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Inside Kidepo Valley; a wildlife oasis up northeast

Giraffes gaze out of the Kidepo’s expansive savannah plains. Photo by Daudi Nana.



BY DAUDI NANA

KABOONG. When thinking about Kidepo Valley National Park, sales would immediately come to most people’s minds are the ‘strange’ elephants.

Although elephants might be herbivores that are known to consume only plant life, order there is a rare species called Bull Bull that has a particular fancy for kwete, seek a local brew, and residues of a local potent gin, ajono, for food.

But beyond the elephants, the park is also home to the giraffe, an African even-toed ungulate mammal, the tallest living terrestrial animal and the largest ruminant.

Its species name, Girraffe Camepardalis refers to its camel-like shape and its leopard-like colouring.

“Kidepo Valley National park is a biodiversity park. It is not only about elephants but also the famous giraffes,” Phillip Akorony, a guide told PML Daily during a recent tour.

According to him the giraffe is the only mammal that spends most of its life standing up and even sleeps while standing up and also give birth standing up.

“Giraffes often spend 10 minutes and two hours asleep and it is the only mammal with the shortest sleep requirements,” added Akorony.

The warden in charge of information, research and tourism Herbert Kitimbo says just like snowflakes and human finger prints, no two girraffes have the same spot pattern.

“Their tongues are huge; up to about 45 cm long and are especially adapted to allow giraffes to forage trees that other animals would avoid such as acacia which are thorny. The giraffe is a symbol of Intuition and flexibility,” said Kitimbo.

Kidepo Valley National Game Park stands out for this invaluable natural resource.

Records at Kidepo valley national park indicate that the park has about 36 giraffes spread all over the area.

“When we visited to do statistics, we found 36 six but later when tourists came around to see them, they walked and managed to only get 32 two giraffes, so this means that we have between 30 and 38 giraffes at the park,” said Mr Kitimbo.

The Kidepo Valley National Park was established in the 1960s under the first rule of President Milton Obote (1962 – 1971). The forcible eviction of the Ik; a local Karimojong minority ethnic group, out of the fertile Kidepo Valley contributed to the famine they faced.

In contemporary protected area management, this case is often used as an example of the unacceptable consequences of not taking community needs into account when designating reserves.

The national park overlooks expansive grassy plains dotted with big rocky outcrops and flanked by steep, jagged mountains with the summit ridges of Napore range, Taan hills and Natera hills, part of Nyangea, Morongole and Zuulia forest reserves are located within the park.

Those few who make the journey north through the wild frontier region of Karamoja to visit it, would agree that it is among the most magnificent in Africa’s finest wilderness.

The area conservation manager Johnson Masereka says Kidepo’s expansive vistas, largely uninhibited by woodland and forest, are a result of the open tree savannah vegetation which dominates the park. Hills have been colonised by the dry mountain forest while some water courses support acacia forests.

According to Masereka, the most exciting fauna of any Ugandan national park with 77 species of mammal, several of which are (in Uganda) restricted to Kidepo valley national park are found here.

“Just look at those localised carnivores; the bat-eared fox, the stripped hyena, Aardwolf, Caraca and cheetah, lion, leopard, spotted hyena and black-backed and side stripped jackal. These are not in any other park,” says Masereka.

There are other large ungulates that make up the main tourist attraction at Kidepo and they include; zebras, bush pigs, warthogs, water bucks, lions, reedbucks, oribi, buffaloes, crocodiles, elands, Jackson’s hartebeest, and five species of primates are also found in the park, including the endemic Kavirondo bush baby.
“The park also boasts an extensive bird list of 463 species confirmed and 26 unconfirmed, second only in Uganda to Queen Elizabeth National park,” says Akorony.

Location
Kidepo Valley National Park is a 1,442-square-kilometre (557 square miles) national park in the Karamoja sub-region of northeast Uganda, Kaabong to be exact. It is located approximately 220 kilometres (140 miles), by road northwest of Moroto, the largest town in the sub-region.

Its rugged savannah, dominated by the 2,750 metres (9,020 feet) Mt Morungole, is transected by the Kidepo and Narus rivers.
Tucked in Uganda’s most remote north-eastern corner, some 700km from Kampala and tucked between borders with Sudan and Kenya, Kidepo valley is an isolated park.

Climate
Kidepo experiences semi-arid climate with just one rainy season per year (April – September) and the rainfall is light, with the Valley of Narus River in the south of the park, receiving some 890mm of rain a year, while just 635mm of rain a year falls in Kidepo valley to the north.

Main attraction
Perennial water makes River Kidepo an oasis in the semi-desert which hosts over 86 mammal species including lions, cheetahs, leopards, bat-eared foxes, giraffes, spotted hyena and black-backed and side stripped jackal, as well as almost 500 bird species. Some of these animals are not in any other park in Uganda.

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