About Uganda’s wildlife
Uganda is basking with so many different species of wild life, however, there are those which have captured so much interest thus making Uganda one of the top tourist destinations, these include;
The Nile crocodile
Thanks to its hot equatorial climate, Uganda is a haven for many cold-blooded reptiles. The largest of these is the Nile crocodile, observed along the banks of rivers and lakes, basking open-mouthed in the heat as blackbird plovers pick tasty morsels from between their teeth. The species was once threatened with extinction as a result of being hunted for its high quality leather. They typically grow to between 3.5 and 5 meters (11.5 to 16 feet) in length, though examples of over 6.5 meters have been reported! Much less scary are the diminutive three-horned chameleons, living at higher altitudes on the slopes of the Rwenzori. They are often bright green, changing their color rapidly according to their mood and temperature. One eye moves around independently of the other, giving them 360 degree vision, and they will whip out their extraordinarily long tongues in order to catch unsuspecting insects to eat.
The largest living land mammal, the African elephant, is a sight to behold on Uganda’s sprawling savannah. Their massive black forms can be seen from far away marching across the grasslands in search of the incredible amounts of vegetation they need to eat each day, along with around 30-50 gallons of water. This constant grazing is essential to the ecosystem, as it prevents the savannah and shrub land from turning into impenetrable forest. The elephant’s trunk is by far its most useful feature – it is used with absolute precision to dig, signal, gather food, spray water and dust, siphon water into the elephant’s mouth – and even as an extra foot! They are also sociable, affectionate animals, and have been observed caressing companions with their trunks, and greeting other family members when they meet. They will care for weaker individuals, adopt orphaned calves and even display grieving behavior over dead companions.
Uganda is home to an impressive 29 species of antelope, including the eland – the world’s largest antelope, which can measure up to 180cm at the shoulder! Other large species include the greater kudu, which has long, elegant spiral horns and white side stripes; Jackson’s hartebeest – an unusual, flat-faced creature found only in Uganda, and the shaggy waterbuck – often found near rivers and lakes, as their name suggests. Fascinating yet rarely seen is the semi-aquatic sitatunga antelope, whose splayed hooves are adapted for life in the papyrus swamps. Much more common are Grant’s gazelle, which can live in herds of hundreds of individuals, and the pretty Uganda kob – Uganda’s national antelope.
Reaching a height of 165cm (65”) at the shoulder and weighing in at 680kg (1500lbs), it is no wonder that the enormous Cape buffalo is one of Africa’s “Big Five”. Though they are herbivores, feeding almost exclusively on grass, buffalos are known to be one of the most dangerous species in Uganda thanks to their unpredictable and defensive nature. They will happily trample a lion who threatens to attack! Visitors to Uganda needn’t worry about getting caught in a stampede however; the buffaloes’ poor ability to regulate body temperature means that throughout the hot equatorial days they are most commonly found wallowing in mud or water – making them easy to view at close range during a launch trip. Two subspecies of buffalo exist in Uganda – the larger savannah buffalo and the smaller forest buffalo. They live in two types of groups – family herds, which contain mainly females and calves; and bachelor herds. A herd can contain several hundred individuals.
Hippos are the third largest land mammal after the elephant and the rhinoceros. Weighing in at 1,500–1,800 kg (3,300–4,000 lb), an adult male stands up to 1.5m (4.5 feet) at the shoulder, and, oddly enough, their closest living relatives are whales and dolphins. Hippos spend most of their days submerged in water to keep cool, as they have no sweat glands. Though they have webbed feet, their huge bulk prevents them from floating and they cannot swim. Their size does not, however, prevent them from outrunning a human – hippos have been estimated to reach terrifying speeds of up to 30 or even 40km per hour on land. An adult hippo can spend as long as six minutes underwater, and their raised eyes, ears and nostrils allow them to remain almost entirely submerged for long periods of time. After spending the day bathing, hippos venture out at dusk and spend the night grazing, traveling up to 8km (5 miles) and consuming up to 68kg (150lbs) of grass each night to maintain their enormous size.
The striking leopard is one of the hardest large species to observe in Uganda, thanks to its nocturnal, solitary behavior and well-camouflaged coat. Their survival is partly due to their adaptability to warm and cold climates and ability to climb trees while carrying heavy prey – keeping it safe from other predators such as lions and hyenas. They can run at incredible speeds of up to 58 km (36 miles) per hour, and hunt antelopes and monkeys as well as fish, birds, insects and reptiles. Historically, leopards were hunted for their beautiful fur; loss of habitat is now their greatest threat.
