bird species. We have seen there elephants, buffaloes, many different antelopes, Uganda kobs, monkeys, many hippos and crocodiles. At the salty crater lakes one can observe thousands of flamingos. However, the ultimate highlight were the tree climbing lions.
Tree climbing lions can be spotted easily in Queen Elisabeth National Park. We watched a lion family (mother and 3 cubs) sleeping for hours high up in the tree until the sunset. When the darkness came they descended and were joined by another lioness to go hunting.
Kibale Forest National Park Chimpanzee trekking
This NP, situated in the West of Uganda consists of tropical rainforests and mountain cloud forest and some smaller savanna and swamp lands, is the best spot to watch chimpanzees. A permit for the chimp trekking costs around 150,-USD and has to be booked in advance at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). It starts at around 8 a.m. and visitors enter the forest in groups of 6 people accompanied by two rangers. There are some strict rules to be followed: A distance of just about 8m is very important between you and the chimps. People with contagious diseases are not allowed to enter the park. Eating near the chimps is not allowed. Children below the age of 12 are prohibited from entering the park. The guide is the only one to help get access to the forest. Early in the morning it is pretty cool and the chimps usually still sleep high up in the trees. As it gets warmer the come down and search for food. The chimp families you will see are habituated, that means they are used to human visits but are still wild animals. We were so lucky that the alpha male of the group allowed us to take these wonderful pics. It looks like he was really posing for us while his family was searching for food.