A Successful Game Drive

As many of you know, I am here in Uganda to meet the Mountain Gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, but first, a little sightseeing around the country.

Herbert, my driver and sometimes guide picked me up at my hotel in Entebbe on January 2.  We drove all day to Murchison Falls National Park in the north, stopping at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary along the way.  Uganda’s last remaining Southern White Rhinoceros was killed by poachers in Murchison Falls National Park in 1983.  Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary was established in 2005 in an effort to ultimately reintroduce Southern White Rhinos into the wild.  Currently, Ziwa is the only place in Uganda where wild white rhinos can be seen.

This private, not for profit sanctuary began with a donation of 2 pairs of Southern White Rhinos from Kenya and 1 pair from Disney in the United States.  I believe it was 2009 when the first baby was born of these initial 6 rhinos.  He is called, Obama, because he was born of a Kenyan Father and an American Mother.  At present there are 41 rhinos living wild in the Sanctuary and they are under heavy guard, 24/7.  Once the population reaches 50, 15-20 will be released into the wild.  The plan is to continue this pattern.  Hit 50, release 15-20.  Hit 50 (which is how many the Sanctuary can comfortably hold given the rhino’s territorial nature), release 15-20.

During my visit, a Sanctuary Guide gave us a safety lecture and took us (I joined a large Belgian family) by van to a spot near where the Rangers told him a “family” of Rhinos were grazing.  From the van, we proceeded in quiet mode about 10 minutes on foot and caught them just before they lay down in the shade to nap away the heat of the day.  Among the 4 were a Mother with her 1 year old “baby” who is huge.  Take a look.

That’s the baby lying down in front of its mother with its back to us, to the left of the horn.

And here above the horns are on better display, just before they and their owner wandered a short distance away to find some shade of their own.

Below are 2 of the 5 armed Rangers guarding these 4 rhinos from poachers.  Each family of rhinos has their own set of Rangers.  The Rangers work in 24 hour shifts.  One day on, one day off, all year round.  When the 15-20 rhinos are released into the wild, these or other Rangers will go with them to continue guarding them 24/7. 

These Rangers are like James Bond in that they are licensed to kill, poachers that is.  We learned this is a necessary precaution because the first thing poachers do is to kill or otherwise incapacitate the Rangers.  The Rangers also shoot down any and all drones and any unidentified aircraft.  I also learned it does no good to cut off the horns of the rhinos because they are poached anyway.   I should also say we were asked by the Guide to turn off Location Services on our phones during the safety briefing.  He would not proceed from the Reception area until he saw we had all done this.  Apparently poachers are quite crafty hackers and can and do track the gps location from photos taken within the Sanctuary and posted online to see where the Rhinos are located.  Goodness!

One more point of note I found interesting is there are 2 additional non-ranger men in the nearby area of each set of rhinos and Rangers with two motorcycles at the ready.  They, like the Rangers, hide themselves in the bushes in an effort to keep the rhinos as wild as possible.  No one interacts with the rhinos and we had to keep a certain distance, preferably with some sort of foliage between us and them. These two men and their motorcycles are to be used in the event of a field emergency like a venomous snake bite, a rhino charge finding its target, poacher attack, etc.  

I am so impressed with the ongoing efforts of this place and wish them every success.

Moving on the the Game Drive. 

All of the following photos were taken during our (mine and Herbert’s) game drive in Murchison Falls National Park.  We were up and on the road by 6:15 yesterday morning.  It wasn’t long before the sun was rising and we saw our first elephants of the day.  Not too long after that, we got a tip on multiple lions on a track not too far ahead, so off we set.  Take a gander at the banner photo up top to see what we found. These are two of a group of three young male lions having a rest.  We watched them for a while and until they decided to get up and walk by very close to our van, which has one of those safari pop tops, so I can stand up and have a clear 360 view.  

We were getting ready to head back from whence we came when Herbert spotted two lionesses heading our way, so wait we did.  Here is a shot of one of them.  They both came pretty close to the van as well.

