mountain gorillas, chimps and tree climbing lions (Safari in uganda)

African safari in uganda

My brother decided to join me for an African Safari in Uganda. With him he brought me a new dry bag, some spare belts for my carbon belt drive, but most importantly my new rear wheel!

After dropping my bike off at the bike shop for a service and a night of drinking a lot in Kigali, the next morning we were picked up by our guide and set off on an 8 day safari of South West Uganda.

Chimp tracking in kibale forest

After recently having watched the Chimp Empire Documentary on Netflix, we decided that we should do the chimp tracking at Kibale National Park.

The chimps that we would be tracking were only located 14km away from the Ngogo chimps from the documentary.

We arrived early which turned out to be amazing because we were able to find a family of chimps on the ground sleeping and relaxing.

After about 20-30 minutes, the chimps started moving in search of some lunch. They mostly eat fruit from the trees so this meant hunting for the right trees and climbing them to find the fruit.

Lucky for us, the chimps were so habituated to human presence that we were literally walking along side the chimps as they went searching for food.

It felt like we were going hunting with the chimps in search of monkeys just like in the documentary.

The chimps then climbed 20m up the tree and started eating the fruit and almost dropping the excess fruit on our heads. They were eating a fruit the size of a cricket ball, so it definitely would have hurt if we were hit.

It was a really incredible experience and once the chimps were in the trees, other tour groups arrived (at the time we were actually meant to arrive) and only saw them high up in the trees.

We then drove to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to go gorilla tracking.

Tracking mountain gorillas in bwindi impenetrable forest

After a long day driving in the car, we arrived at the Bohuma Community Lodge inside the Bwindi Forest National Park where the Gorillas were located.

There are 6 habituated families of Gorillas in this section of the national park.

As we were guided to our room on the edge of the forest, we were told that there was a family of Gorillas that had been around our lodge for part of the day. Through the small gaps in the forest we could kind of see the outlines of them 15m through the bushes.

I then went to have a shower and heard someone yelling at me from outside. So I jumped out and caught a glimpse of one of the Gorillas at the bottom of our front deck. But it quickly moved away.

We then waited as the Gorilla trackers guided the gorillas away from the rest of the lodge and towards the forest, which meant going passed our lodge again.

A family of 6 or more gorillas sat and relaxed only a couple of metres from us right below our front deck. We watched as they ate leaves, played with each other and even one of the silverbacks charged one of the other members of their group briefly.

It was a pretty great experience, and we hadn’t even done the gorilla tracking yet. That was the next day.

The following morning we woke up and headed to the national park office for a briefing about the day and to find out which gorilla family we would be visiting.

Our guide Jason was told that we would be going to track the same gorilla family that we saw yesterday, but asked the ranger if we could instead track another family, since we had already seen that family.

We went tracking for the Mubare Family, which was the first habituated gorilla family over 20 years ago. It also has the biggest silverback in the whole of the park.

We drove to another section of the park where the Mubare Gorilla family was last seen and began trekking through the forest to find them.

There were already a few trackers that were ahead of us who had found the family. We actually didn’t have to trek very far to come in contact with the gorillas.

We first found a female sitting down in the leaves eating. She was ridiculously relaxed and even lay down on her back as she was eating her leaves. It looked like a pretty relaxed life she had.

Every so often we would hear some grunting coming from the bushes. We knew it was the silverback but we couldn’t see him.

We then saw some of the other members from the family including another 2 females and 2 babies. They were all pretty relaxed.

As the grunting continued, we wanted to get a better look at the silverback. So the trackers moved us closer towards him until we got a good view of him.

Coming face to face with the largest Silverback Mountain Gorilla in the Park was pretty intimidating to be honest.

He knew he was the alpha and his attitude showed it.

I got my camera out and had a front on view of him, coming face to face. He continued to stare at me in the eyes until I looked away into the screen of my camera. I had read an article that said you’re not meant to stare the mountain gorillas in the eye, although during the induction none of the guides or rangers mentioned this.

Eventually, the Silverback was getting too hot and retreated back into the bushes until he was completely hidden from the sun, and also our view.

Maybe he just didn’t want to compete for dominance with me anymore as he thought he was loosing the stare down.

We then moved a bit further to watch the rest of the family as the young gorillas climbed the tree to show off their new found climbing skills to the humans.

But the alpha wasn’t done.

He’s seen me approaching his 3 female wives and thought I was trying to challenge him for the top spot as alpha

He then came running out of the bushes where he was hiding, ran 10m and stopped right in front of me, within arms reach. He was absolutely massive and definitely intimidating.

