Queen Elizabeth National Park is found in the western region of Uganda, spanning across the districts of Kamwenge, Kasese, Rubirizi and Rukungiri. The park is 400km by road, south-west of Kampala – Uganda’s capital city. Just outside the park on its north-eastern edge is Kasese town, and outside its south-eastern boundaries is Rubirizi town. The park which stands out as Uganda’s most visited tourist destination is 1,978 square kilometers in size and stands at an altitude of 910m – 1350m above sea level. The park’s highest point is found at the Katwe explosion craters and its lowest point is at Lake Edward.
Queen Elizabeth National Park stretches to include Maramagambo forest, bordering the Kigezi Game Reserve, Kyambura Game Reserve, Kibale National Park, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park extends to include Lake George in the north-east and Lake Edward in the south-west, the Kazinga channel connects the two lakes. The park’s varied ecosystems include shady and humid forests, sprawling savannahs, clear water lakes and fertile wetlands. These make the park a conducive habitat for big game, primates, various mammal and bird species.
The park was founded in 1952 as Kazinga National Park. In 1954, it was renamed ‘Queen Elizabeth National Park’ to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to it. The park and Queen Elizabeth Country Park in England are joined in a project of cultural exchange, aimed at mutual support with major emphasis put on supporting conservation by working closely with and empowering local communities. Queen Elizabeth National Park has an interesting cultural history. Visits to the park avail tourists with myriad opportunities to meet and interact with local communities, and enjoy cultural performances, drama, music and story telling.
Queen Elizabeth’s bountiful wildlife makes it a tourist hub. The park is a habitat to over 95 mammal species including big game; lions, elephants, buffaloes, and hippos. Leopards are seen occasionally. Elephants and buffaloes are very common, lions are surprisingly easy to spot, especially in Ishasha region. Hippos and crocodiles are a common sight around the Kazinga channel area. The park is a habitat to ten primate species including chimpanzees, baboons and the various monkey species. The park’s wealth of wildlife can be especially seen during game drives in the tracks through Kasenyi, the north Kazinga plains and the Ishasha sector.
Birds of Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth National Park is a habitat to over 600 bird species, the greatest bird population in any of the East African national park. The park’s major birding spots include; Kasenyi area, a famous game viewing drive area and a habitat to species like; Palm nut, Hooded, African white-backed, and Rappel’s Griffon vultures, Brown snake, Martial, Wahlberg’s, and Long-crested eagles, Grey kestrel, Bateleur, African crake, Black-bellied bustard, Crowned, Senegal, and African wattled plover, Flappet, white-tailed, and Rufous-napped lark, Brown-backed shrub robin, Croaking, and Zitting cisticola, Grey-capped warbler, Black lored babbler, Grey-backed fiscal, and the Black-headed gonolek.
Mweya peninsula, a region between the Kazinga channel and Lake Edward is another famous birding spot with species like; the African mourning dove, Diederik cuckoo, square-tailed, slender-tailed, and swamp nightjars, Blue-napped moosebird, Grey-headed, and pygmy kingfishers, little bee-eater, Nubian woodpecker, Red-capped lark, Grey-capped warbler, swamp flycatcher, scarlet-chested, and red-chested sunbirds, Black-headed gonolek, Lesser masked, Slender-billed, and Yellow-backed weavers, Swifts, Raptors, Swallows and Martins.
Maramagambo, a forest that covers a great part of Queen Elizabeth National Park, along the Kichwamba escarpment on the right side of the Western Rift valley arm, is a habitat to many bird species including; the African finfoot, Little Grebe, Black, Red-chested, and African emerald cuckoo, Black coucal, Blue-breasted kingfisher, Blue-throated roller, Black bee-eater, Barbets, Brown-eared woodpecker, Blue-shouldered robin chat, Red-shouldered cuckoo shrike, Dark-capped warbler, Brubru, African paradise flycatcher, Brown Illadopsis, Black-headed batis, African moustached, and broad-tailed warblers.
Katwe area, a region of crater lakes and swamps is a good birding spot with a variety of bird species including; the Lesser and greater flamingos, Avocets, Eurasian mash, Montagu’s, and Pallid harriers, Common greenshank, little stint, Curlew sandpiper, Gull-billed tern, Lesser black-backed gull, Red-capped lark, Broad-tailed warbler, and the Southern red bishop.
Ishasha region, although best known for its resident tree-climbing lions, the area is a great birding spot with species like; the Shoebill, Yellow-billed oxpecker, Grey-backed fiscal, Striped kingfisher, Ross’ Turaco, African green pigeon, African wattled plover, Black-bellied bustard, Helmeted guinea fowl, Braod-billed roller, vultures, eagles and Barbets.
