Kidepo Valley National Park

Kidepo is Uganda’s most remote national park lying in the rugged, semi-arid valleys of Karamoja province on the far northern border with south Sudan. The park covers an area of 1442 square kilometers and is dominated by the 2750 meters Mount Morungole and transected by the Kidepo and Narus valley. The valley floors lie between 3,000 feet (910 m) and 4,000 feet.

The virgin national park is undoubtedly among the best wilderness areas in Africa, harboring a couple of extinct species of wildlife that can’t be found in any other Ugandan national park. Kidepo is right at the core of a Savannah landscape right next to a few mountainous bodies.

Kidepo Valley National park is located near Karenga in Kaabong District, in the northeastern corner of Uganda. The park is approximately 220 kilometres, by road northwest of Moroto, the largest town in the sub-region. It is approximately 520 kilometres, by road, northeast of Kampala, Uganda’s capital and largest city.

HISTORY

Before the area was gazetted as a national reserve by the British colonial government in 1958, the region had its inhabitants. The Ketebo or the Mening were the inhabitants who live in the area since 1800. The eviction and the famine in the area forced these inhabitants especially the Ketebo to relocate to the current Bira, Napotpot, Kalo Kudo, and Naurkori in south Sudan which is cited in contemporary protected area management as an example of the unacceptable consequences of not taking community needs into account when designating reserves. The reason for this eviction by the then government was to protect the animals from hunting and to prevent further clearing of bush for tsetse fly-control.

The independent government after colonialism under President Milton Obote converted the reserve into the Kidepo Valley National Park in 1962. The first chief warden of the park was Ian Ross, who was a British official. In 1972, Paul Ssali, a Ugandan, replaced him.

Climate and vegetation: Kidepo Valley National Park is located in the semi-arid region of Uganda with average annual temperatures of about 290C. In extreme cases, day temperatures get to 400C. The park receives one season of rains per year i.e. April through September. The rainy season may seem long in time, but is erratic and the volume low on average 700mm per annum. The soils in large parts of Karamoja region are sandy with low plant nutrients and cannot hold the rainwater for long periods. The combination of climate and types of soils influence the vegetation patterns in the entire Kidepo Valley National Park.

During the rainy season, vegetation is all green, grasslands, shrubs sprout and the wilderness is agog with a visible vibrant wildlife presence. Vegetation stunts and withers at times to sand and bare ground during long periods of drought. The open vegetation cover for the large part of Kidepo Valley National Park is ideal for spotting a wide range of game on safari into Uganda

Wildlife: Kidepo Valley National Park a home to one of the most exciting faunas of Uganda. Many animal species are not found anywhere else in Uganda like; the Greater and lesser kudu, eland and cheetah. Carnivores include; lion, leopard, spotted hyena and black-backed and side-striped jackals. Other animals are; elephant, Burchell’s zebra, buffalo, Rothschild’s giraffe, bushpig, warthog, bushbuck, bushduiker, Defassa waterbuck, Bohor reedbuck, Jackson’s hartebeest and oribi.

Kidepo valley national Park is a true Birder’s paradise with over 475 bird species. Some species like the Ostrich, Kori Bustard and Karamoja Apalis are not found anywhere in Uganda but Kidepo. Kidepo National Park has 56 species of birds of prey with 14 species including Verreaux’s Eagle, Egyptian Vulture and Pygmy Falcon, being endemic to the region.

ATTRACTIONS:

While in Kidepo valley national park, there are various attractions to look out for with and around the park;

Narus Valley: The first inhabitants gave the valley its name “Narus”.  Narus Valley is a rolling, grassland plain enclosed by distant mountains. The valley has permanent water, and for much of the year the park’s wildlife congregates here. Thus, the area is well provided with game tracks, with four loop circuits exploring the valley around Apoka. Primary grasses in the Narus Valley are the shorter red oat grass and taller bunchy Guinea grass and fine thatching grass. Common trees in the drier areas are red thorn acacias, desert dates, and to a lesser extent drumstick trees. The iconic sausage trees and fan palms line the water courses. Euphorbia candelabrum and the shorter monkey bread (or camel’s foot) and Buffalo thorn trees are also found. Some of the animals that can be found around the valley include; buffalo, giraffe, oribi, reedbucks, lions, leopard, cheetah (rarely spotted), waterbucks, Jackson’s hartebeests among many more others as well as various savannah bird species.

The Narus dam and the water hole near the Tourism Centre are perfect observation points for game, especially during the dry season. At the southern end of the Katurum loop, Katurum kopje is an attractive destination with superb views north across the valley towards the Morungule mountain range.

