TREKKING FOR BWINDI’S GORILLAS
Whether you set off on your gorilla trekking from Ruhija or Buhoma, there’s no way of knowing how strenuous your hike will be.
It’s down to luck. You could either be drenched in a torrential downpour and hike for several hours up and down muddy slopes. Or, as in our case, you could stay dry and have a short hike the one day, and a long hike the next. One thing’s for sure, the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park truly lives up to its name.
It’s one thing expecting to see a gorilla at eye level, but seeing a 220kg silverback perched 20 metres up a tree, breaking branches the width of your arm as if they’re twigs; or a month-old gorilla play aimlessly, but under the watchful eye of its mother – there are no words. There’s just pure awe.
When it comes to photographing mountain gorillas, one of the hardest things was deciding which individual to follow and focus on. You simply don’t have enough time to capture all of them. In the end, whenever they were too far or too close, or moving too quickly for a decent shot, the best thing to do was just to enjoy the moment. To simply be with them and connect.
From left to right: 1) A young gorilla in the arms of its mother; 2) The Pretorius family thoroughly enjoying their trek – truly an experience of a lifetime. All photos © Gerhard Pretorius
LAKE MBURO AND BIRDING
Lake Mburo National Park seems to be suffering from low game numbers due to poaching and as a result of the encroachment of farmers on wildlife habitat. When we visited, our guides told us only one lone male lion remains in the area.
The park itself is home to leopard, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, and many other antelope species. For birding, visiting Lake Mburo itself is a definite must. Cruises during the early morning and late afternoon magic hours get booked up quickly, so plan in advance.
Some of the highlights include the elusive African finfoot, and ample opportunity to get up close with most of the common African waterbirds and wildlife such as fish eagles, pied and malachite kingfishers, monitor lizards, hippos, crocodiles, and more.
From left to right: 1) A portrait of a Kibale chimpanzee taking some time out; 2) It’s impossible to deny the similarities between chimpanzees and humans. The emotion behind their eyes is astounding. All photos © Gerhard Pretorius
Kibale National Park is one of the best places to visit for chimpanzee tracking, and with approximately 1,450 chimps in the forest, about 120 are habituated. As ready as we were, we soon discovered that coming face to face with a chimpanzee or mountain gorilla isn’t something you can ever really be prepared for.
It’s a lot like unexpectedly running into an old friend you haven’t seen in years, or being startled by your reflection. For a moment, you freeze as you try and make sense of it all. Simply put, it’s impossible not to be moved.
We spent a full day with two different chimp groups. We saw elders with grey beards, dominant alpha males, and females with newborn babies. But we saw more than just wild animals. We saw intelligent beings that use language, tools, and make a ‘home’ to sleep in come dusk. We saw a society. We saw a family.
Photographing them made it even more evident. There’s everything you’d find in a human face: emotion, thought, intelligence, and something mysterious. It was more like taking photos of people than of wildlife.
THE MIGHTY MURCHISON FALLS
The iconic Murchison Falls – the world’s most powerful waterfall © Gerhard Pretorius
The Masindi district is home to two of Uganda’s biggest attractions, Murchison Falls and the Murchison Falls National Park. Undoubtedly this is the main reason most visit the district, but it’s also a wonderful place to see how many northern Ugandans make a living.
The area in and around the Murchison Falls National Park has plenty of accommodation, and staying on the banks of the River Nile is the way to go. A word of warning though – hippos often roam through the camps when they come out to feed at night.
Other wildlife to spot in the park includes patas monkeys, Ugandan kob, hartebeest, buffalo, elephant, the very rare Rothschild’s giraffe, and lion. You can also drive along the banks of the Nile, which offers more birding opportunities.
Murchison Falls is not to be missed. It’s the world’s most powerful waterfall where the White Nile is funnelled through a 7-metre wide gorge, at a rate of 300 000 litres per second, and plummets 45 metres. It’s worth visiting the falls from the top (by road) and booking a cruise to approach it from below as well to get a sense of its awesome power.
The Murchison Falls National Park is reached by crossing the Nile with a ferry and best done early in the morning to avoid queuing.
Written by Gerhard Pretorius