Thursday, August 30, 2012

Semuliki National Park – a theatre of beauty and splendor

Semliki National Park and the beautiful Semliki wildlife reserve lies on the southern shores of Lake Albert and offers a mosaic of different habitats with some excellent birding opportunities.
Perfectly situated in a remote corner of southwestern Uganda, Semuliki National Park protects an eastern extension of the vast Ituri Forest and forms part of a forest continuum that stretches across the Democratic Republic of Congo to the Zaire River.

Semuliki National Park (220 km2) gazetted in October 1993, is one of Uganda’s newest National Park. The Park occupies a flat to gently undulating landform ranging from 670 -760 metres above level. As all streams and rivers from the surrounding areas are flooded drain into the Park plus the poor drainage and topography, many areas are flooded during the rainy season. The average annual rainfall is 1250 mm with peaks from March to May and September and December. The temperature varies from 18o C – 30o C with relatively small daily variations.

Being a relatively stable forest “refugium” during the climatic upheavals of the Pleistocene, this is one of the richest areas for forest birds in Africa. A large number of predominantly Central African species reach the eastern limit of their distribution here and cannot be found anywhere else in East Africa. These include some of the continent’s most spectacular and sought-after birds such as; Congo Serpent Eagle, Long-tailed Hawk, Nkulengu Rail, Black-wattled Horn-bill and Lyre-tailed Honey guide.

Although it lies a bumpy three hours’ drive from Fort Portal, birders who take Uganda safaris, find Semuliki National Park to be richly rewarding with some of the very best forest birding in Uganda.
Jungle life in Semuliki is breathtaking especially for birders, primate, butterfly, and plant lovers. The jungle walk usually takes you up to River Semuliki meanders, the only one of its kind in East Africa.  With luck, you may see forest buffaloes and elephants, sitatungas, leopards, pigmy hippopotamus, crocodile primates and a wide range of forest and water birds. You can also come with fishing facilities for sport fishing along the river.
The Toro-Semuliki Wildlife Reserve (formerly called the Toro Game Reserve) is subtly different and shows affinities with the northern savanna woodland with over 400 birds species coupled with a number of exotic scenery views
Fantastic scenery, Hot springs, forest jungle walk, birding, primate viewing and river Semuliki meanders are some of the ideal attractions. Surely, you don’t have to miss but get off the regular tourists’ circuit and spend three to five days camping and hiking in this jungle part of the world.
There are two Hot springs situated in a tract of hot mineral encrusted swampland, rich in visible birds, insects and mammal life accessible by modern trail network. Come and see a two meters jet of hot water (130oC) and a pool (12 m diameter) of oozing boiling water (106oC). You can boil food especially eggs in the natural boiler within ten minutes and enjoy it.

Did you know that a trip to Semuliki has the most marvel and breathtaking views? Come and experience the most thrilling meandering Bundibugyo road through the Rwenzori escarpments. At ‘Mungu Ni Mukubwa’ while in the mountains, the road offers scenic views of the meandering Semuliki River, fuming Hot springs and the tropical rain forest extending up to Ituri forest in DRC.

Semuliki National Park lies along the main fort Portal to Bundibugyo road, 52 km from Fort Portal. The road can become treacherous, particularly after heavy rains, requiring a 4 WD or a sturdy 2WD with sufficient clearance. The ranger post at Sempaya is well signposted but the park headquarters have been moved to the village of Ntandi, a further 4.4 km along the road to Bundibugyo. The usual National Park fees apply.
From Sempaya it is 10.6 km to the village of Kirumia and start of the Kirumia River trail into the forest. It is possible to hitch a ride between Sempaya and Kirumia but bear in mind that most vehicles head towards Fort Portal in the mornings; traffic in the direction of Bundibugyo passes mainly in the late afternoon and evening.

Experience Semliki national park, a stepping stone to Central Africa, unforgettable views.

PKP safaris kenya desk

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rothschild Giraffe – Now Endangered species

The Rare and Gorgeous Rothschild giraffe has joined the ‘red list’ of the endangered species in the world. Driven from its wide-ranging West African habitats, the Rothschild giraffe is evidently in peril but now, its plight has been officially recognized thanks to great conservation dedication, efforts, and research. The world’s largest environment network, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, has added it to its red list of endangered species.

