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No. 8 - MURCHISON FALLS NP
Though the landscapes of QENP are more scenic, there is a special quality about the vast expanses contained within Uganda’s largest protected area, particularly in the rolling Buigi grasslands with its distant views of the Nile and Congo mountains. And of course there is a waterfall!
This 3893km2 national park is adjoined by two wildlife reserves, Bugungu and Karuma, to create a vast wilderness covering 5072km2. These are managed together by Uganda Wildlife Authority as the Murchison Falls Conservation Area.
The Conservation Area is dominated by two bold features. The escarpment of the Albertine Rift Valley slices across the landscape from the south-west, before fading into the great, grassy plains of north Murchison. The park is also bisected by the Victoria Nile for 120km. From Karuma Falls in the extreme east, the river drops 350m over a series of rapids and waterfalls that culminates in the spectacular Murchison Falls. Below this final plunge, the river flows peacefully to Lake Albert, 40km distant.
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Contrasting habitats are found either side of the Nile. On the north side, open savannah with stands of Borassus palm provides the park’s prime game viewing areas. South of the river, the park is vegetated by dense woodland and bush. Though large mammals are rarely sighted in this closed setting, numerous primates and birds can be found in the Budongo and Rabongo forests.
Mammals: 76 species include elephant, Rothschild’s giraffe, waterbuck, Jackson’s hartebeest, oribi, Uganda kob, Cape buffalo, lion, leopard, spotted hyena, hippopotamus, warthog, patas monkey, chimpanzee, blue monkey and black and white colobus.
Birds: 450 species are present, in water, grassland, woodland and forest habitats. Birding opportunities range from easy waterbird sightings from the Paraa launch to stealthy searches for the 59 ‘restricted range’ species in Kaniyo Pabidi forest.
Uganda Bradt Guide author, Philip Briggs suggests the following birding highlights to interest both keen and casual observers: shoebill; goliath heron; African skimmer; white-headed turaco; red-winged grey warbler; saddle-billed stork; red-throated bee-eater, Egyptian plover, black-headed lapwing, red-headed lovebird (along the river); bat hawk (Top of the Falls); and chocolate-backed and dwarf kingfisher, great blue turaco (Kaniyo Pabidi forest).
Reptiles: Numerous Nile crocodiles as well as monitor lizard can be seen along the Nile from the river launch.
Murchison Falls National Park provides three virtually mandatory visitor activities. The most famous of these is the launch trip up the Nile from Paraa. This passes an impressive variety of wildlife on the riverbanks before the Murchison Falls are sighted at the head of Fajao gorge. For a closer look, leave the launch and climb up to the Top of the Falls (also accessible by vehicle) for the giddy view down into the thundering chasm. The third obligatory excursion is a game drive in the beautiful and wildlife-rich Buligi grasslands on the north side of the Nile, to the west of Paraa.
Another exciting activity in Fajao gorge is sport fishing with the chance of landing one of the river’s massive Nile Perch (the record is 108kg). West of Paraa, the river flows into Lake Albert through an extensive papyrus delta which can be explored by boat in search of the rare shoebill. In the south of the conservation area, forest walks in the Rabongo and Kaniyo Pabidi forests provide a shady contrast to grassland and riverine experiences. Chimpanzee tracking is possible from the Kaniyo Pabidi Forest Centre.
Bradt Guide to Uganda (7th edition: 2013) Philip Briggs & Andrew Roberts.
Updates on blog: http://bradtugandaupdate.wordpress.com
Uganda Wildlife Authority
For information about Uganda’s national parks www.ugandawildlife.org
Guide to Murchison Falls National Park - Sean Mann
African Bird Club: www.africanbirdclub.org
Uganda Conservation Foundation: www.ugandacf.org
Uganda Travel Planner
Jane Goodall Institute - Chimpanzee conservation in Uganda