Friday, January 20, 2012

Tree Climbing Lions of Ishasha

In the southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park lies the Ishasha sector. For many years we have wanted to visit for the main purpose of seeing the most famous residents, tree climbing lions.  It is completely unknown why the lions of this area climb up into giant fig and acacia tree's to hang around.  The lions of Ishasha have been climbing the trees for decades and have passed the adaptation down from generation to generation. Whether they are still climbing for the same reason as when they started, again no one knows.

It was along the Fig Tree Track that we rounded a bend in the road and on the right was a huge fig tree with two lionesses draped over its large thick limbs. We parked under the tree to observe them in this rare scene, they periodically gazed down at us and then back out over the horizon. In the heat of the day and with stomachs swollen full of food they occasionally repositioned themselves in the tree.  It was truly an amazing sight to behold!

Ishasha is renowned for tree climbing lions but we were pleasantly surprised that there is more to this area of Queen Elizabeth National Park than the lions.  The landscape of Ishasha is made up of riverine forests and savannah grasslands and has a real feeling of remoteness.  Ishasha is home to the only Topi found in QENP as well as many other savannah animals. The Ishasha River to the west forms the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo and is where you will find hippos.  The Ishasha sector of QENP should not be missed, it offers a superb and unforgettable safari experience!

Tree Climbing Lions of Ishasha - Photo Gallery

View from under the tree

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Game Day…..Play Ball!

This story begins in July of 2011 when the Ugandan Little League team made history by being the first African team to win a place in the Little League World Series. The team knocked out Saudi Arabia to win the Middle East/Africa Division for 11 & 12 year olds.  The team was ecstatic about their upcoming journey to the Little League World Series in Williamsport Pennsylvania in August 2011.  Two weeks before the tournament and their first scheduled game which was to be played against the Canadian champs from Langley, British Columbia, little hearts and dreams were crushed when they found out that their visas to the United States had been denied for reasons of insufficient birth documentation.

Out of this adversity the Canada-Uganda Pearl of Africa Baseball Series was born.  The idea was to raise enough money for the Langley Little Leaguers to travel to Uganda to play the game that should have taken place months earlier in the United States.  So fundraising began and on Saturday January 14th, the Canadian team landed on Ugandan soil for the Canada - Uganda Pearl of Africa Series.  Today was game day, it was time to “play ball”!  Under the heat of the African sun the crowd of several hundred gathered.  The ceremonial pitch was thrown by Ruth Hoffman and then it was batter up! The Canadian team was first up to bat and the Ugandan team got onto the score board early with 1 run, ending the first inning in a 1-0 lead for Uganda. 

The second inning saw a couple of nice hits, Canadian Yi-An Pan #11 had a single in the top of the inning and  Uganda’s Jonathan Kizza #3 hit one out in the field for a triple.  With two outs for Uganda, Felix Barugahare #2 tried to steal a base and was caught out ending the inning. 

In the third inning Canadian Yi-Fan Pan #33 hit a beauty for a triple but by the end of the inning the score was still at 1-0 for Uganda. The real excitement was saved for the sixth inning when Canada went up for their last bat and got a run in to tie the game up to 1-1.  The Ugandan team wasn’t going to give up that easy and Felix Burugahare #2 hit a single and was safe on first.  Burugahare with the support of his team got himself to third base and with two outs, was desperate to get home. Augustus Owinyi #1 hit a single for the rbi and the walk off home run.  As Burugahare crossed the plate the Ugandan team and their fans erupted with cheers.  They were jubilant about their win and blew their vuvuzelas as they ran onto the field to congratulate the team.

The final score was Uganda 2 – Canada 1

It was an exciting game indeed and both teams played well.  The teams shook hands and then were all awarded medals to commemorate the day and the game that will be remembered for a long time.  As Canadians living in Uganda, it was exciting to watch a live baseball game, especially with a team from our hometown.  It is an event that we will remember forever.  Congratulations to all the players, coaches, umpires and their families as well as the organizers, sponsors and donors for a job well done!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

An Epic Road Trip Concludes

After 21 days on the road and approximately 3000 km/1865 miles travelled, our epic journey through Uganda and Rwanda has concluded.  We have seen a vast amount which has created long lasting memories.  As with any journey, naturally there are highlights, here are a few.

