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The virgin that is Kidepo valley

By Vision Reporter

Added 18th November 2013 01:16 AM

“I want to shoot the huge herds of buffaloes that featured on CNN,” Martin Sebuyira, a photo journalist, echoes a widely shared dream. “Then there are those famed tree climbing lions.”

The virgin that is Kidepo valley

“I want to shoot the huge herds of buffaloes that featured on CNN,” Martin Sebuyira, a photo journalist, echoes a widely shared dream. “Then there are those famed tree climbing lions.”

By Titus Kakembo

After 12 hours of a safari from Kampala, the Toyota grinds to a halt in the vast Kidepo Valley National Park. To get to this supreme isolation, a tribute which distinguishes it from other attractions, the odometer had logged 700km.

“I want to shoot the huge herds of buffaloes that featured on CNN,” Martin Sebuyira, a photo journalist, echoes a widely shared dream. “Then there are those famed tree climbing lions.”

We did not expect a quirky Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Sergeant Philip Akoromwe, 40, to crack our ribs with laughter. Equipped with rosy words, he furnished his attentive audience with a wealth of information.

“This is River Nalusi, a watering hole that never dries up. Animals resort to her when the entire neighbourhood dries up. Somewhere in the park, she joins River Kidepo. Later they join the mightier River Nile for the 6,500 miles journey to the Mediterranean Sea,” Akoromwe says.

Fond of making sudden comical announcements, Akoromwe paints mental pictures of what one cannot see physically.

true“Plenty of drama unfolds in this isolated true African wilderness,” Akoromwe says.

“During the lion’s mating season, the female begins by releasing some sweet scent that sexually stimulates the male. She then exposes her behind to the male and he has no choice. The mating can go on for seven hours.”

Slice of Karimojong culture

Being a native of the land, Akoromwe packages the narrative with the history of Kidepo and the Karimojong.

“Life in gritty Karimoja needs the tough ones only. Like us, our ancestors braved droughts, floods and customary cattle rustling. In the past, marriage was a rite of passage into manhood,” Akoromwe recounts, before detailing how a young Karimojong man was required to wrestle down the woman he admired into sexual submission and that marked the engagement.

“If he won the wrestling match against the woman, he was considered a real man and was permitted to marry her. Dowry negotiations could then begin between the family of the bride and the groom.” Akoromwe adds that in the past, a Karimojong man married to a woman from another tribe was automatically regardedunable to wrestle and therefore not man enough.

Kidepo’s wildlife

Akoromwe asks the driver to stop by a group of basking bushbucks. But he does not stray far from the comic streak in him and promptly personifies the poor animals:

“That is a handsome boy attracting so many girls. Unlike the Karimojong girls who are hard to woo, in the culture of the bushbucks, the female proposes. Look at that, the males are displaying themselves for the females to take their pick.”

By 1:00pm, the king of the jungle, who everyone anticipated seeing, is nowhere to be seen. This prompts one of us to ask Akoromwe what he would tell a guest who badly wanted to see a lion.

“I would say Kidepo is the closest you can come to the jungle as it was 100 years ago,” responded Akoromwe. “Kidepo, with a population of 120 lions, is not a zoo where animals are caged. Moreover, lions do not have mobile phones for me to be able to summon them for viewing,” he says.

“There is a lady who visited the park three times but missed the lions. Last week, she came again and saw them. Besides, there is lots more to interest you. The panoramic view, birds, phallus-shaped anthills and the rocks where the late South Sudan president John Garang’s chopper crashed,” he adds.

We later come across a dry bed of the 50-metre-wide River Kidepo. “Some rivers here are seasonal,” Akoromwe explains.

“This river is unpredictable. One moment it is there and the next, it is gone. A river flood can show up without warning. That is how rally driver Richard Tebere and his navigator Rashid Mudin died. At times, the tide is so high and fast it can sweep away a bus,” he says.

Later, Akoromwe pays tribute to giraffes. “The idea that giraffes are mute is wrong! Although they are normally quiet, calves bleat and make a mewing call, cows seeking lost calves bellow, and courting bulls may emit a raucous cough,” he says.

As if to illustrate the guide’s point, one of the giraffes snorts and another moans.true

We also get a lesson on ostriches. “For self-defence, ostriches have very powerful legs that can kick a lion or a human being dead. I do not know where the saying of burying the head in the sand, like an ostrich, comes from, but the ones in Kidepo do not do it,” quips the tour guide.

Kidepo is good for bird watching, and birds to expect include the Abyssinian Roller, Purple Heron and the Ground Hornbill.

Hot springs

Kidepo and Karamoja are not short of mysticism, as testified by Kangarok hot springs, where people go to make their skins smooth and heal skin diseases.

“Cockroaches which risk to drink this water die instantly,” Akoromwe says. “If you wash your face with the Kangarok water for 30 days, it becomes very smooth and soft.”

Local legend has it that it was named after Longorok, a man assigned to carry water in a gourd from Kochetut to Lotukei village. On reaching this spot, clouds gathered and it rained heavily. The lightening that struck was blinding and Longorok died. It is believed his blood and water mixed to begin boiling and healing his people.

As night falls, we drive back to the UWA bandas. Akoromwe suddenly orders the driver to stop the van. He switches his torch on and beams it at a laughing hyena. Soon, we notice a mane rustling in the grass. Shiny eyes squint at the blinding beam of the torch — here were the lions we had longed to see.

“There are three of them. These cats are night animals. Their best dish is antelope meat and the ‘bodyguards’ (the hyenas) eat the leftovers,” Akoromwe says.

The day is crowned by a goat roast, yummy boiled offals wolfed down before a bonfire and washed down with pints of beer, tea and wine.

The virgin that is Kidepo valley

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