Kidepo Valley: Streams in the Kidepo Valley are likewise dotted with palms. Higher areas have whistling thorn acacias bush. The valley lacks water for most of the year which means a few wildlife is found here. It is still worth to drive to the dry Kidepo River and stroll along the 50m wide bed of white sand between banks covered with borassus (which is fermented to make palm beer). The beautiful dry savannah covered vegetation of the flat Kidepo plains offers beautiful scenery of the area and more so at sunset, ideal place for a sundowner.

Kanangorok hot springs: Kanangorok (also spelled Kananorok or Kanatarok) is a tepid hot spring in the extreme north of the park, in Lotukei, South Sudanese boundary. This spring is the most permanent source of water in the park. The drive to the Hot Springs cuts through the two main biomes of Kidepo Valley National Park allows visitors to see zebras, elephants, giraffes, cheetahs, lions, ostriches and the kudos while embarking on this memorable ride.

The Kanangorok Hot Springs lie 11km beyond the Kidepo River on the Sudan border. This is a glorious place to sit and view the mountains beyond the frontier.

Apoka Tourism Centre: Apoka is the parks tourism hub and while at the Centre you will be meet by beautiful views of the game rich Narus valley, an up market lodge and the simple UWA- managed cottages. At Apoka tourism centre, there is a hand craft shop with books and handmade souvenirs like; bags, necklaces, African print clothes, bracelets among others. The shop has drinks like, bottled water, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and food is prepared on request. For campers, camping equipment can be hired here.

For those without game drive transport means, park trucks can be hired here as well as park ranger guides who have a lot of information about the park and are always armed for maximum protection of tourists against aggressive wildlife.

Mount Morungole: The Morungole Mountains stands at an elevation of 2,750m and is crossed by the Kidepo and Narus Rivers that nourish the park’s wildlife and this natural habitat as a whole. The Morungole Range marks the southern boundary of the park and rises from the plains, just a few kilometers northeast of Apoka. This region can be explored on foot in the company of an armed park ranger guide. The mountain slopes are home to the IK people, the smallest ethnic group in Uganda, with their own unique culture and speak a language that sounds like Spanish.

Namamukweny Valley: “Namamukweny” which means a place with no birds in Napore language word or a lonely place with a few people. The valley is located in the north-west of the park and can be accessed by car or on foot. About being with no birds, the Napore people were quite wrong because the valley is inhabited by a large number of bird species such as the Eastern Paradise Whydah, White-crested Turaco, Common Bulbul, Abyssinian Roller and Green Wood Hoopoe among others.

Lonyili Mountain: This lies between Kitgum and the Sudan border, Lonyili Mountain is largely covered in montane forest and home to primates such as colobus monkeys. Due to poor conditions in this area the road is currently out of use. There are plans of repairing it but you are strongly advised to contact UWA for updates before embarking on your journey to the mountain.

Lomej Hills: The hills are a few kilometers from the park headquarters and are a good place to spot various wild game as well as different bird species.

Things to Do in and around Kidepo

Game Drive

Game drive is the major activity done in Kidepo valley national park. There are various trails within the park that you follow as you drive through the park. Off tracking comes at an extra cost if you don’t pay the extra and off track, there will be a very serious penalty. You will expect to spot animals like predators, including lion, leopard and bat-eared fox, Black-backed and side-striped jackal. There are large herds of buffalo as well as elephants. Antelope species including Jackson’s hartebeest, oribi, eland and klipspringer. Bird species like; the Kori bustard, Abyssinian ground hornbill, secretary bird, ostrich, carmine, Yellow-billed and Jackson’s hornbills can be expected. Game drives are usually done in the narus and Kidepo valleys;

Narus valley game drive

Wildlife in the narus valley is usually active in the early morning hours and late afternoon. 6am and 4pm are optimum times to set off on game drives. The southerly Narus Valley contains the park’s only permanent water points and wildlife congregates in this area for much of the year. Look for buffalo and elephant in the swamps along the valley floor, giraffe and eland on the drier slopes above and scan the rock outcrops for lions.

Kidepo valley drive

The dry Kidepo Valley is short on big game but massive on scenery. The hour-long drive to Kanangorok Hot Springs passes some magnificent landscapes. 30 kilometers north of the park’s tourism hub at Apoka, the road crosses the dry, sandy bed of the Kidepo River to enter an expansive plain lined to the east by the Morungule mountain range and to the north by the looming, 2975m high Jebel Lotuke in South Sudan. Mammals are rare in this area but ostriches and secretary birds are often seen.

