Tracking in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Lion Tracking in Uganda takes you to Uganda’s most visited park for an amazing wildlife encounter. Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of the best national parks to experience a true African Safari. The park is located in Western Uganda and was established in 1952. It is a park with stunning landscape comprising of vast savanna grasslands, woodlands, plains, crater lakes, gorges, forest and the Rwenzori Mountains in the background. Queen Elizabeth National Park has 95 mammals and over 600 species of birds. Among the mammals are elephants, leopards, lions, rhinos and buffaloes.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is a lion conservation unit and hence lions are a key attraction in the park. The park has over 250 of the large cats in both the northern and southern sector. The park is one of the best places to encounter lions in Africa. Apart from the normal lions, Queen Elizabeth National Park is most famous for having the largest population of tree climbing lion in the world. The tree climbing lions are found in the Ishasha sector of the park which is located in the southern sector of the park. On a normal afternoon game drive in Ishasha, tourists can sport the lions lazily hanging on large fig trees.
Whereas sporting tree climbing lions during a game drive in Ishasha is considered one of the highlights of a safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park, an activity that is even more interesting is open to tourists interested in an experiential activity – lion tracking. Queen Elizabeth is the only national park in Uganda that offers lion tracking as an activity. The activity is only open at the northern sector (Kasenyi plains) of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Lion tracking is one of the top things to do in Uganda and offers tourists an opportunity to get close to the lions in their natural habitat unlike standard game drives. It involves following lions closely to learn about their behavior, natural habitat and feeding habits. The activity is led by experienced and knowledgeable researchers from the Uganda Carnivore Program. By paying to take part in Lion tracking, tourists can to a worthwhile wildlife conservation initiative.
The Uganda Carnivore program (UCP) is under the research department of the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The program began in the 1990’s and was then known as the Uganda Large Predator Project. The Uganda Large Predator Project started out of concern that an epidemic (the canine distemper Virus) Tracking lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park that was decimating canines in the Serengeti National Park would spread to predators in Uganda. The fear among conservationists in Uganda was compounded by several lion deaths unknown causes. After some research, it was found that Uganda’s lions where not dying from the distemper virus but from poisoning. A decision was made to continue with the project to monitor and do research on predator in the park. As time went on, the project expanded to include community conservation and other activities. As more partners came in support of the project, the project name changed to what is now known as the Uganda Carnivore Program.
The Uganda Carnivore Program focuses on conservation and research. The program sensitizes communities living close to the park on the importance of wildlife and how they can live in harmony with the big cats. Queen Elizabeth national park is large but has several human settlements within and outside the park boundaries. Moreover, a major highway passes through the northern sector of the park. Most of the communities surrounding the park depend on farming and rearing domestic animals. These animals often graze deep inside the park boundaries and into lion territory. There is therefore bound to be encounters and even conflicts with park predators.
In order to protect and monitor the movement of the predators, the UCP has acquired modern tracking devices which can be used to track the predators. The project has a comprehensive database of most of the predators in the Northern section of Queen Elizabeth National Park. This database along with others has helped conservationists and the government know the number of lions in the park.
UCP also trains young scientist, helps in relocating park animals and makes recommendations that assists government and international partners in making key funding decisions and areas of focus. The project hosts international volunteers and student researchers interested is wildlife conservation/ecology.
In order to raise funds and increase visibility of the project activities, lion tracking has been introduced in collaboration with the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Under this arrangement, a small number of tourists are taken for day and night tours for an in-depth understanding of predators like leopards, hyenas and lions.
The Uganda Carnivore project is led by Dr. Ludwig Siefert who has been with the project since its initiation in the 1990’s. Ludwig also lectures in Makerere University. Dr. Ludwig has made significant contributions to wildlife research and conservation as a Director of the project and as a professor in Makerere. He has helped attract funding to the project and helped train hundreds of scientists. Ludwig also helps with predator research in Uganda’s other national parks. Other senior staff working the project are James Kalyewa and Kenneth Mugyenyi. Kalyewa monitors the predators daily while Mugyenyi is a community scout responsible for community outreach activities.
Lion tracking experiential activity in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park which involves following an individual or group of lions in order to learn more about their behavior, feeding habits and social/group dynamics. To take part in the Lion tracking experience, one needs to book in advance. The experience cost $60 per person for international tourists and 100,000 Uganda shillings for citizens of East Africa. Payment can be made directly at the Mweya Information Centre or more conveniently through your tour operator. The park authorities give $10 of each booking to the Uganda carnivores program. The price doesn’t include park entrance. There is a limit to the number of people who may participate in the activity.
Lion tracking has three sessions in a day
There is an early morning, afternoon and night sessions. Each session takes between two to three hours. If you are booked for any of the sessions, you need to arrive on time. The chief tracker or researcher will brief you about the activity and what to expect before you get into vehicles to look for the lions.
Queen Elizabeth national park has been made possible because of recent advancement in tracking technology. A radio collar is fitted on the dominant lioness of a pride. Lions are not chosen because they usually wander away from the group to mark their territories. Lionesses stay with the main group enabling researchers to monitor all the other lions including the cubs and alphas males. Researchers prefer putting a collar on a lioness that is not pregnant, is old enough and in good health. Once she is identified, a tranquilizer is used make the lioness unconscious before putting the collar around the lion’s neck. The lioness takes about 2 days to get used to the collar. While installing the collar, the researchers make sure that they are comfortable and loose to ensure that the cat doesn’t get stuck while passing through thick vegetation.
