After being ranked the third best park in Africa by CNN Travel, I had reason to wonder what makes Kidepo Valley National Park (KVNP) tick. It took twelve hours of navigating and grinding through gullied, wallowing in muddy and a dusty network of roads for the 4WD Toyota to get there.
You will be amazed by the elephants at the park
The first thing I saw were warthogs going on bended knees to graze. A stone’s throw away were elegant water bucks in the company of zebras. In the short grass were ostriches competing with giraffes in the length of necks. Buffaloes were wadding in the mud as birds flapped their wings in flight.
After six hours, an impatient tourist audibly expressed his widely shared thoughts, “Shall we see the lions?” This prompted our guide, Philips Akoromwe to take off his cap and scan the expanding horizon. “There is a lot more to feast your eyes on as the lions make up their minds to be seen or not,” Akoromwe answered. “Wait and see the seasonal Kidepo River bed with a radius of 50 metres. Then there is River Naluzi, which joins the River Nile on its way to the Mediterranean Sea,” he added.
About 120 lions live in their natural habitat
He says the word Kidepo was got from the Karimojong word kidip (picking), which was corrupted by colonial administrators and other tribesmen, who added letter O at the end. “The park dates far back to 1954 when it was declared a game reserve and was upgraded in 1962 to a National Park,” Akoromwe explained. He said this is what evolved into a conservation centre with an area covering 1,440.
The tale is still told about a legislator Logwe Atuk, who was instrumental in the formation of the park. “Atuk, together with a foreign conservator Ian Ross and Paul Salli, the first African boss, will be remembered for ever. They faced the threat of poachers from Sudan in the 1960s,” he said. Time check 4:00pm.
The king of the jungle, the lion, was nowhere to be seen, which prompted one of the tourists to ask the guide, “What would you tell a guest who wanted to see a lion?” “This is not a zoo where animals are caged and seen whenever you feel like,” responded Akoromwe. “In stock are 120 lions living in their natural habitat. You do not make an appointment with them. But never lose hope. There is a lady who has been here three times and failed to see one-she finally saw lions last week.
” After these words, packaged with humour and sarcasm, we mentally started editing our must-see options. The rocky outcrops populated with monkeys and baboons, were worth scaling. In addition were numerous phallus sculpted ant hills punctuating the flat landscape. “There is a hyena and some wild dogs,” Akoromwe drew our attention. “That is a sign that the Magulunyondo of Kidepo is in the neighbourhood either dining or hunting.” True to his word, a mane appeared 100 metres way.
It was a group of four lions with creased foreheads and whiskers prowling stealthily through the short grass. To celebrate our victory and luck, a camp fi re was lit. As wines, lagers and spirits were downed. The air was wafting with goat roast aroma from an open air oven. Stories were being told about the Karimojong, animals and birds
Bushbucks are a common site at the national park
Tourists can carry their food and prepare it or have the park staff give a hand. Otherwise, the canteen charges sh12,000 for a basic meal of rice, potatoes and maize bread. The sauce is limited to beans, beef and chicken.
The park is accessible by four routes. It is a 705km journey from Kampala via Lira, Kotido, Kabong to Kidepo. The distance is about 740km if one took the Mbale, Soroti, Moroto, Kotido and Kabong route. If one used the Kampala route via Mbale, Soroti, Matanyi, Kotido, Kabong to Kidepo, the distance is 780km
Why Kidepo Park is a world destination
By Titus Kakembo
Kidepo Valley National Park (KVNP) is the most sought after tourist destination. Maria Mutagambwa, the minister of tourism and antiquities challenged the industry players to exploit the to capacity. “There is a wealth of attractions there. Diversity is the ace Uganda has to outcompete other destinations with similar attractions.” Dr. Andrew G. Seguya, the executive director, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) agreed and assured investors, all is being done to make tourism prosper. “There are challenges, but all is being done to market Uganda as a preferred destination. Gorilla tracking permits will soon be available on line,” he said.
Tourists relaxing at UWA banda in Kidepo Valley National Park
Seguya explained that tourists will ensure safety of their cash by depositing it and withdrawing when need be. However a tour of KVNP was a revelation of what propels it to international fame. “In five years’ time, we expect to triple the number of visitors from 2,700 to more than 7,000,” said Augustine Masereka, KVNP area manager while launching a new product called The Ik On Morungole Nature walk. He added that the revenue will double last year’s collection of sh466m. To enable UWA achieve the desired revenue collections there are investment opportunities, waiting to be taken up by the private sector, in KVNP.
They comprise three hotel sites, transport services and aggressive tour operators. “Given the Road Unit being donated by USAID, we are going to make mobility in the park easy and improve the products in place,” he said. These comprise better accommodation, open air theater entertainment that sustain the raw and conservative character of the park. Asked what makes KNVP tick, the UWA marketing officer, Ingrid Nyankabwa said the game drive treats tourists to a variety of attractions ranging from giraffes, elephants to zebras, waterbucks and ostriches. Philip Akoromwe, a ranger added to the list of what thrills their clients.
Having a game drive is the climax of the tour at the park
“Kidepo’s is a unique experience that you will not get anywhere else,” said Akoromwe. “Unlike competitors the Kidepo setting is the closest you can get to nature in a raw form.” He added that the packages offer a nature walk, 460 birds and a traditional dance with the local tribe, butterflies and communities.
A tour of the game drive was a revelation of families, friends and groups of tourists excited to see lions, cheetahs, elephants and zebras. “I found the 13 hour trip from Kampala to KVNP tedious, but what I have seen makes the experience worthwhile,” said Sarja Bush from Spain. The UWA charge between sh50,000 and sh70,000 per night.
However, the USAID/ Uganda Tourism for Biodiversity Programme that is implemented by African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) is currently supporting Uganda Wildlife Authority in promoting tourism that supports conservation. Abiaz Rwamwiri, the communication officer says USAID is determined to enable Uganda rise and shine again as a tourist destination.
“The $10m four-year programme supports UWA in providing communities with opportunities to develop tourism businesses and services that will enhance communities’ appreciation of Uganda’s natural resources thereby protecting critical systems,” he said. Rwamwiri explained that in Kidepo, the programme is supporting UWA in trails development, marketing, Mount Murongole (IK) trail, land use planning in Karenga and Lubalangit sub-counties and product development.
Trapped in north eastern Uganda, KVNP is endowed with a variety of more than 400 bird species, seasonal rivers, mammals, forests and insects that made British Premier Winston Churchill call Uganda The Pearl Of Africa. Most of the infrastructure is being improved upon and new hotels are being built to accommodate the increasing number of tourists. The poverty levels among communities there are expected to drop drastically. The wind of optimism continues to blow through this potentially rich attraction.