Confusing to early explorers, who described it as a cross between a camel and a leopard, the giraffe is certainly an awkward-looking creature. Its swaying gait comes as a result of it moving both right legs simultaneously, followed by both left legs; and its favorite food is the hideously spiky acacia, which it strips of leaves using its long, dark purple tongue. Though they are the world’s tallest land mammal – even a newborn giraffe stands at six feet (2m)…
The lion is one of the most sought-after safari species, and one of the most impressive to observe. Living in prides of around 15 individuals, lions adhere to strict social structures. Groups consist of related females and their cubs, who are often born around the same time and raised communally. New mothers, however, will live in dens with their cubs for the first few weeks, moving them one by one to a new den every few days to avoid building up a scent which would attract predators. A new male taking over a pride will often kill all cubs, and mate with each of the females. The male’s distinctive mane plays a role in making it look much larger and more intimidating to other lions and spotted hyenas – the lion’s main rivals. It is the lionesses, however, who are responsible for around 90% of the hunting, doing so in coordinated groups which can allow them to pursue larger species such as buffalo and giraffes as well as smaller antelope. The kill is not shared evenly, however, and only the larger prey is brought back to the pride, making survival difficult for cubs during times of hardship.
The spotted hyena
The spotted hyena’s famous “laugh” is actually a sound made to alert other group members to a source of food. This noise can be heard up to three miles away, and is one of many sounds made by this sociable species to communicate with each other. Hyenas are skilled hunters as well as scavengers, and their large, powerful jaws allow them to chomp through every part of their prey, including the skin and bones. The only parts which cannot be digested are hair, horns and hooves – the hyena will regurgitate these in pellets. Hyenas are found in many habitats, including woodland, savannah and desert, though being nocturnal, they are rarely observed. Human-wildlife conflict has long been a problem. Hyenas are known to have eaten people, though it is more likely that they will kill livestock, which results in them being targeted by hunters.
This comical-looking creature seems to have an oversized head, protruding tusks, bristly mane and excessively long-skinny legs, causing it to kneel down to graze. When frightened, they run away with their tails standing vertically. Warthogs cannot dig so they use holes dug by other creatures to sleep in. When chased, they will back into a burrow, allowing them to surprise their aggressor by charging out, tusks first – they have even been known to kill lions by inflicting severe wounds. Warthogs can easily be seen in Uganda’s savannah National Parks. Be careful not to store snacks in your tent if you are camping – they have been known to rip through the canvas if they can smell food!
Uganda has over 1000 bird species, making it one of the richest birding destinations on the continent. Crammed into this diminutive country is an astonishingly rich diversity of habitats, from the scenic shores of Uganda’s many great lakes to the lush forests of the Albertine Rift and the banks of the mighty Nile River. The most prized species here is the incredibly rare, prehistoric-looking shoebill, located among the papyrus swamps. Keep an eye out for the beautiful grey-crowned crane – these elegant birds have wild gold crests and sport the same colors as the Ugandan flag (red, yellow and black) – it is the country’s national bird. The saddle-billed stork also displays the flag’s colors proudly across its vivid beak, goliath heron, egrets, marabou stock, and the list is endless.
The primates are communicative and intelligent, one of the chimp’s most astonishing traits is its ability to use tools such as rocks for smashing nuts, empty pods for scooping water and sticks for drawing termites from their nests. As these skills are passed from generation to generation, it has been observed that different troops are specialists in different tasks, depending on their habitat and diet. Chimpanzees live in communities containing 10 to 100 members. They hold hands, kiss, groom each other and babysit for each other’s offspring – young chimps do not become independent until around the age of four. But they can also be aggressive and unfriendly, particularly towards unrelated individuals. Though they spend a lot of time on the ground, chimpanzees usually eat and sleep in trees. Their varied diet includes leaves, fruit, flowers and seeds.
The mountain gorilla
Uganda’s dense forests are home to over half the world’s 800 or so mountain gorillas – the rest live in the neighboring Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As they do not survive in captivity, preservation of these fragile habitats is essential for their survival. Gorillas display uncanny human characteristics. The close-knit family groups are headed by a silverback – a mature male – who selects places for the group to eat and sleep, and has many privileges, including the right to feed first. This privilege pays off for the rest of the family, as if the group is threatened, the silverback – weighing up to 12okg – will defend them to the death, if necessary. Generally though, the gorilla is a gentle species. They are considered to be highly intelligent, have been observed using tools like other great apes, and communicate using a variety of vocal sounds. The name gorilla comes from the Greek gorilla – meaning hairy women.
Uganda is home to many different primate species, with Kibale National Park containing the highest density in all of Africa, 13 primates in total. As well as the chimpanzee and gorilla, the black-and-white colobus, red-tailed monkey, grey-cheeked mangabey, l’Hoest’s and blue monkeys, and olive baboons can be seen during game drives, launch trips or nature walks, along with smaller nocturnal species such as the bushbaby and potto. Mgahinga National Park also contains one of the last remaining habitats of the endangered golden monkey. Black-and-white colobus monkeys are among the most frequently spotted species. The name “colobus” means “mutilated” in Greek, as, unlike other primates, they are lacking thumbs. The troops of 5-10 individuals are easily seen in the branches as a result of their striking coloring – black with long white hair running from the shoulders to rump, and white tufts at the ends of their long tails. Infants are born pure white. The dog-like baboons live in large groups and are regularly seen along roadsides where they wait to ambush cars in search of food. They spend more time on the ground than most other primate species, but sleep in trees at night. If water is scarce, they can survive for long periods by licking the dew from their fur.