Attaining a height of nearly 20ft when fully grown, the Rothschild’s are the tallest giraffe species. This therefore qualifies them as the tallest mammals in the entire world! It is also the only giraffe species without patches on its legs. In fact, its legs are white from the knees to the feet and its looks as if it is wearing white stockings. Its other peculiar feature is that of having five ‘horns’ instead of two.
Named after the banker and zoologist Walter Rothschild who first described it, the species joins the West African giraffe on the list, making it the second most threatened of the nine giraffe sub-species. While giraffes overall are ranked of “least concern” by the IUCN, partly due to a lack of data, there are far fewer Rothschild giraffes remaining than there are endangered African elephants. Conservationists say farming developments are largely to blame for the animal’s decline.

Giraffes are browsing animals which use their huge necks and prehensile tongues to strip the leaves and bark from trees on the African savannah. They also graze and have a series of special valves and a complicated network of elastic blood vessels in the neck, not only to prevent the animal from passing out when it bends down to drink or graze, but also to ensure that the blood is successfully pumped along its long neck to the brain.

Despite their great height and gangly appearance the giraffe is one of the fastest species of animal, reaching top speeds of 35mph (56km/h) when running over open ground.  For longer distances, the giraffe can lope along at about 10mph (16km/h). They have one of the longest and most mobile tongues reaching an average length of 45.6cm and their coat patterns are as unique as human fingerprint.
Fewer than 670 Rothschild giraffes now live in the wild, in isolated populations. Some 40% live in national parks and private land in Kenya and the remaining 60% in Uganda. Isolation of the species’ remaining populations and a lack of understanding about how it lives and feeds are hampering efforts to restore its numbers.
There are very few locations where the Rothschild Giraffe can be seen in the wild, with notable spots being Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya and Murchison Falls National Park in Northern Uganda. There are various captive breeding programmes in place—most notably at The Giraffe Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, and at Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire, England—which aim to expand the genetic gene-pool in the wild population of the Rothschild Giraffe.
While giraffes in general are classified as Lower Risk: Conservation Dependent, the Rothschild Giraffe is at particular risk of hybridization, as the population is so limited in numbers. Its current classification is highly hoped to highlight to the world the critical state its tallest creature is in.
Lets join hand and save the world’s only wildlife tower

PKP safaris in kenya desk

Monday, August 27, 2012

Kenya Safari, Jewel of Kenya northern frontier

On the northern frontier of Kenya arid spheres lay one of the most spectacular wilderness thrills. With its harsh surrounding, you will be forgiven to think the ecosystem is misplaced and its attraction far fetched by unknown phenomena. But you are mistaken; the real thrill is true, authentic and natural. I am talking about Lake Paradise and the greater Marsabit national reserve and off course not forgetting the ancient Marsabit town
Mount Marsabit is famous for the dreamy waters of Lake Paradise which are located on its peak, for the foothills of rugged grandeur that fan out from its volcanic craters, and for the cloud forests which shelter both greater kudu and an ancient dynasty of elephants famous for their huge tusks.

Marsabit town and its sanctuaries lie atop a mountain rising sheer from the desert floor to a height of about 1707 meters. The mountain is a natural phenomenon, born out of volcanic fire and shaped by mist where its great massive ranges and undulating peaks have created its own ambient climate. Every evening, about midnight, the hot air rising from the desert floor cools and forms clinging fingers of mist, which grasp the mountain slopes, rarely releasing their grip until the late part of the morning.
On the road south from Mount Marsabit to the rocky plains the area is home to Sociable Weaver birds, which can be identified by their neater, tidier nests; Sparrow Weavers, with their “scruffier” nests; and white-bellied turacos. The area also unfolds indescribable natural phenomenon while passing through extraordinary Strangler figs in the mountain-top forest. This displays a stark contrast to the dusty track below which is lined by low, flat-topped acacias.
Many species of raptors inhabit the shaggy cliffs and the treetops around Lake Paradise and Sokorte Guda, a cliff lined bowl, which forms a natural amphitheatre in which Marsabit’s elephants parade to drink in the late afternoon. Large herds of buffalo and other ungulates join this display. Other species found on the mountain include the shy greater kudu and other antelope as well as lions and leopards.