Nature walk

There is nothing as exciting as taking a foot walk in the African wilderness and there is no better place than Kidepo valley national park. There are various places within and outside the park where you can do this activity.

The walking safari starts at 7am at Apoka tourism office where you meet up with the ranger escort who will first brief you and is ready to share amazing wilderness experiences, and give tourists a high sense of comfort and security besides having knowledge of recent sighting areas of attractions. The walk to Narus valley is popular with visitors because of it is short average 5km radius of pure bliss, has beautiful sceneries and an amazing population of wildlife species. This walk explores the wilderness that has watering holes and the visitors have opportunities of capturing amazing wildlife scenes.

As you walk through the park, you shall expect to encounter animals like buffalos, zebras, giraffe, hartebeest, warthogs, leopard, lion, cheetah, elephants, waterbucks, other mammal species and a large collection of beautiful bird species. All walking safaris are done in the company of a park ranger guide.

Birding

Kidepo valley national park is a home to over 56 bird species, which make it a great place for birders. Kidepo is the only park in Uganda where you can find the common ostrich which is certainly a sight to see. Some of the bird species are believed to be endemic to the park and Karamoja region as a whole like Verreaux’s Eagle, Egyptian Vulture, and Pygmy Falcon. The Silver bird plus small bands of the Yellow-billed Shrike are some of the stunning species commonly spotted in the thorny trees close to Apoka camp. Close to the usually dry bed of the water stream not far from the camp along the trail to Amok lodge in the level grass, you will find the Broad-tailed Warblers, Marsh Tchagra & Crimson-rumped Waxbillood, African Moustached & Clapperton’s Francolin plus the Black Coucal.

As you look for the birds, you will expect to spot various animals that live in the park like elephants, buffalo, zebra, waterbucks, giraffe, pangolin, among others.

Karimajong Village Visit

The Karimajong people are majorly pastoralists and only live in the north eastern regions of the country. Their pride is their cattle and in the past cattle raiding was the rule of the day. Things have calmed down in recent years and the Karimajong have been disarmed and have become a lot more passive in nature.  Cattle is still king, however, subsistence farming has become a lot more common. Sorghum is the common plant. This is a cultural visit that you will find most interesting and give you insights into Authentic Africa and in particular insights into the Karimajong People who live and who are related to the Maasai.

The visit to the Karimajong settlements/villages will give you a chance to earn about their culture; way of life, marriage and how they go about their daily life which is interesting to learn about. You may as well support the local communities by giving some donations like scholastic materials to school going children, buy their locally made hand crafts. This makes them appreciate and support tourism activities in their region.

Ik people visit

The Ik people are an ethnic group numbering about 10,000 people living in the Morungole Mountains of northeastern Uganda near the border with Kenya, next to the more populous Karamojong and Turkana peoples. The Ik were displaced from their land to create the Kidepo Valley National Park and consequently suffered extreme famine.

The visit to the Ik people is a full day activity and you will need an early morning start to climb up into the Morungole Mountains. This is an 8 hour round trip.  The climb is steep, part of the adventure of the day.  You may consider bringing some gifts along for the visit as is the cultural norm when you visit someone here. You will get to learn about the culture of the Ik people which is interesting to know about.

As you hike you will expect to spot some of the bird species that live in the vegetation on the mountains as well as various animals more specially antelope species.

Getting To Kidepo Valley National Park

One can get to Kidepo valley national park by either road or air. Travelling by road has a lot to offer, you get a chance to have a view of Uganda’s country side, karamoja settlements and the vas and unspoiled Kidepo wilderness. By road, you will need a 4×4 vehicle because the road conditions are sometimes poor and a good and strong vehicle would be an essential.

There are four possible routes by road as listed below that can get you to the park with distance and approximate driving time.

Kampala – Karuma – Gulu – Kitgum – Kidepo = 571km (10 hours)

Kampala – Karuma – Lira – Kotido – Kaabong – Kidepo = 705km (12 hours)

Kampala – Mbale – Sironko – Moroto – Kotido – Kaabong – Kidepo = 740km (12 hours)

Kampala – Mbale – Soroti – Moroto – Kotido – Kabong – Kidepo = 792km (13 hours)

The most usual route passes through Gulu and Kitgum Ideally, travelers should plan to stay overnight in one of these towns or at Chobe, near Karuma in Murchison Falls National Park.

By air;

Charter flights to Kidepo can be arranged from Kampala (Kajjansi). Flights take about two hours. The Civil Aviation Authority plans to make Lomej airstrip near Apoka, an international airport to enable visitors to fly direct to Kidepo from other countries.