Chasing Queen Elizabeth’s Elephants

Many years ago when we lived in Uganda, we used to go on safaris or other adventures in the nature at least once month. Several of these Friday afternoon drives from Kampala brought us to Queen Elizabeth National Park (please also see my earlier post Elephants and Decisions). This park is located in the Albertine Rift and is the home of a rich variety of wildlife: mammals, reptiles and birds. Among its top attractions is the tree climbing lion, which we spotted once but did not manage to capture on film. It is also marked by several large craters and crater lakes formed after volcanic explosions. It is a wonderful place to visit if you want to be a guest in the wild kingdom. At the Equator in Uganda (2)   This particular Friday afternoon we were traveling with another family in two 4-wheel drive SUVs. On our way to the national park, we stopped at the equator for some pictures and arrived at the main gate just in time before it closed at dusk. Our first encounter with the wild on this trip came while driving from the park’s main gate to Mweya Lodge, where we always stayed. About half a mile before the lodge, we saw a huge lion walking on the gravel road right in front of my truck! She was walking calmly, in no particular hurry to get anywhere. She just walked and walked – and we remained at a respectable distance, until she decided to take a “side street” into the high grass. lion queen elizabeth_tonemapped Early morning the next day we decided to go for a drive we had not done before. We looked at the map and saw that a small trail, marked only by a dotted line, led to a dry crater where we might find elephants. We set off driving and soon found the hardly visible trail leading to the crater. But we had no idea about the adventure waiting for us. The trail went up and up on the side of the crater wall…and then suddenly there was no trail! Just smaller stones mixed with big boulders…how would we drive there and how would we come back down? We couldn’t turn as we were in between big rocks and going forward was clearly a hazard. We quickly realized that we could get stuck right there. With no one knowing where we were and (of course) we had no cell phones at that time. Crater in QE ed_tonemapped So we navigated on up the crater’s side by the help of our spouses who stepped out of the trucks and showed us, truly inch by inch, how and where to drive. We stopped briefly at the top take a few pictures, with no elephants visible in the carter. Needless to say that we were no longer chasing Queen Elizabeth’s elephants.  That would be for the next day. The whole effort was entirely focused on getting us out of there and safely back to the lodge. After a “drive” of about four hours, at less than walking speed, and moving carefully between the boulders, we came down  and found a small trail to follow. Lots of gratitude right there! Our reward came when we approached the lodge. We spotted a young elephant, probably a teen male who had already left his mother’s herd. He was calmly eating from bushes just a stone throw from the lodge entrance and didn’t mind us observing him for quite a while. The next morning when we woke up, we noticed that we’ve had an overnight visitor. All the rubber lining around the windows of our friends’ Nissan Patrol was missing. Eaten up. The lodge staff told us it must have been the young elephant who had been staying close to the lodge for some time. They also told us that the trail we had followed to the carter was not meant for driving…that’s why it was marked on the map by a dotted line. Always something new to learn. On Sunday, we went on a boat trip along the Kazinga Channel and saw many more interesting sights from rare birds to hippos, water buffaloes, birds and crocodiles. The channel is an amazing sanctuary for so many spices of wildlife. I hope you can visit this park some day. If that’s not possible, there are wonderful pictures from the park, including of the tree climbing lion, at the web-site of a National Geographics photographer, Joel Sartore (www.joelsartore.com). In any case, it has been wonderful to relive the memorable adventure we once had. If there is any tiny lesson I learned from this trip, it would be that we need to ensure things are what they seem to be. Because that’s not always the case.

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