Lake Kikorongo, an extension of Lake George is a habitat to various water bird species including; the Shoebill, Saddle-billed stork, Knob-billed duck, Sacred Ibis, Black crake, Yellow wagtail, Papyrus gonolek, African Jacana, Lesser and Greater swamp warblers. The other popular birding spot is the Katunguru bridge area, a habitat to species like; the Pink-backed pelican, Gull-billed, and White-winged tern, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers, Lesser and Greater swamp warblers.
The tree-climbing lions
Queen Elizabeth’s resident tree-climbing lions are found in the Ishasha plains, in the southern part of the park. A game drive through the viewing tracks in Ishasha offer tourists a chance to spot these peculiar lions nestled in massive Fig and Acacia trees found in the region. While driving through, it is possible to spot up to 15 individual lions. Researchers say that these lions climb trees as a way of fleeing from the tsetse flies at the ground level, as well as the noonday heat. It is also believed that while up in the trees, the lions are able to easily spot and pounce on their prey.
Situated on the northern bank of the fascinating Kazinga channel at its convergence with Lake Edward is the famous Mweya Peninsula. The region includes the channel track, all the way to Katunguru gate, continuing to the densely vegetated Kabatoro gate. Mweya peninsula is most famous for game drives, the area has several well-maintained tracks. The other main safari activity that takes place in Mweya is the 2 hour launch cruise on Kazinga channel. The park has a twenty-four seater motorized vessel which runs two major rides in the day, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. The peninsula offers a splendid view across the Rwenzori mountains and the crater lakes region. The area is the best place to spot a leopard in the scrubby thickets. Also found in the region is the luxurious Mweya Safari Lodge, situated on the norhern extreme of the peninsula. Besides offering state of the art services, the location of the lodge offers a spectacular view over the adjacent Lake Edward.
The Kazinga channel is a wide 32 kilometer long channel that links lakes Edward and George. A tiny lake with an overall depth of 2.4 meters and 250 square kilometers, Lake George lies on the eastern side of the channel. The lake is filled by streams flowing from the Rwenzori mountains, and its outflow drains into the Kazinga channel, and west into the adjacent Lake Edward, one of the main fresh water lakes in Uganda.
The channel attracts a large population of wild animals, birds and reptiles throughout the year, including a noteworthy number of hippos and Nile crocodiles. This mass of wildlife is best seen while on a boat cruise downstream. The channel comprises of the north Kazinga and Kasenyi plains, areas greatly recognized for their viewing tracks. Kazinga channel stands out as one of the most important attractions in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Equator and the Queen’s pavilion
On the way to Queen Elizabeth, the equator monument is one of the major attractions tourists encounter. The equator is the place to stop for a photo shoot, and a chance to make purchases from the crafts shops in the area. The Queen’s pavilion is found by the northern entrance to the crater drive. In 1954, a temporary pavilion was constructed in preparation for Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to the park. Later in 1959, a permanent structure was put in place. In preparation for the coming of the Duke of Edinburgh in 2007, renovations were made and additional facilities such as a coffee shop and Wi-Fi connection were put in place.
The Katwe crater lakes
The Katwe-Kikorongo explosion craters are a significant attraction found within Queen Elizabeth National Park. The lakes were formed individually by a series of volcanic explosions over the last 1,000,000 years. They are found in the northern part of Mweya peninsula, with the main lake being Lake Katwe – one of Uganda’s major salt mines. Because of its salty waters, the lake doesn’t habituate any animals, yet flamingos, elephants, buffaloes and baboons are often seen at the baboon cliff. The other major crater lakes include; the Ndali-kasenda crater, Bunyaraguru on Kichwamba escarpment, and Kyemengo crater. The lakes are salty because they have no outflows for their water.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s most visited tourist destination. A myriad tourists flood the park during the various seasons of the year. Tourists have the privilege of engaging in various adventures including; launch trips on Kazinga channel, game drives through the various viewing tracks; Kasenyi, the north Kazinga plains, and the Ishasha sector, chimpanzee tracking excursions in Kyambura gorge, birding excursions in the various bird watching spots, wildlife research tours, cultural encounters, cave visits, guided hikes and nature walks.
When to visit
Queen Elizabeth National Park can be visited throughout the year, but the best time for viewing wildlife is during the dry seasons when animals are concentrated around and near the water sources in the park. The months of June – August and January – February are marked as dry seasons. During wet seasons and at the occurrence of heavy rains, most of the roads and tracks within the park become impassable.
How to get there
The park can be accessed via Mbarara or Fort Portal from Kampala – Uganda’s capital. Both routes are tarmac and the journey to the park lasts 5-6 hours, the Mbarara route is approximately 420 km while the Fort Portal route is 410km. The park can also be reached via Ishasha sector, which is south of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
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