Waterbuck …

Defassa Waterbuck are large and handsome antelopes that are quite common along the Narus River in Kidepo National Park. They require fairly open grassland and they don’t stray far from water.

Any number of subspecies have been described but they fall into two groups. The more easterly group, Common Waterbuck, was the first described and given the scientific name Kobus ellipsiprymnus. Kobus is an African name given a faux Latin ending. Ellipsiprymnus is from Greek – ellipsi meaning ring and primnos meaning hind part. It was so named because of the white target on the animal’s rump.

The more westerly group was described as a separate species, Defassa Waterbuck, but where the ranges meet they hybridise readily and the two groups are now lumped in the one species. There is no white ring on the rear end of a Defassa Waterbuck. So it now has a scientific name celebrating a feature that it doesn’t have.

Defassa Waterbuck male
Defassa Waterbuck female

Only the males have horns and these are used in competition for access to females.

Defassa Waterbuck

They are said to taste terrible which is quite an advantage when it comes to living with lions and human beings.

Hogs and dogs …

The camp at Kidepo National Park is remarkably relaxed. There is an armed guard at the gate on the road. He or she checks your ID then raises the boom gate … but there’s no fence. You are advised to take your torch out with you at night and to look around for wildlife before stepping away from your door.

Warthogs and jackals wander around the bandas. There are Waterbucks on the soccer pitch. One morning I was obliged to take an alternative route to breakfast because there was a buffalo between me and the restaurant. The following morning a lion could be heard roaring just outside the camp.

The warthogs and jackals are quite habituated to human presence, the jackal is the more cautious as well as the more handsome of the two species.


The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals offers three jackals to choose from – Black-backed, Side-striped and Common. On this basis this guy is a Common Jackal because of the coloration and the black tip to the tail …

but other authorities treat the group a little differently. The name Golden Jackal is preferred to Common and the subspecies that occurs in Africa has recently be proposed as a full species with the name African Golden Wolf.

shamelessly filched from Wikipedia

It can be seen from this phylogenetic tree (other researchers have published different trees} that the Golden Jackal is not closely related to the other two jackals nor is it an immediate neighbour to the African Golden Wolf. The physical similarity between the (Eurasian) Golden Jackal and African Golden Wolf may be explained by parallel evolution.

Just to complicate matters all the wolf-like canids have similar morphology and 78 chromosomes. They can and do hybridise with other canid species in the contact zones.

Specifically, we find gene flow between the ancestors of the dhole and African hunting dog and admixture between the gray wolf, coyote (Canis latrans), golden jackal, and African golden wolf. Additionally, we report gene flow from gray and Ethiopian wolves to the African golden wolf, suggesting that the African golden wolf originated through hybridization between these species. Gopalakrishnan et al.

You’ll notice that I haven’t put a final diagnosis in the Jackal captions.

Kidepo …

our pop-top safari vehicle at the gate of Kidepo N P

Kidepo National Park is located in the far north-east of Uganda. The border with South Sudan forms the northern border of the park, the border with Kenya is to the east. The park covers 1,442km2 and includes the valleys of the Kidepo and Narus rivers. The Kidepo is seasonal, the Narus shrinks to a chain of pools in the dry times but always holds some water to sustain wildlife.

Palms are common along the Kidepo river banks elsewhere it is savanna. The African Sausage tree is well represented and Whistling Thorn is also common,

Kigelia africana

It is a magnificent place to watch large mammals …


and heaven for the bird watcher …

Abyssinian Roller

We have three days here but one of the first things I must do is attend to my arm.

Parting With Pian Upe …

Pian Upe

I think the future for Pian Upe is bright. Continued recovery of the wildlife, some minor upgrades to accommodation and roads could see this become a major tourist destination. The landscape is utterly beautiful. For the moment though this is not the place for close approach to hordes of large mammals.

But it certainly has its charm …


If any one can identify these skinks please drop me a comment …

Update … I am advised that both these photos are of the same species, the African Five-lined Skink aka Rainbow Skink, Trachylepis quinquetaeniata. The one with the yellow lips is the male the more drab one is the female. My thanks to Moreen Uwimbabazi for tracking them down.


Pian Upe …

This is the second largest wildlife protected area in Uganda after Murchison Falls National Park. It is a game reserve but we were told of plans to raise its status to National Park in the future.