After 30 seconds or so he then retreated towards his family and stopped about 10m away from me.

He then started death staring me again, but this time I didn’t avert my gaze. I stared him down. I wanted to be top alpha and join the gorilla family.

After what felt like a minute of not breaking eye contact with one of the biggest alpha silverback mountain gorillas remaining in the world, he let out a big grunt and quickly retreated into the bushes with his family.

I had won.

I was the new king of the jungle.

Tree climbing lions

We had been informed that one of the only places in the world with tree climbing lions was in Southern Queen Elizabeth National Park, so we decided to go and try and find them.

The success rate of finding them and watching them in the trees was only about 50% so we didn’t have high hopes of seeing them. Especially since we had already been so lucky with the Chimps and Gorillas in the previous days.

There were rumours around camp that there was a pair of lions sleeping in a tree just above the road.

Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the weather had changed and a storm was brewing. The wind had become too intense for the lions and they had climbed down the tree and were hiding in the tall grass beneath the acacia tree, but we couldn’t see them

After waiting 30 minutes or so for the lions to reappear and as it started spitting rain down on us, we decided to continue the game drive further into the park to see what other animals we could see.

We saw a family of elephants, a family of warthogs and many Ugandan Mob, their national animal.

But we came here to see the tree climbing lions and we didn’t want to give up.

Another safari vehicle stopped and spoke with our driver informing him that the lions had returned up the tree.

So instead of waiting for the family of elephants to cross paths with us, we quickly drove back to where the lions were rumoured to be.

The sun was beginning to set so there was definitely some urgency to get to the lions.

We’d been with our guide for a few days now, and this was definitely the fastest and most urgent we’d seen him drive.

From the distance, we stared at the tree that overhung onto the road trying to make out the silhouette of the lions in the tree.

When we were about 100m from the tree, Tom said “Yep, I can definitely see the lions up there!”

As we got closer I saw them too. We stopped the car right in front of the tree and saw 2 lions sleeping on the branches of the tree.

It was honestly amazing. I’d never been this close to a lion before. They were interested in us enough to wake up and look at us. Then, once they sensed we weren’t a threat they fell back asleep with their legs dangling off the tree.

Every so often they would yawn and you would see just how big their teeth were.

After spending more than 30 minutes watching the lions as the sun set and the night began, the lions decided it was time to hunt. Nap time was over and it was time for a meal.

We watched as they both slowly made their way down the tree and disappear behind the grass into the night.

What an amazing experience. We really have been so lucky.

safari in northern queen elizabeth national park

The next day we made our way to the northern side of Queen Elizabeth National Park where we would do 2 game drives.

Before our first game drive, we arrived at the lodge which was situated in the national park. A big male elephant came into the camp and started eating the vegetation. It even ran at Tom slightly as we were admiring it from the front of our room.

I have a feeling it didn’t like Tom’s red shirt.

But we got pretty close to the elephant and it did return the next day to finish off some more vegetation from around the camp.

During the evening game drive, we were lucky enough to see some elephants, hippos, waterbuck, Ugandan kob, warthogs and even 2 lions.

The lions were 2 younger lions who were relaxing as the night began to fall. They were waiting patiently for their mother to hunt them some food.

Lions are funny creatures. They are so lazy for most of the day and not threatening at all. But once the sun sets and the night begins, they spring into action looking to hunt their next meal.

The following morning we did a morning game drive where we saw a pride of lions, including 2 big males, that were relaxing under one of the lodges. Imagine how scary it would be walking out of your lodge on the way to breakfast in the morning and you see a group of 4+ big lions lying under your room.

A little further down the track, we saw another pride of lions lying down relaxing.

We then started returning back towards our camp and saw another lion lying under a tree.

This time we were able to get within a few meters of it as it relaxed in the shade after a long night hunting I assume.

I’ve never seen so many lions in one place since arriving in Africa. It was really cool!

That afternoon we did a river cruise where we saw plenty of hippos, a few crocodiles and a herd of elephants playing next to the water.

Conclusion

The next day we made our way back to Kigali where Tom would return back to his home in England.

What an amazing 8 days we had doing this safari. It was really nice to spend some time with my brother in Africa doing Game Drives and getting up close and personal with some African Animals.

Ever since leaving Botswana, my encounters with African Animals had been few and far between.

There are a lot more people around north of Botswana, which I guess means less encounters with animals roaming free amongst the lands.

It was nice to have some time off the bike but I’m really looking forward to continuing my bicycle trip through Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya over the new few months.

Route through Africa so far

Matthias watching the sunset
Africa
Lewi

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