The kids turned out to be little rascals, and to be honest quite rude, “give me money motherf**ker…muzungu…money”, a result of perhaps too many tourists giving them money and sweeties, nonetheless they provided quality entertainment interpreting scary human-hippo’s for a photo opportunity and climbing all over a poor sleeping Ankole cow like primitive bandits.
As the third largest land mammal on the planet, behind the Elephant and White Rhino, you cannot comprehend the size of the Hippo until you see one up close, from the safety of a boat of course! A short, uneventful, game drive into Queen Elizabeth National Park from Katwe Village is the fascinating Mweya Visitors Centre perched high atop the Mweya Peninsula and overlooking the Kazinga Channel. Inside the visitors centre are massive animal skulls, including that of the mammoth elephant, and educational displays outlining the history and work of the park.
Back in the park’s heyday there was once over 13,000 hippos resulting in a substantial culling in order to save other species and the natural habitat of the surrounding areas where they feed. Today there are still thousands of the ugly, ferocious looking monsters skulking in the channel. The moment we set off in the boat for a two-hour game cruise we could see hundreds of them, fighting, mating, playing, or just moping about. Weighing up to 3000kg, the closest relative of these huge creatures is in fact the whale, and it is said that underwater they make a similar sound when calling each other. Hippos are semi-aquatic animals, spending most of the day in the water where they can regulate their body temperature, coming out of the water only at dusk to graze on grass. Apparently they will walk up to 7km each night in search of food, returning to the water, to the same spot at dawn to rest and keep cool.
We cruised passed a village with the crazy locals bathing and washing in the water with hippos less than 50m away, and crocodiles sneaking below the murky waters nowhere to be seen. The reality of living here, as stated by the guide, “someone will be taken today…or maybe tomorrow”. The danger is not only in the water, on land lions threaten the villagers creeping about at night, while in an unusual incident a hyena snuck into a home and took a child. As the sun began to set we watched as the local fisherman loaded their boats and raced each other out onto Lake Edward, with their nets in tow, racing to get a good catch and not get toppled by angry hippos who were on their way out of the water to feed. At this time of the day they are the most “hangry”, Jay’s wonderful term to describe when one is hungry and angry!
Poaching is such a problem in Africa. Not only is this inhumane killing for ivory dwindling the population of elephants and rhinos at a rapid rate, it is also changing their character. In South Africa we were told the elephants are becoming more aggressive as a result of poaching, with an incident reported of one attacking a rhino, an act unheard of in the past. This is evolution on steroids, driven by humans. Even their tusks are growing smaller as a consequence. Previously each tusk could weigh almost one tonne, reaching all the way down to the ground. Today, sadly you will never find an elephant with a tusk longer than 1m. In Queen Elizabeth National Park they are experiencing the unique behaviour where families of Elephants are sticking together. Typically the male bull will go away to wander solo through the savannah after mating, but in this park because the older elephants were poached off they are not around to teach the young ones what to do and how to behave.
Despite the reduced population of the gigantic elephant we still saw more of them then any other animal – other than baboons, those pesky beings with disgusting bare bottoms were everywhere. In fact, during our two game drives in this park we barely saw anything and we left feeling quite disappointed. We saw warthogs scurrying frantically through the shrubs, to which we screamed “pumba” every time, and various antelopes such as Kob and Impala. One thing you have to remember in Africa is “there are no guarantees”!
Going on the Chimp trek required a wake up call at silly o’clock: 4:45am is never easy. Our insane driver drove like a madman past sleepy hippos on their way back to the water and dodging potholes and people walking down the road like zombies as if he was playing a video game. We finally arrived in one piece at Kalinzu Forest on the Rift Valley Escarpment above Queen Elizabeth National Park, and then the heavens opened up, torrential rain of massive jungle drops poured down soaking us to the bone. Because of the high chance of not seeing the chimps we split up so that at least one of us might get lucky. In two groups we trudged through the wet, muddy forest. It was looking grim as Treeny’s guide was running out of ideas where to look, until she received a call from Iain’s team “they’ve found one” – yes mobile phones work in the most unexpected of places in Africa – so we legged it through the forest in their direction. Meanwhile Iain’s group was gawking at Caesar the Chimp as he slid down a tree to say hello only 5m away. On the way, we ran into the tracker who had been sent out before our arrival to scout out where the chimps were, following him we managed to locate three of these amazing animals high in the trees above us. Iain’s group joined us as we watched them relaxing in the trees, eating, scratching and jumping between the branches. Iain’s guide had a recording of a chimp fight on his phone and played it to arouse the ones we had found, our new friends began screeching and howling at each other, the noise was loud and intense as they cried out to each other confused by this prank.
Next stop we learn about pygmies and gorillas from Kabale to Kisoro…
Click here to view our photo gallery of Queen Elizabeth National Park.