On March 22nd 1980 I was in Chobe in northern Uganda. This was a lodge in what is now called the Murchison Falls National Park. I was with my American friend Audrey.
The wildlife parks in Uganda were struggling after the Idi Amin years. Animals had been poached or shot by soldiers throughout that period, and the Tanzanian army had been no better since their arrival. There was no fuel for trips and there were almost no tourists. A handful of cheap tourists like me were at Chobe, but there was not a lot to see in the way of wildlife although the Nile was very beautiful at that spot.
|The Nile in Murchison Falls Park, 2010: Picture by Daryona, CC|
However I enjoyed this day. The roar of the river was constant as it passed by the lodge and the many islands, but I could always hear the grunting and splashing of hippos in the water. The earth was red and the trees mainly small and thorny with many sausage-trees (Kigelia, a characteristic tree in much of Africa.) With two others I went out in the morning for a walk, under the leadership of a guide with a rifle. This was the only way to get out in the park unless you actually had fuel to put in the tank of one of the park vehicles. Walking was a good way to do things and was atmospheric even if the guide did not know which antelope was which. We saw crocodiles by the river which I had not seen before in Uganda. Best was a huge herd of elephants, maybe one hundred in total, spread out along the ridge amongst trees perhaps seventy yards away. There were led by a huge male and were not especially pleased with our presence. I kept close to a tree but held my ground and was able to watch them for a long time while the guard kept his rifle at the ready. I knew enough to know that such a large herd of elephants was a bad sign rather than a good one, as elephants only gather in such numbers when they are under threat. This was probably all the elephants within a wide area.
Then in the evening I went out again down to the creek by the Nile, enjoying being quiet and being on my own with just the birds around. I sat near the weed-covered areas where the jacanas and the moorhens live, and then there was a splendid sunset going down behind an acacia tree as I sat and watched it get darker and darker until the bats came out. Being out in the wild was more important than seeing the more spectacular animals.
We had stayed a week or so earlier at Mweya in Queen Elizabeth National Park in the west of the country by Lake Edward. It was a beautiful place but the road in was littered with the dead bodies of hippos killed by soldiers. I could see the ridge of the Ruwenzori mountains to the west but not the snow peaks. Again there had been no fuel for vehicles but we were able to go out on a launch on the lake which was good for the water birds. One evening I left my meal in the hotel to go back to my room in the hostel to get something and had to cross a courtyard to get back. I heard an animal make an almighty roar as I started to cross, but I did not hesitate for long as I was hungry. The staff told me that they had been troubled by a lion at night recently.
Brian Schwartz saw no elephants at Chobe and was there at a similar time to me, perhaps a week or two later, as recounted in his book Travels Through The Third World. He writes of meeting Iain Douglas-Hamilton who was doing an aerial survey of elephants in Uganda - Audrey and I also met him at Mweya.
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