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Wildlife at night

By Vision Reporter

Added 26th January 2006 03:00 AM

Visitors arriving after dark at Lake Mburo National Park are quite often treated to the spectacle of a leopard on the prowl.

Visitors arriving after dark at Lake Mburo National Park are quite often treated to the spectacle of a leopard on the prowl.

By Craddock Williams

Visitors arriving after dark at Lake Mburo National Park are quite often treated to the spectacle of a leopard on the prowl.

Hunting at night makes this shy creature caught in the car’s headlights. Dazzled by the bright light, it is stationary long enough to be photographed, before sneaking into the undergrowth.

The leopard is just one of the many creatures that move about the park at night. With the current availability of powerful halogen beam torches (or flashlights in American English), visitors to Lake Mburo can enjoy the excitement of nocturnal tours.

You drive slowly along the park tracks probing the bush with the beam of light. In the trees, you may see and hear bush babies, the tiny galagos that are around at night in the park.

If you find buffalo, they too are dazzled and remain stationary, the eyes glowing a bright red in the surrounding darkness. Rangers will warn visitors getting within charging distance, normally about 50 metres for these bad tempered creatures, unless they have calves with them.

There are no lions or elephants in this national park. Local herdsmen, who were losing too many cattle to the ‘King of the Jungle’, poisoned the lions. The elephants were slaughtered by Idi Amin’s troops before 1979. Both animals tend to move around at night. Elephants move to find new forage while it is cool while lions move to stalk game meat among the park’s antelopes. We once thought we heard a lion’s roar at night, but it may have been a joker in the Chigarem hills mimicking lions to get a kudu herd stampeding.

Nocturnal Tours of Lake Mburo National Park are one of the many special interest tours that Uganda Wildlife Authority is planning to use to boost Uganda’s ecotourism receipts. Another is Micro Tourism, in which visitors are shown the tiny creatures they might otherwise miss—the antlions, dung beetles and caterpillars, all fascinating at certain times of year. AUTO Members’ Tour Guides are soon to get specialised training in the interpretation skills needed to conduct these special interest ‘Tourism Products’, for all ecotourism is ‘knowledge-based’.

One of the rarest sights, certainly by day, in the Lake Mburo Park are pangolins or scaly anteater. These curious mammals live in burrows, many of which are known to the park rangers.

Pangolins emerge at night to probe the earth for ants with their long sticky tongues. The tongue is as long as the Pangolin’s body. It is able to whip back into the animals mouth-covered with ants. The lower jar is simply a hinged bone, without any teeth. You can see their long claws adapted for burrowing and digging out anthills. Its long muscular tail was once adapted for climbing trees.

Pangolin is a Malay word meaning ‘one that rolls up’. A threatened pangolin will curl into a ball, with its armour plating making a complete defence against predators.

Nocturnal Tours are an exciting variation on daytime safaris. Experienced tour guides park the vehicles and sit in silence with their clients, listening to the amazing sounds of the night. Many of these they will identify. Any that come close will be suddenly illuminated in the halogen beam to be clearly visible, as an amazing spectacle never to be seen by day. The last time I was at Lake Mburo, we saw a leopard in the light of our searchlight leap into a tree with its prey, a dead antelope of some sort almost as large as the leopard. As we got a closer look, the big cat bared its teeth and growled and it wasn’t going to leave its prey unguarded.

Wildlife at night

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