Up next in our animal sightings, not meaning to discount all the varieties of antelope, warthog, birds, etc, we saw a leopard up in a distant tree, hanging out on a branch, swishing his tail.  Wait around we did again and were rewarded with the sight of him (through binoculars) getting up, stretching, yawning, and making his way down the trunk only to disappear in the tall grass below.  Sadly he was too far away for a photo, so you’ll have to make do with a verbal accounting. Uganda, unlike Kenya and Tanzania (at least when I was there) does not allow safari vehicles to leave the established roads and tracks to get a better look at distant animals.

Fortunately leaving the track wasn’t at all necessary with this next sighting.  It was very exciting!  At one point, Herbert had to gun it a bit because this guy was exhibiting signs of charging.  Good thing I saw it too and was holding on!

After this guy we came upon two more lionesses, who walked so close to me I could have reached out to touch them.  Amazing!

I love all these photos, but particularly the shot above.  She is one of the two lionesses who passed us just moments before.  Now she looks to have spied something in the distance and is having a good look.  You likely know it’s the female lionesses who do the hunting for the pride, not the male lions, but did you know they use the black and white markings on the backs of their ears to signal each other during a hunt?  You can see the black and white markings in the photo above, clearly visible even though the tall grass hides her body.

We were on our way back to the main road having been driving around for about 2-3 hours when we came across this young giraffe who seems to have been outcast from the herd for what Herbert refers to as, “misbehaving”.  Poor guy.  He’s young to be all on his own and seemed a bit skittish, so we gave him his space.

I think he may have been shadowing a herd we ran into pretty quickly after seeing him.  Maybe he’s hoping they will allow him back at some point sooner rather than later.  Cue Elton John’s, Circle Of Life song.  

These are two from the herd.  I guess there were maybe a dozen altogether.

Still in the Park, but back on the main road heading back to Camp, we spotted a jackal, warthogs, antelope of many varieties, along with these Water Buffalo taking a cooling spa day in the mud baths.

And, just before we began crossing the bridge over the Victoria Nile, Herbert spotted this hippo making it’s meandering way back to the water.

So that’s what I saw on my first of what turns out to be two Game Drives in Uganda.  I’d say it was a big success!  

After spending an entire day in the van getting up to Murchison Falls and learning how much more drive time was in the works, I decided to modify the itinerary in an effort to cut out some of the driving.  As a result, I’ll miss a boat trip on the Victoria Nile and a Chimpanzee Trek somewhere, but I’m OK with this, because, Number One, the Gorillas are my top priority and Number Two,  because look what one can see on the side of the highways around here.  Would you please take a look at what may be my very favorite photo of the trip thus far. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Colobus Monkey…a mother with her toddler and her new baby.  Can you stand it !?!  My Oh My.  Thank you Herbert for your sharp eyes.

Also as a result of the itinerary change, Herbert and I find ourselves at a really lovely Cultural Center Lodge with THE NICEST people in a small city called, Hoima.  Given the nature of this trip around Uganda, I wasn’t at all sure I’d have internet until I got to South Africa, but because of the itinerary change, I find myself not only with internet, but with internet fast enough to write and post a blog article full of photos.  Score!

I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing it.  I’ll not got back to proofread, so please just blow past any typos or other mistakes you may run across.  Tomorrow we’re up early for a lengthy drive down to Queen Elizabeth National Park and then on to Bwindi on the 6th.  As you may have heard me say a million times, my Gorilla Trekking Permits are for the 7th and 8th, so stay tuned.

Until next time.

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Comments:

  • Hill

    January 4, 2024

    What a great story and yes those colobus monkeys are very cute! Excellent pictures too.

    reply...
  • Anonymous

    January 4, 2024

    Magical! ❤️

    reply...
  • Joan

    January 4, 2024

    Magical!❤️

    reply...
  • Janet Feinberg

    January 5, 2024

    Fabulous, loved it all💕

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  • Terry

    January 5, 2024

    How exciting to see all these beautiful amazing creatures in action

    reply...
  • Cassie

    January 5, 2024

    Fascinating story and pics. I am enjoying every moment. Can’t wait to see and hear the gorilla stories.

    reply...
  • Heather

    January 5, 2024

    Just amazing Margie! I love all of it but the photo of the monkeys is so great! You lucky person!

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  • Tena

    January 10, 2024

    I have truly enjoyed your expedition! The giraffe photos are my fav, but they are all gorgeous.

    reply...

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