Thursday, November 12, 2015

Uganda Carnivore Program

Climb aboard any safari vehicle and ask guests what they want to see most and the answer is generally unanimous.....big cats.  Lions and leopards are the most popular animals that people want to see while on safari.  Unfortunately, due to ongoing pressures of growing human populations, the populations of large carnivores, mainly lions, leopards and hyenas are decreasing as a result of habitat loss.  Thankfully, the Uganda Carnivore Program, in close collaboration with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, is working hard to minimize human wildlife conflict and is dedicated to monitoring, researching and conserving the large predators in Uganda.

The Uganda Carnivore Program bases its core activities in the northern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda.  The pressures facing the carnivores of this area are not unique, but rather are typically experienced throughout Africa.  As human populations increase in the areas surrounding the park and its enclave villages, the conflict between wildlife and humans rise. The Uganda Carnivore Program (“UCP”) takes a multi-disciplinary approach to conservation.  Since the mid 1990s, they have focused on training and research as well as community-based activities that increase local participation in conservation and promote human-wildlife coexistence.  Working in conjunction with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, their research consists of monitoring carnivore ecology and health and tracking their movements near “conflict zones” where there is the potential to come in contact with people and livestock.  UCP makes recommendations to the UWA in regards to management of carnivores and also assists in the mitigation process during times of human-wildlife conflict. 

UCP also works closely with the villages surrounding the park on education and methods to reduce the conflict between the villagers and the wildlife.  Through the research and monitoring of the animals, villages can be warned when predators are in the area and given the tactics and skills to protect themselves and their livestock.  Between 2006 and 2012 the primary cause of death to large carnivores in the northern sector of Queen Elizabeth NP was human related, with poisoning in retaliation for livestock depredation being the number one cause.  However, in the past three years, there have been no recorded incidences of poisoning in the villages in which UCP works. UCP educates people on the benefits of wildlife and aids them in developing community based programs in which they can directly benefit from local tourism.  Current activities of the UCP include conservation education outreach programs in village schools which inform the youth of the village about the important role that wildlife has to play and the importance of conservation efforts for long term sustainability.

An important aspect of the Uganda Carnivore Program is educating visitors on the wildlife of the park as well as the people that live in the surrounding areas of Queen Elizabeth NP.  The best way to learn more is to participate in the lion tracking experience.  Bookings for this can be made through the Uganda Wildlife Authority.  You can contact UCP to arrange a visit to the park’s villages, where you can watch cultural performances and purchase locally made crafts.  Besides visiting Queen Elizabeth NP and participating in the activities offered, how can you help protect the large carnivores?  The UCP operates on limited funds and welcomes support for their initiatives.  This can be done in several ways, either by making a donation or by sponsoring certain aspects of their activities.  To find out more and how you can be of help, visit the Uganda Carnivore website to learn more about their activities and contact them directly. 

It’s hard to imagine going on safari and not having the opportunity to see large carnivores.  As human beings, we all play an important role in the conservation efforts needed to combat the pressure that growing populations are placing on wildlife.  We all need to do our part and play an active role in protecting them; our wildlife and large carnivores are depending on us!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Katara Lodge

Katara Lodge
Uganda is a diverse country with many scenic landscapes spread throughout.  In my opinion, one of the most spectacular views of all is from the top of the escarpment of the Albertine Rift Valley overlooking the Queen Elizabeth National Park.  It's a breathtaking view and stereotypical of Africa.  Katara Lodge is nestled on the hillside of the escarpment and has the pleasure of offering this incredible view to its guests.

Katara Lodge is situated two kilometres off the main Mbarara to Kasese road in Kichwamba accessed by a murram road. Upon arrival to Katara Lodge, an oasis of lush colorful tropical gardens await you.  From the parking lot, you enter the main lodge, dining and bar area.  With the entire main lodge open to the view, it's easy to get mesmerised by the the savannah plains, Lake Edward and the Kazinga Channel framed by the  Rwenzori and Virunga mountains in the distance.  The lodge is built on a hillside so no matter where you are on the property, you are treated to the view.  The main lodge has a number of comfortable seating options, ensuring that you find the perfect spot to get comfortable and relax.  WiFi is available in the bar area so that you can stay connected whether it’s for work or to share with friends and family about your stay Katara Lodge.

On our arrival to Katara Lodge we were met by the manager who led us to some comfortable chairs in the lounge where we sat, sipped on a cold drink and enjoyed the beautiful gardens and the expansive view.  He gave us an introduction and orientation to the lodge and briefed us on everything we would need to know during our stay at Katara Lodge to ensure we were comfortable and making the most of the facilities.  After chatting to him for awhile about the lodge and the park, we were shown to our cottage. 