Although the lower slopes are scorched and dry, above them is a richly forested wonderland of crater lakes and swamps, towering cliffs and giant trees, with an astounding display of wildlife. Here bird and beast dart between the tall stands of juniper and podocarpus in a scene much as wildlife filmmakers Osa and Martin Johnson recorded when they made their home at Lake Paradise, one of the crater lakes, in the 1920’s.
For an estimated 63 years, Marsabit National Park and Reserve was the home of Ahmed, patriarch of the forest, guarded from hunters seeking his mighty tusks, by a presidential decree. A model of Ahmed now stands in the National Museum in Nairobi while his scions wander the forest under the watchful eyes of the Marsabit Reserve’s rangers.
Lower down the mountain, below the forest line, groups of Borana people drive their camels to water at the singing wells. Three or four men form a human ladder down these deep shafts and with camel-hide buckets work in swift relay to bring water to the troughs above. The songs they sing while undertaking this work have earned the wells their name.
Marsabit Town is a staging post for the journey to Moyale and onwards to Ethiopia and also the beginning of an adventure, which intrepid travelers make when they cross the inhospitable Chalbi Desert to reach Lake Turkana. This shimmering and seemingly endless expanse of sand stretches for 300 kilometers to the shore of the lake of which it were once part. Even today, perhaps once in every decade, in one of the torrential downpours, which occur during a rare rainy season, it will again come into flood to form a vast but shallow lake.
From Nairobi, the reserve is reached via Nanyuki and lsiolo a distance of 620 km. The road is paved up to lsiolo leaving a distance of 270 km of very bad road that is only motorable by 4 wheel-drive vehicles during the dry season. The reserve is 2 1/2 hrs by air from Nairobi and is adequately served by a tarmac airstrip located about one kilometer from Marsabit town centre.
There is no doubt that lake paradise and the surrounding enclosures of Marsabit national reserve will soon be proclaimed world wonders that every soul will aspire to experience.

PKP - Kenya Safari desk
Natural Track Safaris

Uganda – the unexplored African Jewel

Uganda may not boast of huge and well-developed national parks like neighboring Kenya and Tanzania, but for the adventurous, Uganda is a place to go. I have no doubt, Uganda is one of the most beautiful countries in Africa, with fantastic natural scenery and boasting half of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population. It also offers world-class white water rafting at the source of Nile and some of the region’s most peaceful national parks. Unlike other neighboring destinations, wildlife viewing in Uganda doesn’t involve long waits in line behind a dozen or more vehicles.

The natural attractions are among the best in the region, and as tourism is still being re-established, there simply aren’t the crowds found elsewhere. After years of misrule, there is a turnaround in numbers of animals especially elephants and antelopes, which were butchered by undisciplined soldiers and poachers during the reign of Idi Amin.

Currently, the Uganda Tourism is just a peaceful endeavor whose incredible activities translate to lifetime experiences. Visitors mostly go to Uganda to watch gorillas which are found in southwestern Uganda in two of the only four parks in the world where these gentle giants live. One park is Mghahinga, where chances of seeing the mountain gorillas is a bit tricky but assured, and my favorite park in Uganda, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where you will surely see a gorilla family during its morning nap or late afternoon siesta after a good meal. 

Although gorilla watching permits are expensive with chains of protocols and formalities to follow, it is undoubtedly a worthy cause. In most cases, I prefer services of the local tour operators as they are conversant with these logistics. For instance; if you want to track the gentle giants, you have to wait in order to be put on the manifest of those who have been permitted. This is not a guarantee thou! You could be eliminated from the list on a slight suspicion of illness like flu because gorillas easily catch human diseases to which they have no immunity. That is not unfair to you buddy! Imagine how sensitive and vulnerable these cousins are to human illnesses. Just understand!

