Game viewing in Uganda makes for a thrilling journey, from watching the ‘Big 5’ roaming their plains, to tracking chimpanzees in the lush rainforests, and to top it all off, tracking gorillas in the mountain mist.
Uganda’s biodiversity and ecology are an eclectic and rare mix of both the East African savannah and the West African Jungle. Despite the fairly small size of the country, the sheer variety of natural habitats, each with their own peculiarity, is quite mind blowing.
Western Uganda, which lies in the Albertine Rift Valley wins the cup for the most diverse habitats, which are largely protected inside national parks. It has 2 Great Lakes; Lake Albert and Lake Edward and the much smaller Lake George, 2 volcanic ranges; the snow-peaked Rwenzori Mountains and the gorilla-inhabited Virunga Mountains, large swathes of lush equatorial rainforest; including Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Semiliki Forest and Kibale Forest, and expansive grasslands; in Queen Elizabeth Park, Murchison Falls Park and Lake Mburo Park. Although Northeastern Uganda including Kidepo Valley Park is mostly a semi-arid wilderness, it is still a favoured habitat for many animals.
Central Uganda is a fertile oasis cradled between 2 Great Lakes, Lake Victoria and Lake Kyoga; there is not much game to see here, because of dense human settlements, but the birdlife is astounding.
Eastern Uganda is more popular for hiking and mountaineering on Mt. Elgon and in the Sipi Falls area, but it is also great for birding, and where game can be seen, the scenery and backdrops are spectacular.
Game Viewing - What to see
The variety of wildlife in Uganda is not easily matched; no other country in Africa offers all the top picks of wildlife; the ‘Big 5’ – Lions, Buffaloes, Elephants, Leopards and Rhinos – in addition to Chimpanzees and Mountain Gorillas. Murchison Falls Park is the largest of Uganda’s parks.
Worldwide, it is estimated that only about 880 mountain gorillas remain in the wild. Of these, at least 400 are located in Uganda deep in the rainforests of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla Park; the others can be found directly across Uganda’s border, in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Gorilla trekking and gorilla habituation are the world’s most exclusive wildlife experiences and are the highlight of most safari trips to Uganda. These intimate expeditions give visitors an enchanting hour (4 with the habituation experience), in the presence of a family of gorillas. Mgahinga has one 9-member gorilla family for tracking while Bwindi Impenetrable park has 12 different gorilla families that can be tracked.
About 5,000 chimpanzees live in Uganda’s lush rainforests; small communities of chimps in various locations have been habituated for chimpanzee trekking and the chimpanzee habituation experience is offered in select locations.
Kibale Forest National Park has the highest density of primates in the whole of Africa and is home to 1,500 chimpanzees of which about 120 are habituated. The majestic Budongo Forest inside Murchison Falls Park has about 650 chimps. Queen Elizabeth Park has two stunning areas for chimpanzee trekking. First, Kalinzu Forest Reserve and Kyambura Gorge.
A short boat ride from Entebbe is the forested Ngamba Island Sanctuary where 49 orphaned and rescued chimpanzees are undergoing rehabilitation. The island sanctuary offers 2 prime experiences; scheduled feeding of chimpanzees and guided walks with them.
Probably the most sought-after of the Big 5, lions can be found in several parks but are best seen hunting antelope in Murchison Falls National Park, lazing on rocky outcrops in Kidepo Valley National Park or relaxing in fig trees in the southern Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The Uganda Carnivore Program (UCP) in Queen Elizabeth Park devotes its work to research and conservation of Uganda’s large carnivores.
UCP offers guided lion-tracking and nocturnal tours for a unique opportunity to help in monitoring, tracking and researching the ‘King of the Beasts’. Lions can also be seen roaming the Kidepo Valley Park plains, and in Semiliki Park.
