Kidepo Valley National Park is found in the Karamoja region in north-eastern Uganda, in the rugged semi arid valleys between the country’s borders with Sudan and Kenya. The park stands out as Uganda’s most isolated park, it is approximately 700km by road northeast of Uganda’s capital. The park is approximately 220km by road, northwest of Moroto, the largest town in the Karamoja sub-region.
Kidepo Valley National Park is 1442 sq km in size, and stands at an altitude of 914m – 2750m above sea level. The park is dominated by 2750m of Mount Morungole and is transected by the Kidepo and Narus rivers. Kidepo was declared a national park in 1962, and since then the park has hosted myriad tourists who have visited it to encounter its wildlife and natural attractions. The park is a habitat to over 770 mammal species and as many as 475 bird species. It has two rivers; Kidepo and Narus, which disappear in the dry season leaving only traces of pools for the wildlife. The park’s permanent sources of water during the dry spells are wetlands and remnant pools found in the broad Narus Valley near Apoka.
Kidepo was first gazetted as a game reserve by the British colonial government in 1958. Before then, the Dodoth pastoralists and IK farmers lived in the area. The purpose of making Kidepo a reserve was to protect the wildlife from hunting and to prevent the further clearance of bushes by the pastoralists in a bid to rid their cattle of tsetse fly infestation. The eviction of the resident people in favor of creating a game reserve resulted into a massive famine, especially among the IK people. In 1962, the then reigning government under the leadership of Milton Obote turned the reserve into Kidepo Valley National Park. The first chief warden of the newly founded Kidepo was Ian Ross, a Briton, who was later replaced by Paul Ssali, a Ugandan in 1972.
Kidepo Valley National Park has two major valley systems of the Kidepo and Narus rivers. The valley floors lie between 3000 feet and 4000 feet. The park is the location of a tepid hot spring called Kanangarok, found in the extreme north of the park, next to the South Sudanese boundary. Kanangarok stands out as the most permanent source of water in the park. The soil in the valleys is clayey, the Kidepo Valley is majorly dominated by black chalky clay and sandy clay loam soil while the Narus Valley has freer draining reddish clay and loam soils.
Kidepo is majority open tree savannah. The park has differences in rainfall, with annual averages of 89 centimeters in the Narus and 64 centimeters in the Kidepo basin. Plant life and animal distribution varies between the two valleys. Found in the Narus valley are; shorter red oat grass and taller bunch guinea grass, as well as fine thatching grass. Found in the valley’s drier areas are; desert dates, red thorn acacias, and drumstick trees. Lining the water courses are fan palms and sausage trees. Monkey bread, euphorbia candelabrum and buffalo thorn trees are also found in the valley.
The perennial waters of river Kidepo make it an oasis in the semi arid desert. Streams in the Kidepo valley are dotted with palms and whistling thorn acacia bushes. The river hosts over 500 bird species and 86 mammal species. The park has a wealth of predators; the leopard, lion, bat-eared Fox, hyena, the black-backed and side-striped jackals. The park has 12 antelope species including; the Jackson’s hartebeest, eland, oribi, klipspringer, and the Uganda kob. Elephants, buffaloes, zebras, wild dogs and giraffes are also seen in the park. Kidepo is also a home to some very rare species; caracal, cheetah, aardwolf, mountain reedbuck, Guenther’s dik-dik, patas monkey, and the greater and lesser kudus.
Birds of Kidepo
The park has an admirable diversity of bird species. The ostrich is commonly seen at Apoka Rest Camp, the Silver bird and the Yellow-billed shrike are usually spotted in the thorny trees close to the camp, the tiny permanent waterhole at the rim of the camp attracts species like the Yellow-rumpled seedeater, along the trail to Amok lodge in the leveled grasses, species like the Broad-tailed warbler, Clapperton’s Francolin and the Black coucal can be spotted.
