One of the incredible benefits of working with UCF, the Uganda Conservation Foundation, has been work trips to the Bush – and free game drives. Friends and family back home may be under the impression that’s all I’ve been doing for the last two and half years! Unfortunately, once I’d got the hang of the projects, trips and wildlife encounters (in the Bush at least) were few and far between and I spent as much time chained to the laptop as I did in any other office job I’ve ever had, writing one funding proposal after another.
Yet the Bush is still within a day’s drive from home, UCF has given me some wonderful contacts in Queen Elizabeth National Park, and I am indeed a very lucky girl to (continue to) have this experience. I make the most of every day I have in Uganda – here’s a highlight from last week:
The driver had promised us the earliest of starts (although I was disappointed that the agreed game drive would happen in a bloody saloon car!) I’d insisted that we should go in a 4×4 but come 6.30 in the morning, I’d buttoned my lip, deciding to make the most of the cheap price and trusting in the fact that a locally based guide should be able to find all the wildlife straightaway.
Eddie the driver gave us the normal tourist platitudes, and I switched off. UCF has spoiled me. We’ve travelled with rangers off the beaten track; we’ve followed the lion researchers at night and heard all kinds of wildlife close-encounter stories round the campfire.
At the famous Kasenyi track, south of Lake George, we headed for where the lions had last been seen. With the grass long, thanks to the seasonal rains, spotting a lion can be near impossible. Sometimes all you see are the tips of their ears or a flick of a tail.
“Look, he’s just finished mating! Now he will want to hunt.”
Three handsome adult lions, a female and two brothers, were in a lazy, playful mood and Eddie anticipated their next move.
I was captivated: I had never seen male lions at such close quarters. They really are magnificent.
The males casually sauntered off to our right and the female lay down to drink water. As we slowly drove past her, I suddenly had a tight feeling in my stomach, realising what a powerful, and potentially lethal, animal I was approaching.
We stepped on the gas to head the lions off, further along the track. And there they were, not at all perturbed by our presence, two magnificent male lions walking directly towards us (walking directly towards us?! Hang on a minute shouldn’t I be scared?) Admiration turned to fear right at the last minute as the two enormous lions walked the length of our car just a metre from us. I grabbed the camera.
As the big pussycats and I made eye contact, I felt myself slide down my seat (much to the delight of my friend, who giggled and poked fun at me from the back of the car). The lions crossed the track heading for the Uganda kobs’ mating ground (their favourite place for breakfast). I’m just glad it wasn’t me on the menu…
These aren’t the best wildlife encounter photographs. To photograph wildlife requires a good zoom lens and more than an impromptu five minutes with the animals in question. I’m pretty pleased with my x10 optical zoom but hey, when wildlife gets this close – who needs the zoom anyway?