Rhinos are classified as threatened animals, with only 5 remaining species, two of which reside in Africa, and the other three in Asia. Uganda was once home to thousands of rhino but prolonged civil war and poaching in the 1970s and ’80s took its toll and in 1982, the last rhino living in the wild was killed. In 2005, 6 rhinos were re-introduced to the Ugandan wild at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. Today, visitors can join trained rangers to track 19 rhinos on foot, before they are relocated to Murchison Falls Park and Kidepo Valley Park.
There are two varieties of Uganda’s largest animal. The African or Savannah Elephant can weigh up to 3.5tonnes and is more commonly seen in the savannah grasslands of Murchison Falls Park, Kidepo Valley National Park, and Queen Elizabeth National Park, particularly in the open Ishasha plains in the southern sector.
The other species is the forest elephant which is significantly smaller than its savannah counterpart, but much more destructive. Forest elephants can be seen in Semuliki Park and Kibale Forest Park and in Mt. Elgon Park, where cave dwelling elephants that are attracted by the salt deposits in the rocks, are the star attraction.
Leopards can be found in most of Uganda’s parks. These stealthy and rather elusive big cats are mostly nocturnal, so they are best seen on night game drives in the parks where the option is available, like Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park. Lake Mburo Park has the highest concentration of Leopards in Uganda.
Uganda’s tallest animals, the Rothschild Giraffe is about 6m tall and up to 1,200kgs heavy. Giraffes prefer the open savannah grasslands where they can be seen feeding on acacia plants and leaves from other trees. The best place to see these calm giants is in Kidepo Valley Park and Murchison Falls. In 2015, 15 Rothschild giraffes were introduced in Lake Mburo National Park from Murchison Falls National Park to add to the park’s diversity.
Most antelope species are native to Africa. East Africa has about 35 different species of antelope and 29 of these can be found in the forests and woodland savannah of Uganda. Antelopes are generally distinguished by their size, colour, and horns or lack of them. Common species include the Uganda Kob, Topi, Waterbuck, Eland, lesser and greater Kudu, Grant’s gazelle and Oribi. Jackson’s Hartebeest is endemic to Uganda, and there have been recorded sightings in the Kalangala islands, of the semi-aquatic Sitatunga, which has separated hooves that are adapted to moving around in papyrus and swamps. Different species of antelope can be found in all of Uganda’s national parks.
Like the mountain gorilla, the last surviving golden monkeys (about 5,000) can only be found in Uganda in Mgahinga Gorilla Park, and across the border in Rwanda and the DRC. Approximately 60 golden monkeys in Mgahinga have already been habituated to humans and can be tracked on the Gahinga Trail with visitors getting a full hour to watch these small and playful primates with the signature long golden hair on their backs.
Queen Elizabeth Park has the most wildlife of any Ugandan park and offers launch cruises on the 32km Kazinga Channel, lion tracking, hot air balloon safari’s and traditional and nocturnal game drives.
Murchison Falls N.P
Murchison Falls Park, the largest of the parks is dissected by the River Nile that serves as the natural oasis for the park around which many of the animals throng. The park offers traditional and nocturnal game drives, a launch cruise on the Nile, and hot air balloon safaris.
Kidepo Valley N.P
Kidepo Valley Park is the park where all of Uganda’s wildlife comes together. The unique climate and landscape of Kidepo makes for prime game viewing, especially in the dry seasons when the park’s animals congregate in the Naurus valley that provides the only water for animals in the park.
Semuliki Park is one of the richest areas in Africa in terms of plant and animal life, with a fascinating diversity of forest wildlife. The park offers traditional game drives, as well as nocturnal ones for predator sightings.
Lake Mburo N.P
Lake Mburo Park with its extensive acacia woodland is home to Uganda’s largest population of zebras and is also the only place to see impala in Uganda. It offers several options for game viewing; on horseback.
Kibale Forest N.P
Kibale Forest Park has the highest concentration of primates in Africa; a total of 13 species. It is the best park for chimpanzee trekking and habituation.
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is the only place in Uganda to see rhinos in the wild. Rhinos are tracked and watched on foot.