Kidepo has a confirmed list of over 400 bird species including; Vinaceous Dove, Superb Starling, Brown-backed Woodpecker, Long-tailed & Standard-winged Nightjars, Hoopoe, Little Green Bee-eater, White-bellied Tit , Karamoja Apalis, Mosque Swallow, Red-fronted & Black-breasted Barbets, African Grey Flycatcher, Eastern Yellow & Jackson’s Hornbills, Ruppell’s & Superb Starlings, Nubian Woodpecker, Pygmy Falcon, Little Weaver & Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Red-winged Lark, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, White-bellied & Hartlaub’s Bustards, White-faced Scoops Owl, Orange-winged & Red-winged Pytilias, Fan-tailed Raven.
The other species include; the Abyssinian & Rufous-crowned Rollers, Yellow-spotted Petronia, northern White-crowned and Yellow-billed Shrikes, Eastern Pale Chanting Go-shawk, Foxy & Red pate Cisticolas, Brown-rumped Bunting, White-headed and White-billed Buffalo Weavers, Clapperton’s & Heuglin’s Francolins, Singing Bush lark, Stone Partridge, Slate-coloured Boubou, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Red billed Oxpecker, Four-banded Sand Grouse, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Rufous & Chestnut Sparrow, Isabelline & Heuglin’s Wheatears, Fox Kestrel, White-browed & Chestnut- crowned Sparrow, Grey-capped Social & Speckle-fronted Weavers, Black-bellied & Black-faded Waxbill, Black-headed Plover, Violet-tipped Courser, Pygmy Sunbirds, Ethiopian Swallow, White-browed & Chestnut- crowned Sparrow Weavers, Steel-blue & Strawtailed Whydahs, Mouse-colored Penduline Tit, and African Swallow-tailed Kite.
Game viewing drives
Kidepo’s wildlife is most active during the early mornings and late afternoons, making 6 am and 4 pm the ideal time for game drives. Rangers are available at all times to help tourists spot the myriad wildlife found in the park. Lions are often seen sitting on Narus’ various rocks. Elephants, bush duikers, bush babies, buffaloes, jackals, bushbucks, bush pigs and leopards are also seen during these drives. A game drive in Kidepo Valley takes you to the Kanangorok hot springs, passing through the magnificent landscapes. The track goes beyond the river, and passes between rock outcrops and hills prior to descending into the valley, and crossing the Kidepo sand river and traversing the open plains that extend beyond the hot springs towards the mountains across the Sudanese border.
Kidepo Valley National Park has over 400 bird species spread across its various birding spots. The park’s major bird watching spots include; Apoka Rest Camp and the water pools around it, the fringes of the Narus and Namamukweny valleys.
Guided hikes and nature walks
The places to go for a guided hike/nature walk include; the Lomej mountains which can be trekked in four hours on foot, shorter walks (around 2 hours) can be taken through the Narus Valley, extending over a 5 kilometers radius from Apoka Tourism Center. Tourists can also take a guided walk along Kidepo river valley between the banks of the attractive borassus Palm forest. Also, treks can be arranged to Namamkwenyi valley and the Morungole mountains where you can encounter the members of the IK tribe.
The people to encounter during cultural excursions include the pastoral Karamojong, a tribe of indigenous cattle keepers whose main livelihood is herding livestock. Through their organized Lorukul cultural group, found just outside the park, you will understand the importance the Karamojong attach to their cattle through dramatized performances. Tourists are able to see the manyattas, the traditional Karamojong homesteads, their granaries and cattle enclosures. The IK people, an ethnic group numbering about 10000 people living in the mountains near the border with Kenya are the other group to encounter.
Best time to visit
Kidepo Valley National Park can be visited all year but the best time to visit is in the middle of the dry season between the months of November and February when the animal population is concentrated around reliable water sources. During the wet season, from April – August, animals disperse from the valleys and relocate to higher ground where it is somewhat difficult to locate them.
How to get there
Kidepo Valley National Park can be accessed by road or air. By road, there are several routes that can be taken;
Kampala – Karuma – Gulu – Kitgum – Kidepo. This route is 571km and lasts approximately 10 hours.
Kampala – Mbale – Sironko – Moroto – Kotido – Kaabong – Kidepo is 740km and lasts 12 hours.
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