Often referred to as the Pearl of Africa, Uganda is flamboyantly rich in landscape and nature. The country possesses a seamless blend of fauna and flora to keep tourists in high praise at the end of their trips.
Uganda, which is also known to have the most significant number of gorillas, also nurtures other unique species worth exploring for the country’s visitors. Uganda has 10 national parks, 13 wildlife reserves, 345 mammal species, 1020 bird species which is half the total number in Africa, and 4500 species of plants.
Thanks to its vast range of habitats, the country is considered the hotspot for biodiversity. The East African country offers the perfect getaway for those looking to have some quiet in the wild. Uganda is one of only thirteen where you can glimpse the big 5 animals.
The animals in Uganda can be grouped into the following categories;
- Primates; These comprise mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, golden monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabey, and many others.
- Carnivores; lions, cheetahs, leopards, African wildcats, hyenas, etc
- Herbivores; Elephants, buffalos, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, zebras, antelope, Ugandan Kob, and others
- Reptiles; snakes, crocodiles, monitor lizards, chameleons, and others
- Birds; vultures, African eagle, turacos, and others
Where to Find the Big Five in Uganda
Venturing into the wild to view wild animals in their natural habitats is one of the most exhilarating experiences one can enjoy during their trip to Uganda. Visitors can view all of the big five at any of Uganda’s four savannah national parks except the Northern White Rhino. The Northern White Rhino can only be spotted at the Uganda Wildlife Education Center and Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.
Going on a savannah game drive in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls National Park, Lake Mburo National Park, and Kidepo Valley National Park will bring you to indifferent herds of African elephants, buffalo, or a hunting pride of African lions. Evening game drives are great for viewing the leopards and if you are lucky, you might get to see their hunting joints.
One of the best ways to spot the African big 5 in Uganda is to take a boat safari on the Nile in Murchison Falls National park, or a ride along the Kazinga channel where you can spot herds of rhinos in the water and a shore. The big 5 are often along the shores during the dry months of December to February and June to July when they come to sip on the fresh waters in the scorching heat.
What are the Big Five?
African Lion (Panthera leo)
In Uganda, lions can be spotted in Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls, and Kidepo Valley National Park. Lions are renowned as Africa’s largest, most imposing, and most sociable carnivore. They are the most sought-after member of the African big 5 worldwide. Lions enjoy the reputation of “king of the jungle” in Uganda and they are used as popular symbols of strength, bravery, and royalty. They are of great cultural significance across Africa.
Leopard (Panthera pardus)
The leopard is the most mysterious of the big 5. It is also the smallest. Leopards are sneaky and more difficult to spot on regular safaris. During the daylight, they are often hidden from view. They are impressively shy cats that kill large animals like zebras, drag them into trees, and eat alone. Leopards are found in most of Uganda’s national parks and forest reserves and tend to dwell in habitats that offer cover.
African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
The African elephant is the largest of the big five animals found in Uganda. It is one of the most intelligent, graceful, and entertaining animals to watch on a classic Africa safari. You can find them at all of Uganda’s national parks except Lake Mburo. A fully grown male elephant weighs up to 6300 kilograms and the smallest rarely goes below 4000kg. The females tend to be half a male’s weight. They usually flock to water banks in massive herds.
The African buffalo is the most dangerous of the big five hence making the list. It is recognized worldwide as one of the most dangerous animals. The buffalo is most dangerous when it is wounded or solitary. Herds of buffalos can be spotted throughout the savannah and smaller herds can be found in the forested areas. They can be spotted in almost all of Uganda’s national parks. On a lucky day, you may even spot two different species of buffalo in Queen Elizabeth and Murchison falls that is the red buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus) of the West African forest and the savanna buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer) of east Africa.
Popularly known as rhino, the rhinoceros is a large, herbivorous mammal. Its most identifying feature is the horned snout. The name comes from the Greek words “rhino” meaning nose and “ceros” meaning horn. They have greatly developed senses of smell and hearing but terrible eyesight. The biggest of the 5 surviving species of rhinoceros can be found in Uganda, the Northern White Rhino. It can only be spotted in the massively protected Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and the Uganda Wildlife Education Center, Entebbe commonly referred to as the Zoo.
Best Season to Spot the Big Five in Uganda
Although game drives are an all-year-round activity in Uganda, the best season to see the big five in Uganda is during the dry season between December to February and June to July. The animals tend to hang around the shores of the water bodies trying to catch a sip of the fresh waters. It is also easier to spot the animals in a lesser vegetation cover. The dry season is a peak season and accommodation and transport may be more expensive than they are during the wet season.
Uganda National Park Safari Lodging and Accommodations
Paraa Safari Lodge, Murchison Falls National Park
Paraa Safari Lodge is the largest lodging facility within Murchison Falls National Park, and most visitors to the park stay here. It is a great starting point for game drives and tourists who stay here do not have to take the ferry across to reach most of the wildlife. The terrace is strategically set with a breathtaking view of the Nile.
Red Chilli Rest Camp
If you are looking for a budget option for accommodation at Murchison Falls National Park, Red Chilli Rest camp is for you. Accommodation options include; “Bandas” self-contained cabins, tents with shared facilities, and the option to bring your tent.
Apoka Safari Lodge, Kidepo Valley National Park
Apoka maintains a reputation as one of the ultimate safari lodges in Uganda. Some visitors have described it as the most amazing place you’ll ever be. At Apoka, wildlife comes to you. A look into your savanna from the porch may reward you with views of elephants, giraffes, jackals, buffalo, warthogs, and zebras.
Jacana Safari Lodge, Queen Elizabeth National Park
Jacana is a luxurious lodge with an enchanting wooden setting overlooking a breathtaking crater lake within Queen Elizabeth. The food is tasty, the service is outstanding, and the amenities are great.
Simba Safari Camp
Simba Safari Camp is great for budget spenders. Located in the heart of Queen Elizabeth, it is a great start to a safari. The rooms are modest, the beds comfortable, and each room has a private front porch with gorgeous landscaping.
Mihingo Lodge, Lake Mburo National Park
Mihingo Lodge is a luxurious tented self-contained camp. Some of the camps are built on wooden platforms with a lake view and others are built in a forest. It is so quiet and calm. Perfect for a getaway.
Rwonyo Rest Camp
If you are looking for budget-friendly accommodation in Lake Mburo, Rwonyo Rest Camp is the place. It is operated by the Uganda Wildlife Authority with basic accommodation and no added costs.
Whether you are traveling to Uganda for an extended family vacation or a solo trip, there are endless possibilities on how to unwind in the Pearl of Africa. The Big Five, however, should be on top of your itinerary.