Inside the cottage
Katara's accomodation is below the main lodge accessible by a series of stone footpaths and steps. Spread out along the hillside are 8 spacious thatched cottages, one of them being a two bedroomed family cottage. There are quite a number of steps from the main lodge to the cottages, however we found this to be an opportunity to stop, enjoy the view and admire the flowers along the pathways.  Each cottage is constructed from a combination of wooden poles and canvas panels that zip open for access to the view.  The cottages are an
The view from the cottage
open plan design with a sitting area furnished with a sofa, two chairs and a coffee table. Adjacent to the sitting area is a king sized bed with mosquito net along with a three quarter bed fitted with large wheels.  The three quarter bed is very unique for that fact that it can be wheeled out onto the large private wooden veranda for a night under the stars.  The well manicured and colourful tropical gardens of Katara Lodge attract numerous species of birds and each morning a chorus of birds announce the arrival of a new day.   

Every cottage has a large ensuite bathroom with the luxury of a double sink, a large open shower with a rain head shower head and plenty of hot water supplied by a solar system.  The icing on the cake in the bathroom is the large stand alone roll top bathtub where you can lay back and admire the view.  The accommodation at Katara Lodge provides guests with plenty of space and privacy so that between safari drives, you have a place away from others to call your own.

Dining area
Katara's dining experience was very good.  Our mornings started with coffee delivered to our cottage followed by breakfast in the main lodge dining area.  Fresh fruits, yogurt, cereals and juice along with more coffee and hot water for tea were all waiting for us.  We also had the option of having eggs, bacon, sausages and toast, which were cooked to order.  On our first day at Katara, we had decided to spend the better part of the day exploring Queen Elizabeth National Park so we opted for a packed lunch.  Our sandwiches, juice, fruit, cheese and crackers were all neatly packed into a traditional Ugandan woven picnic basket, a very nice touch. The following day we had lunch at the lodge and were given a choice of sandwiches or meatballs and rice.  Since we had tried the sandwiches the day before we opted for the meatballs which were served with an onion gravy alongside rice.  Not only was it good, it was a nice sized portion that was just right for lunch. 

In the evenings, the open air thatched restaurant is transformed with soft lighting and lanterns to create a wonderfully intimate atmosphere.  A chalkboard lists the evening's menu which consists of four courses.  The meal begins with a starter followed by a bowl of hot soup.  The main course is a choice of three different entrees, one of them a vegetarian option.  Lastly but certainly not least the meal is finished with a decadent dessert.  Avocado vinaigrette, mushrooms on toast, celery soup, minestrone soup, baked fish, pepper steak, pork chops, roast chicken, creme caramel and pineapple sponge cake were the dishes that we were served during our dinners at Katara Lodge.  We thoroughly enjoyed all of our meals which were very well presented, well seasoned and well portioned.  Katara Lodge stocks a variety of wines to enjoy with your meal.  They also offer a house wine which can be purchased by the glass or in a carafe.  After a long day on safari, it's nice to enjoy a good evening meal which can be shared with good company in a nice environment and Katara Lodge definitely caters to their guests ensuring them of a great dining experience.     

Enjoying the view from the swing seat
At Katara Lodge, guests have a prime spot to watch the sunset.  From anywhere on the property you can watch as the sun slowly sinks lower in the sky over the savannah of Queen Elizabeth National Park eventually disappearing behind the impressive mountain ranges in the west.  As the sky becomes a palette of blue mixed with dark ocre and bright orange tones, you can sip on a cold drink and recap the day.  As if the view isn’t already one of the best, the setting sun painting the sky with vibrant colors makes it even better. 

Chaise loungers on the pool deck
A short meander away from the main lodge is an infinity salt water pool that is built on the hillside.  Around the pool deck are a number of chaise loungers and umbrellas as well as a large chill out area with plenty of sofas and chairs, toilet facilities and changing rooms under a large thatched roof.  A member of staff is readily available to serve you cold drinks, offer you a towel and ensure you have everything you need for a lazy afternoon around the pool. Near the pool is a large suspended daybed, which is yet another spot at Katara Lodge to take a load off and enjoy the view. 