Tracking Mountain Gorillas
The opportunity to come face to face with a group of mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is simply magical.  It is difficult to describe what a special experience it is and we will never forget the time that we spent with the Susa group in the Virunga Mountain Range of Rwanda.

Tree Climbing Lions of Ishasha
It has long been a dream to see the tree climbing lions of Ishasha.  We had plans to visit 4 years ago but had to cancel due to instability in the nearby Democratic Republic of Congo resulting in the area being considered unsafe to visit.  We were excited to visit the area on this trip and on our second day in the Ishasha sector of QENP we rounded a corner to see 2 lionesses draped in a large fig tree, we were so happy to realize a dream!

Lake Kivu
A previously unknown part of the world to us, Lake Kivu is an impressive place.  The lake lies in the East Albertine Rift Valley and is surrounded by mountains.  The area is very peaceful, relaxing and is a perfect place to chill out and unwind while gazing across to the Democratic Republic of Congo while wondering what mysteries it holds.

Ugandan Back-Roads
We used to spend our weekends in Canada discovering back-roads and 4x4 tracks.  We prefer the road less travelled and getting off the highways so winding through the mountains of Uganda from Buhoma to Lake Bunyonyi was an experience to remember.

Lake Bunyonyi Crayfish
Lake Bunyonyi is the deepest crater lake in Uganda and is known for it's freshwater crayfish.  We bought a bucket full of live crayfish from a local fisherman and cooked them up at our camp.  We feasted on the local delicacy, peeling and eating every morsel of their delicious meat.

It's a Girl! - Ziwa Welcomes another Baby Rhino

Bella with her baby girl born January 10, 2012
Photo by Corporal Ayiko Robert
Used with permission from Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is very excited about the arrival of the fifth baby born on the sanctuary on January 10, 2012 to proud mother Bella a southern white rhino.  This is the second girl to be born on the sanctuary in the last seven months.  On June 4th of 2011, Nandi gave birth to the first female rhino born in Uganda in over 30 years, a momentous day indeed.  She was named Malaika meaning "angel" in Swahili.  At a time when the world rhino population is under heavy threat due to poaching, the birth of the female calves comes as a great victory for rhino’s, conservationists, the sanctuary and Uganda.  It also demonstrates the success of the Rhino Fund’s breeding program.

Rhino Fund Uganda (RFU) registered as an NGO in 1997.  In 2002 RFU and Ziwa Ranchers Ltd. entered into a lease agreement on 70 square kilometers of land which became Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.  The sanctuary is located in the Nakasongola District 7 kilometers off the Gulu highway from Nakitoma town, en route to Murchison Falls National Park.  It is currently home to 11 southern white rhinos which roam freely on the sanctuary; 3 adolescent males, 3 mature males, 3 mature females, the baby girl Malaika and the newest baby girl which has yet to be named.  All the rhinos are monitored 24 hours per day by rangers who record their behavior hourly.  It’s through this behavioral monitoring that the sanctuary’s staff know when the rhino’s mate and as a result their expectant date for delivery.  The typical gestation period for a rhino is 16 months.  

One of the most enticing reasons to visit the sanctuary is to track the rhino’s on foot under the guidance of an experienced ranger.  Your track begins in your vehicle to get you into the general vicinity of where the rhino’s are on that particular day.  Then you travel on foot over easy terrain with your ranger leading you to the magnificent creatures.  Their size is mind blowing and their nature is that of a gentle giant.  To spend time with these animals in their natural environment is an experience not to be missed.  The new mothers and their babies cannot be tracked by the public for several months after the birth as they are very protective over their babies.  The sanctuary has recently started offering birding walks which are 4 hours long and include a boat trip in a local canoe in the wetlands.  The area is home to over 200 different bird species and the Shoebill has been spotted a number of times.  

Rhino Fund Uganda relies on funding to cover their operating expenses.  The tracking cover’s only a portion so the remainder must come from private funds and donors to allow them to successfully carry out their work.  The sanctuary employs 110 people, 46 of which are professionally trained armed rangers whose main responsibility is to protect the rhino’s.  The entire perimeter is secured with an electric fence powered by solar energy and is patrolled by foot day and night.  

