Friday, May 11, 2007

Uganda's Lake Mburu National Park

This is a close up of a Topi in Lake Mburu park, in Uganda. We visited in April, known as the "rainy season," but never saw a drop of rain in this park. With climate changes, "rainy season" doesn't mean much anymore. The few times it did rain, it was brief and then immediately sunny. The advantage of going in "rainy season" is that it's less expensive and far less crowded; I recommend it highly.

In Lake Mburu, game seemed a bit spread out, in part due to the fact that when there's rain, there's food, so animals don't need to cluster. In this park we saw fervet monkeys, topi, common zebra, water buck, impala, lots of birds (I'm not a bird person so I don't track all the types), hippo, buffalo, and others in my group reported seeing hyena. We also saw many African hares. The park was pleasant. We saw only one other car the whole time. The roads were good, and the game was habituated enough you could get close without them running off. Overall, a pleasant experience, but you will find no lions or giraffe or elephants here, know that going in.

The game has had a hard time of things, and in some ways still does. During the war to chase Idi Amin out of Uganda, soldiers hunted and consumed much game from the Lake Mburu area. Also, there was some extensive poaching for a time. Things are getting better and animals are coming back, but there are other problems too. It's a National Park, which means animals should be protected and livestock kept out, for conservation purposes. You can see a cattle enclosure the park rangers constructed when they rounded up the cattle illegally grazing in the park and contacted the owner to try and stop the practice. Unfortunately, Uganda's President, Museveni, is from the area and those cattle happen to be his brother's cattle. So, in the African way, the rangers have to "overlook" the President's brothers cattle illegally grazing in the park.

This should not be a huge surprise given that President Museveni is currently planning to cut down the country's last intact rainforest to grow sugarcane. This Mabira Forest controversy was in full swing as we arrived in the capital of Kampala to kick off the trip. The people were protesting, violence had erupted, the President seemed immovable on the issue but it was up in the air whether Parliament would allow the forest to be destroyed. See information about the Mabira Forest Reserve here. Click here for the most recent article I could locate on the controversy. So far, it appears the forest will be cut down, and visitors have increased in an attempt to see it before it is lost. (I wish it had been on our itinerary too).

If you visit Lake Mburu, there is a new and lovely eco-lodge named Mihino Lodge. It's been open just a few months, but the owners, Ralph & Suni, have worked hard to ensure it is comfortable yet makes the best use of limited water, solar power, etc. The food is excellent and the living quarters are very impressive. It's a great place to stop-over on your journey to Bwindi to see gorillas or other parts of Uganda. I was impressed at how they have used the natural rocks on which to construct the lodge, not destroying animal habitat. In addition, it overlooks a water hole and provides great vistas. Highly recommended and well-priced also. Check out their website.

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