It covers 2,788 square kilometers of savanna and includes some very impressive hills. Like all of Uganda’s parks and forests it suffered greatly during the lawless times of civil war. The Uganda Parks Travel Guide would have you believe that lions, elephants, black rhinos and giraffes are all to be found here but in truth they were locally extinguished years ago. The reintroduction of some of these may be on the cards.

On the positive side though this is the only place in Uganda where Roan Antelope have survived and it’s a great spot for the bird watcher.

We had two nights in Pian Upe in very comfortable safari tent style accommodation and were magnificently fed by the most obliging chef in Africa. The first night brought a thunder-storm and torrential rain, the tent, I am pleased to say, was waterproof. The light before dawn was superb …

Day break at Pian Upe

Game drives were the order of the day made all the more exciting by the effect of the rain on the black soil tracks.

The birding was a great success. Our quest for game less so. Distant views of Roan were had but all the game animals were extremely shy presumably because of far lower visitor numbers when compared to Murchison Falls where the animals are habituated to vehicular traffic. Additionally, the grassland seems less vigorously managed at Pian Upe, the grass was very long and there was no evidence of any recent burning.

Bronze-tailed Starling
Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver
African Fish Eagle
Dark Chanting-Goshawk

Wet black soil is a test for the four-wheel driver and his vehicle. Our driver Tony just happened to be a keen birder. This was a real bonus because, although Prossy the professional had to correct his diagnoses on the odd occasion, his extra pair of eyes meant that birds had little chance of going undetected.

His greatest coup was the Karamoja Apalis. This is a bird that has broken many a heart. Tony bogged the car. Just metres from a solid road next to a small Vachellia tree. It would move a little backwards, it would move a little forward, it could slowly be turned a few degrees, there was hope that it would gain sufficient traction to ride over a small mound onto the road, there was the fear that it might get inextricably bogged before that was achieved. Meanwhile his passengers had nothing better to do than watch the little bird in the little tree. We let him have a look too. It was a tick for him. Even the vehicle was inspired. It rode triumphantly onto the road.

There was more rain in store for us and proceedings for the day were curtailed …


Why the long face? Because we’re soaking wet, you fool.

The red spots on my left forearm had grown bigger and painful. They were surrounded by hard red swelling and the centres showed signs of pus formation. Something would soon need to be done about these.

A Distrurbance in the Force …

There ensued two days of road travel. So much of Ugandan life plays out beside the roads that this provides remarkable insight. The locals I’m sure are as fond of having cameras waved in their faces as I would be – the result is a contest between any sensitivity one has and the temptation to capture the rich and exotic otherness of Africa. The unease created probably explains why I don’t go in for street photography in Oz either.

Our destination on day one was Kampala and the perfectly international Metropole Hotel. No distrurbances tolerated here.

A Nile Special, some freshly roasted ground-nuts lightly flavoured with garlic and a wide choice of cuisine, very gracious service. I recommend it highly.

The following morning we caught up with our favorite bird guide Prossy Nanyombi. She had shown us the Shoebill and Papyrus Gonolek the previous year and left us with a lasting impression of a somewhat stern but capable professionalism. We’d contacted Prossy first when we were planning the trip and she’d put us in contact with Avian Safaris, one of several companies that she does some work for. We were soon on the road, Tony at the wheel.

Kampala is simply krazy. And in the rain even more so. Its population is somewhere in the vicinity 2 million. The road rules are as much a puzzle to me as Australian Rules Football would be to a Boda Boda rider although the results are very similar …

Kampala has been declared the most fun, friendly, and affordable capital in East Africa. If you are going to spend any time there you should probably  learn why not to wear yellow or light blue (especially at election time). Yes there are elections, it’s just not how they choose their presidents. These and other important facts can be found <HERE>.

The traffic is, and there’s nothing you can do about that. Meditate. And eventually it goes away, left behind, waiting for your return!

The city gives way to towns and then villages …

Towards sun down and under a threatening sky we arrived at Pian Upe. It’s a game reserve rather than a National Park. It’s in the north-east of Uganda not far from the Kenya Border. It’s beautiful and it’s nothing like Budongo.

Moving on …

All good things come to an end.

As our stay at Budongo reaches its conclusion. It’s time to thank the Field Station Director Geoffrey Muhanguzi for his hospitality and, as always, his wisdom. Also to say thank you to Moreen Uwimbabazi for allowing us to assist in her bird banding project and congratulate her and her team Patrick Arua and Godfrey Andrua on their progress.