Lion tracking experiential activity in Queen Eizabeth National ParkThe battery powered collars send radio frequencies which are read by a GPS system to pinpoint the exact location of the lions every time the frequency is dialed. The tracking device makes a beeping noise which intensifies when the lion is close. Lions move a lot especially if game is scarce. If there is enough prey, their range can be 40 square kilometers. In areas of food scarcity, their territory can reach up to 400 square kilometers. The radio collars enable researchers to track the lion prides movement and know if they are sick or under threat from communities living close to the park.
While tracking the lions, the Researchers will share information about their biology, habitats and threats. You will learn that the lifespan of a lion is about 12 years and that females do most of the. The male’s role is to protect the family and ensure that no intruders come into their territory. A lioness gives birth to 3 cubs on average.
Lion tracking in Queen Elizabeth National Park is different in many ways from the usual game drives. During normal game drive, vehicles stay on designated tracks/roads. During lion tracking, the driver can drive off the main road and deep into the savanna depending on the location of the lions. Once the team is close to the lions, the driver switches off the engine to avoid chasing away the cats. If you are lucky might witness the researcher collecting DNA, blood, urine, saliva, ticks and other samples from the lions after the tranquilizer is applied.
If you encounter the whole pride, you will have a rare opportunity to observe a lion family up-close. Watch as the juveniles play in the midst of resting adults. Lions use different vocal signs to show distress of inform others of their location. Lions are territorial animals. The dominant male marks his territory by creating holes using his hind legs, rubbing his mane on shrubs or urinating around the main trees in his territory. All these actions/signs leave his strong smell to warn any intruders. Use the time to take great photos of the primates at a close distance. Lion prides are headed by a dominant male or two (often brothers). Males have black manes are far larger than the females. Though smaller, lionesses dictate a lot of what goes on in the group especially because they do most of the hunting. A lioness may be smaller in size but will fight off males just to protect their cabs during any takeover.
Tracking lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park is different from normal game viewing. Only a limited number of people are allowed to participate so as not to stress the cats. Having few participants makes the experience more personal and allows for better photos since the lions are not forced to leave because of excited tourists. Moreover, Researchers are less distracted when with a smaller group. And can share information more effectively.
The studies are with lions on the northern sector of the park or the Kasenyi plains. These lions are different from the tree climbing lions of Ishasha. The Kasenyi plains has a higher concentration of animals than Ishasha. While tracking the lions, you will encounter antelopes, elephants, buffaloes, warthogs, antelopes and several other creatures.
Apart from Lions, the Uganda Carnivore project also studies other predators like Leopards and hyenas. If you are lucky, you might have a chance of tracking a second predator as you follow the lions. Participants may be asked to take part in research related activities such as collecting samples or recording information about the cats.
Queen Elizabeth can be reached by air and road. There are three airstrips within and close to the park – One in Mweya, another in Kasese and in Ishasha. All you need to do is book a flight from Entebbe or Kajjansi in Kampala to any of these airstrips. Your Tour Company or private driver should wait for you at the airstrip and take you to the park offices for registration. If you are traveling by road, you need to drive from Kampala up to Mbarara or Fort Portal. The driving time from Entebbe to Queen Elizabeth National Park from Kampala is 6 hours. If you are planning to combine tracking the lions with other park activities, you should check on our 4 Days Queen Elizabeth Safari package.
If you are wondering where to stay while tracking lions in Queen Elizabeth national park, then you don’t need to worry. There are several accommodation options available to choose from. There are camping sites for the budget traveler, tented camps and Luxury lodges. The best lodges to check out for are Ishasha Wilderness camp (Luxury), Mweya Safari Lodge (Luxury), Katara Lodge (Mid-range), Buffalo Lodge (Budget) and Simba Safari Lodge(Budget). It is also important to note that lion tracking in Queen Elizabeth National Park is done throughout the year. You can check this article about the best time to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Chasing lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park as already mentioned earlier, Queen Elizabeth is a park with many activities and things to do. You can register for the three hour Mangoose tracking along the Mweya peninsular to learn about these mammals and their principle enemy, the African cobra. For more tracking, you can go for chimpanzee trekking in Kyambura Gorge. This underground forest is one of the greatest wonders in Uganda. It was formed as a result of secondary separation of the earth’s crust after the creation of the East African rift valley. The Kyambura Gorge is blessed with great biodiversity. It has about six species of primates and hippos. The chimpanzee population in Kyambura Gorge have been trapped after the destruction of the forest corridor which used to allow them meet other chimp clans by humans. The Kyambura Gorge is also one of the best places for nature walks and birding in Uganda.
Talking about nature walks, there is another option apart from the Kyambura Gorge. Queen Elizabeth National Park has got Maramagambo forest and the Mweya peninsular. The Maramagambo forest is home to one of Uganda’s last remaining tropical forests. The forest has its own population of chimps but they are not habituated. You can take a walk to the python caves or go deep into the forest to encounter birds, primates, rivers, crater lakes and much more.
If you are interested in learning more about the indigenous tribes of Uganda and their culture, why not visit one of the villages or communities around the lake Katwe to see how they mine salt. A boat cruise along the Kazinga Channel will offer you one of the greatest wildlife experiences in Africa. Prepare to see countless hippos, crocodiles, buffaloes, elephants, water birds and many of the other park animals drinking from the channel.
For more information and arrangements of the lion tracking in Uganda and Queen Elizabeth national park, get in touch with safari vacations and travel services.