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is an easy 2 ½ hour trip from Kampala.  Home cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as sodas, fresh juices, local beer and spirits are served in the sanctuary’s restaurant.  If you want to spend the night they have 2 guest houses, budget rooms and a campsite.  Amuka Lodge has now opened on the sanctuary providing a luxurious accommodation option with a swimming pool.

To learn more, donate, become a member, sponsor a rhino, sponsor a ranger, visit and track the rhino’s visit their website

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas with Gorillas

Growing up on the west coast of Canada Christmas has always been about lights, the smell of a fresh pine tree in the house, turkey dinner and the dream of a white Christmas.  Since moving to Africa, Christmas is very different in the equatorial climate far away from family and loved ones.  This year, to make our African Christmas special , we travelled to Rwanda to track mountain gorillas in the Virunga mountains, a volcanic range in Central Africa.

After a restless sleep waking up every couple of hours to check that we hadn't slept through our alarm, it finally broke the silence of night.  We both got out from under the covers immediately full of anticipation.  The day that we had been looking forward to for so many months was here.  It felt like Christmas in the sense that we were excited beyond words for the day which felt similar to the anticipation of opening up a gift from a loved one.  We bundled up in several layers and stepped out into the cool crisp morning to a beautiful clear sky just as the sun was starting to cast it's rays onto the Virunga mountains.

It was a short drive to the park headquarters where we were welcomed by friendly park rangers and a hot cup of coffee.  While enjoying the breathtaking scenery more people arrived and gathered around which created an exciting vibe.  We were approached by a ranger who asked us to follow him, unsure whether this meant trouble or triumph we followed him and were asked to wait "right here".  Soon we were joined by two British girls, Kate and Lizzie and we realized that our group of 8 people was forming.  As the four of us stood together and got acquainted the ranger returned and informed us that we would begin the orientation.  Where were the others?  Could we be so lucky to be in such a small group?  Yes indeed!  Unsure of how exactly this could happen we shrugged our shoulders and began listening to our guide named Patience tell us where we would be tracking and what what we could expect.

We were going to track the Susa group, a large gorilla group that live on the slopes of Mount Karisimbi 4,507 metres (14,787 ft) which is the highest of the eight major mountains within the range.  Patience shared his knowledge of the Susa, the largest group having 33 gorillas, five silverbacks and two sets of twins, the youngest set having been born in June, just six months earlier. The Susa were one of the original groups Dian Fossey spent her time researching.

We drove for approximately an hour to the trailhead at the base of Mount Karisimbi.  Once out of the car we chose a walking stick, met our porter and began our assent.  We found the group after 2 1/2 hours of traversing the constant uphill slopes of the mountain.  The first 1 1/2 hours were through farmland and given the beautiful sunny day the layers of clothes were coming off quickly until we were down to our t-shirts.  We reached the four foot volcanic stone wall that marked the Volcanoes National Park boundry and entered the park into a shady cool bamboo forest.  Once through the bamboo, we entered into dense bush speckled with giant lobelias.  Not long afer entering this thick vegetation we were told that the gorillas were near.  We abandoned our backpacks and walking sticks and carrying only our cameras we proceeded to meet these gentle giants.

The first gorilla we saw was a female resting in the dense vegetation.  Our reaction was awe.  Neither of us could believe what we were looking at just metres away.  A little further into the forest we met Kurira the dominant silverback.  His size was overwhelming and he lay on his back with several females and a baby playing nearby. Two more females were chasing each other around a tree, periodically beating on their chests and baring their teeth.  As the gorillas moved through the forest playing with each other, eating, climbing vines and resting, we moved with them.  The climax of our visit came as we were watching several females including one of the sets of twins relaxing and playing when suddenly we heard a great noise behind us.  Kiki the silverback second in command to Kurira emerged from the bushes and onto the path just above where we were standing.  As Kiki lumbered down the trail towards us, we quickly got out of his way as he brushed past us only inches away.  It was exhilarating to be so close to such an amazing creature.  We encountered 17 members of the group and could hear the the remainder rustling, farting, and cracking their way through the forest.  They were all around us and our hour with the gorillas was magical!

We said goodbye and starting our journey back down the mountain.  All of us including Patience who has been guiding for years were on a high after this special Christmas Day. We laughed and talked all the way back down to the car recalling with each other how incredible the day was and how lucky we were to have spent Christmas with gorillas.