There are many activities in and around Queen Elizabeth NP making Katara Lodge a great place to base yourself.  The most popular activities for visitors are chimpanzee tracking in Kyambura Gorge, safari drives in the park and the boat launch trip on the Kazinga Channel.  The lodge is close to Kyambura Gorge where the chimpanzee tracking start point is and is approximately a 20 minute drive to the gates of the park.  Other activities near the lodge are chimpanzee tracking and forest walks within the Kalinzu Forest Reserve as well as nature walks in the Maramagambo Forest.  An interpretive village walk around the community that surrounds Katara Lodge can be an interesting and interactive way to get to know and understand the culture and way of life of the Banyaruguru people.  For those interested in exploring the scenery of the area, the nearby Kyigabiiro and Rukiizi hills are beautiful and have great views of the twin crater lakes (Kyema and Kamweru) that lay below.  During your tour, you can learn about the origins of the lakes as well as local folklore and legends.  Katara Lodge is centrally located for all of these activities around Queen Elizabeth NP and makes a nice retreat to come back to every evening.

Katara Lodge has a safari vehicle and can arrange for transfers from nearby airstrips such as Kasese, Mweya or Buhoma for clients that fly in.  The vehicle can also be hired out for game drives or for transfers to the Mweya Peninsula for the boat launch trip on the Kazinga channel.

Queen Elizabeth Park is the most popular national park destination in Uganda.  There is so much to explore and to be enjoyed that it is a highly recommended destination for visitors and residents alike.  If you are looking for a lodge with a serene location, incredible views, comfortable  accomodation, great food and friendly and attentive staff, then Katara Lodge is a great choice.


+256 (0) 773011648
+256 (0) 712812560
+256 (0) 757812560
+256 (0) 794812560

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Uganda Balloon Safari

Flying over Queen Elizabeth NP
It was barely light when we climbed into the large woven basket.  As we surveyed our surroundings, the pilot blasted the burners above our heads a couple of times.  The lead member of the ground crew smiled at us and said “you’re flying by the way” I looked over the edge of the basket and we were indeed floating a few inches off the ground.  Another few blasts of the burner and we were a few feet off the ground.  This was just the beginning of an hour floating over the beautiful savannah of Queen Elizabeth National Park.  This new activity that has been recently introduced to Uganda, takes watching the sunrise and looking for lions to a whole new level, literally.

Our experience began in the dark.  The ground crew met us at the Kasenyi gate at 5:30am and after some tests to determine wind direction and speed, a takeoff location was determined and we followed the crew there.  When we arrived, we met our Egyptian pilot Mohammed, who briefed us on what we were about to experience.  As we sipped our steaming cups of coffee, the crew unpacked the balloon and began the cold inflation process using large fans.  I was quite surprised at the size of the balloon, it was much larger than I expected with a capacity of 300,000 cubic feet. 

Inside the balloon
Once the balloon was mostly inflated, we were invited inside, which was pretty amazing.  We learned about the internal workings of the balloon and about the ropes used by the pilot to control the balloon during flight.  Next the hot inflation began, with the burners blasting hot air into the balloon, it slowly started to rise up off the ground in a vertical position.  Once fully inflated, it was time to get in for our flight.

Once inside the basket, we slowly began to lift up off the ground and could hear lions in a nearby thicket.  Our pilot Mohammed was a friendly guy with incredible piloting skills.  Using varying altitudes he navigated us over the thicket several times in hopes of spotting the lions that we could hear.  Although they were very vocal, they were well hidden and eluded us.  As the sun rose, we enjoyed views of the savannah and Lake George while elephant, hippo, and antelope wandered below us.  Our flight varied between a few feet from the ground to an altitude of 2000 feet.  The sensation of flying in a balloon is hard to describe as it’s like nothing else.  Floating above the park, the silence of the savannah below is only periodically broken by blasts from the burners.  The perspective from the
Inflating the balloon with hot air
balloon is truly unique.  We are so used to seeing our surroundings from the ground, however this bird's eye view gives a new appreciation for the entire ecosystem.  Small veins of dark green vegetation carrying water to depressions in the earth where water collects intersected by trails made by wildlife.  Flying just inches over the tops of Euphorbia trees and seeing the thickets from above was the most fascinating part for me.  Flights generally last approximately an hour depending on winds and the availability of a suitable landing site.

After the flight we were met by the ground crew and celebrated the traditional way with a glass of bubbly before sitting down to a delicious bush breakfast.  Fresh juice, tea, coffee, cereal, yogurt and a selection cooked items were served by Mweya Lodge.  Dining in the bush and discussing the details of the flight made for an unforgettable finale to our adventure.

Uganda Balloon Safaris is fully certified by the Civil Aviation Authority and has over 10 years of flying experience in Egypt, Turkey and now Uganda.  Their expertise is evident by the professionalism of the entire crew.  Hot air ballooning over Queen Elizabeth NP offers a unique way to start the day on safari.  As no two flights are the same, you are guaranteed an exclusive experience that you’ll never forget.  

+256 (0) 759 00 2552  

Sunrise over Queen Elizabeth Natrional Park as seen from the hot air balloon