The Royal Mile, so called because it was indeed a favorite spot of Ugandan Kings, is one of Africa’s best forest birding spots. It is possible for a visiting birder to buy a permit and stroll under the majestic trees. I believe the fee has to be paid in Kampala. The best way forward is to contact Raymond in advance, he lives near the gate and knows the place backwards. The numbers I have for him are 0777 319 865 or 0752 930 065. You can rely on him to give clear instruction.


He is the man who can find you your Chocolate backed Kingfisher.

Chocolate-backed Kingfisher

But that only takes you as far as this sign …

and paradise is on the other side of it. Tourism is specifically forbidden by the project’s charter, to pass Go you must be sponsored by your university or another entity.

It was during my last day or so at Budongo that I became increasingly aware of some red and itchy spots on my left arm.

Chimpanzee …

The farflung margins of the ancient world were occupied by all sorts of amazing creatures, chimpanzees included, half real half legend.

Crouching Apes in Chains. Church of San Quirce, Burgos (Spain). 12th century. Photo: Fco. De Asís García García.

From about 1640 onwards the animals themselves took more tangible form as they slowly found their way into European menageries.

Darwin Published The Descent of Man in 1871. In it he identifies the great apes as our nearest relatives, Africa as the location where our common ancestors lived and he espoused the view that we differ merely in degree rather than in kind. Darwin’s personal experience of apes seems to have been limited to meetings with an Orangutan at London Zoo in 1838. You can read about his encounters <HERE> it’s an interesting story.

That was just about as good as it gets until 1960. By then Chimpanzees were in Zoos, circuses and laboratories. The following year there would be one in space (Ham, January 31, 1961)  but no one had studied them in their natural habitat. It is possible that no one had even photographed them in the wild at that point.

That year three different young scientists took themselves to the forests of Africa and set about observing the behaviour of chimpanzees. Jane Goodall who went to work in the Gombe Stream National Park in what is now Tanzania became the most famous. Less familiar pioneers were Adriaan Kortlandt working in what was the Belgian Congo now DRC and Vernon Reynolds in the Budongo Forest, Uganda.

Reynolds and his wife Frankie spent a year at Budongo. The only trails there would have been for logging purposes, the chimpanzees would have fled screaming as the humans approached. It would have been hard work. Nonetheless the exercise culminated in the book Budongo: a forest and its chimpanzees and Vernon went on to a successful academic life eventually becoming Professor of Biological Anthropology and a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford.

Uganda meanwhile fell on hard times. Two major civil wars brought governance to a halt in the 1970’s and 80’s. In 1988 Prof. Reynolds read a report in the New Vision, the main Ugandan newspaper, that chimpanzee infants were being captured in Budongo Forest and smuggled out to wealthy pet-owners in Dubai and elsewhere. In 1990 Reynolds returned to Budongo and with a local researcher, Chris Bakuneeta, set up a base to see if there were still chimpanzees to be found.

There were. The base evolved into the Budongo Conservation Field Station and its work centres on understanding what it takes to make sure chimpanzees will always live in this beautiful place.


Mungo …

My reading of the moment is Travels in the Interior of Africa by Mungo Park, published in 1799. He was traveling in the Gambia and seems not to have been a great fan of the forest …

The country itself being an immense level, and very generally covered with wood, presents a tiresome and gloomy uniformity to the eye; but although Nature has denied the inhabitants the beauties of romantic landscapes she has bestowed on them, with a liberal hand, the more important blessings of fertility and abundance.

Perhaps now that travel is so much easier the landscapes have become more romantic.

Budongo before dawn

Monkeys …

On this visit to the Budongo forest our attentions were focused on the bird banding team which since our last visit had matured into a very efficient operation. We hadn’t set aside any time to specifically follow monkeys or the star attraction, chimpanzees. But this is Budongo, any spare half hour could be put to excellent use.

Blue Monkey

The key to photographing the monkeys is simply to take your time. Approach quietly, when they start to examine their escape route just settle. After a while they resume feeding or grooming and soon you’re just part of the background.

They may walk right by you.

Olive Baboons

In that instance I was sitting on the ground and found myself shooting up at mum and her youngster. An older youngster got left behind and came running to catch up …

Olive Baboon

The next character and I conducted a lengthy study of each other.

Olive Baboon

The Colobus and Red-tailed Monkeys are a tougher prospect because they spend so much of their time high in the trees.

Guereza Colobus
Guereza Colobus
Red-tailed Monkey