Uganda is also one of the best places in which to watch chimpanzees, man’s closest cousins. These primates are seen easily in Kibale Forest National Park and in the Budongo tropical forest where the harvesting of trees for timber is threatening their existence. There are also chimps in Chambura River Gorge in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Meanwhile an island sanctuary for chimpanzees has been set up in Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Uganda has also a number of monkey families which include the yellow baboon, which has a dog-like head, the Patas, which dwell in the savannah, four races of the vervet monkey; the blue monkey is common in most forests and the red-tailed monkey. There is de Brazza’s monkey, L’Hoest monkey in Kibale Forest National park, and Wolf’s guenon, or Hamlyn’s guenon. Grey-cheeked mangabeys are found in Kibale forest. You will also enjoy sighting the black-and-white Colobus monkey which is hunted by poachers for its beautiful coat which musicians use as a waistband during the local dances.

At a glance, from the highest mountain range in Africa, the Rwenzori Mountains; to one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world, Murchison Falls; or perhaps the highest primate density in the world, in kabale forest National park – Uganda has all this and more. It’s a beautiful country with a great deal to offer, and sooner or later the tourist hordes will ‘discover’ its delights – make sure you get there before they do.

One of these great delights of Uganda is Bwindi – A magnificent verdant swathe across the steep ridges of the Albertine Rift Valley, this ancient rainforest – one of the few in Africa to have flourished throughout the last Ice Age – is home to roughly half of the world’s mountain gorillas.

Looking deep into the expressive brown eyes of these gentle giants is surely the most exciting and emotional wildlife encounter that Africa has to offer – but we should not let it distract from Bwindi’s broader biodiversity, a result of its immense antiquity and an altitude span from 1,160 to 2,607m.
The national park has 90 mammal species, including 11 primates, of which the black-and-white colobus, with its lovely flowing white tail, is prominent. The forest birding ranks with the best in Uganda, with 23 highly localized Albertine Rift endemics present.

Bwindi can be reached from Qeen Elizabeth National Park in the north (2-3 hours), from Kabale to the south (1-2 hours), or from Kampala via Mbarara (6-8 hours). The roads meet at Butogota, 17km from the Buhoma entrance gate and 4×4 drives is recommended during the rains.

Hurry and discover Uganda before the rest of the world discovers the jewel off the beaten track!

PKP- Kenia Safary desk

The Zanzibar Island, experience unchanged history

Although there’s more to the islands of Tanzania than just Zanzibar, Zanzibar enchants and fascinates with its oriental mystique and forgotten exoticism the very name evokes the Spice Islands and the dhow trade, sultans and palaces built of limestone and coral against the palm trees and the crashing surf.

Zanzibar’s coastline offers some of the best beaches in the world, but sand and surf vary depending on what side of the island you’re on. On the east coast, waves break over coral reefs and sand bars offshore, and low tide reveals small pools of starfish, small minnows, and anemones. Up north, ocean swimming is much less susceptible to the tides, and smooth beaches and white sand make for dazzling days in the sun.
Portuguese invasion and control of the Swahili Coast in the late 16th century ended the golden age of the archipelago, although the Omani Arabs returned to power less than a century later. The port city of Stone Town dominates the west coast, and although the beaches of Mangapwani, where slave caves are visible at low tide and nearby Bububu are less than half an hour’s drive away, a night or two spent on the east or north cost is well worth the extra hour it takes to drive there. That said, the Chole Island Marine Park just off Stone Town – and nearby Prison, Grave, and Snake Islands – make a refreshing day-trip and a good break from exploring the winding passageways of the old city.

On the south coast of Zanzibar lies the Menai Bay Conservation Area, a sea turtle protection area for the endangered species that come to breed on the island. Roads to the southeast coast take visitors through the Jozani Forest, home to Zanzibar’s rare Red Colobus monkeys and a number of other primate and small antelope species.
Today, many of the winding streets and high town houses of old Stone Town remain unchanged and you can walk between the sultan’s palace, the House of Wonders, the Portuguese fort and gardens, the merchants’ houses, and the Turkish baths of the old city. Day-long spice tours to working plantations offer visitors the chance to observe the cultivation of cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and other spices that have made the island famous.
PKP- Kenia safari
Natural Track Safaris