After our first day in Murchison Falls National Park we woke up bright and early, checked out of the hotel after a yummy breakfast, and then heading for a morning game drive. We quickly came across a large group of elephants, which are some of my favorite animals to see while on safari. They are so charismatic, intelligent, massive, and just such cool creatures. Elephants have great hearing, and use their ears as a funnel to receive noises, but they can also “hear” through their feet, sensing vibrations in the ground, apparently they can communicate with each other using seismic signals that can travel 10 to 20 miles in the ground, now that is pretty cool. I have also read that elephants can recognize the Maasai tribe by their language and the clothes they wear, and elephants communicate with each other about any encounters they had with dangerous people by adjusting their frequencies of their vocalizations, how cool is that!
After the elephants, we continued on our game drive, aiming to find a predador such as a lion or a leopard. We did come across a hyena in the road, which are apparently somewhat rare in the park. Have you learned about hyena sex? If not I am about to tell you something that will blow your mind. Female hyenas are more aggressive and more muscular than males, and have at least 3 times more testosterone than males, so hyena families are ruled by females (called a matriarchy). Female hyenas have a pseudo-penis that is basically an elongated clitoris, but they can grow up to 7 inches long. Females pee, copulate, and give birth through this. As I was googling this I found out it is similar for elephants, and it is physically impossible for a male elephant to have sex with a female unless she is completely willing, and this is because she must first retract her penile-clitoris into her own body (think about turning a sock inside out). Only once it is safely tucked inside the female’s body can the male insert his penis into her vagina.
Anyways moving along, we saw more giraffes and even an African Savanna Hare. At around noon we headed to our next hotel, called the Red Chili Camp, where we had lunch (a delicious falafel sandwich in a chapati, yumm). We watched as wild baboons stole some kids lunches, and I was glad the baboons didn’t choose us to harass. We checked into our room which was a large private room that was so nice, and it even overlooked an area where hippos are known to graze at night.
At around 1:00 we headed to the Nile River where we did a 3 hour boat tour to take us to Murchison Falls while watching wildlife along the way. It was super cool to do a safari from a boat, David and I had great seats on our boat (we sat on the upper deck in the front left, as suggested by our driver, Baylon). Some highlights included seeing elephants, buffalo, too many hippos to count, some basking crocodiles, and beautiful birds. At the end we saw the waterfall, which has a massive amount of water rushing down and it is extremely powerful.
After the river cruise we had a little time to rest and decompress before our first ever night safari. We did two night safaris on our Uganda trip, and they weren’t included with out tour package but we inquired about it and asked which parks we could arrange them, and we paid a but extra but I am telling you, at least for us, it was totally worth it. The thing is with safaris you never know what you will see or experience, so it can be hit or miss, but for us it was one of the highlights.
We started the safari around 6:00 before the sunset, and we were required to bring along an armed ranger with us. He brought a spotlight and was our guide for the night, teaching us about wildlife. We got to enjoy the sunset while we were out, and while the sun was still shining we came across a tree that had an antelope hanging from one of the branches. This is what leopards do after they hunt to hide their catch from any other predators. Don’t ask me how they climb trees while holding an antelope, that is beyond impressive. Unfortunately when we first passed the tree the leopard was not there, but we took a note of the location and would be back later in the night. When we were leaving and there was only a little light left we spotted some jackals. They are a type of canine that look like a cross between a dog and a fox, they are pretty beautiful.
We continued driving and used the ranger’s spotlight to find glowing eyes. The eyes of most animals we were looking for reflect the light, so they are surprisingly easy to find. At first we were finding some cool nocturnal smaller animals, like loads of hares and some smaller rodents, then we saw two species of nocturnal mongoose which I hadn’t seen before. The next hour or so were pretty slow, spotting mainly antelopes with the light. Just when I was starting to lose hope of seeing any cat species, the headlights caught some larger animal crossing the road. Our driver turned off the headlights and approached slowly, and with the spotlight we saw a family of lions crossing the road, and one by one they ran next to our vehicle and looking at us with curiosity. Some of the younger cubs were playing about 40 m from the car, as we watched them with awe. I think there were about six in total, and I was even able to take a few photos with my camera before I headed off into the tall grass.
Although we were now heading back in the direction of the hotel, the night was still young and we had more exciting sightings to come. Shortly after the lions we came across a jackal in the road, it stared at us for quite some time allowing us to get a great look. We continued driving and then came across a very curious hyena who came over and walked so close to us in the car, it was amazing. I think it was confused what our spotlight was and wanted to take a closer look.
We continued driving until we came across the tree that previously had the antelope carcass, and we were surprised to see the antelope was gone, but on further inspection we noticed it had actually been moved higher in the tree, and then we could even see the leopard! It was hard to take a good photo unfortunately, but its pattern was unmistakable and its eyes were reflecting light. What an amazing way to end the day! After that spotting we headed back to the gate and I fell asleep in the back and woke up at the hotel. We had a late dinner that night and when we were eating one of the hotel staff came to our table and told us that there was a hippo grazing near the tests, and told us to keep our voices down and to always carry a light with us, and he brought us to look at it. It is so wild seeing hippos out of the water, they are so massive and rotund. It was so cool that it was so close (also a little scary because hippos can charge and be aggressive). After dinner we carefully walked to our room, I was nervous about an unexpected hippo encounter, but we made it safely before a quick shower and passing out after another long and exciting day.