This remote national park lies in the far northeast of Uganda, isolated from the rest of the country by the sparsely populated, arid badlands of Karamoja region. Seldom visited by tourists due to the expense and difficulty of getting there. Kidepo is nevertheless one of the most alluring destinations in the country, boasting a strong wilderness atmosphere, rugged mountain scenery and exceptional game viewing and bird watching. The park covers an area of 1,442km squared, and it has an altitude range between 914m and 2,750m above sea level. The highest point in the park is Mount Morungole (2,750m) on the southeastern border. The slightly higher Mount Lutoke (2,750m), which lies just within the Sudanese border, is visible from several points in the park. The mountainous terrain is broken by the Narus valley in the southwest and the Kidepo valley in the northeast. The dominant habitat is open or lightly wooded savanna, interspersed with patches of montane forest, riparian woodland, thick miombo woodland, borassus palms and rocky koppies.
Lying in the rugged, semi-arid valleys of Karamoja province on the far northern border with the Sudan, Kidepo Valley is Uganda’s most remote national park. Kidepo Valley National Park is a 1,442 square kilometres (557 sq mi) national park in the Karamoja region in northeast Uganda. Kidepo is rugged savannah, dominated by the 2,750 metres (9,020 ft) Mount Morundole.
Kidepo protects one of the most exciting faunas of any Ugandan national park, although its total of 86 mammal species has been reduced to 77 after a rash of local extinctions in recent years. Kidepo’s mammal list of over 80 species includes 28 that are found in no other Ugandan National park. Amongst these are such charismatic African animals as Bat-eared Fox, Carcal, Cheetah and Klipspringer. Five primate species have been recorded in Kidepo, including the localized patas monkey. Predators are particularly well represented, with 20 species resident. Of these, the black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox, aardwolf, cheetah and caracal are found in no other Ugandan national park. Other predators recorded in Kidepo, are the side-striped jackal, spotted hyena, leopard, lion and a variety of mustelids, genets, mongooses and small cats. Twelve antelope species occur in Kidepo of which the greater kudu, lesser kudu, Guenther’s dik-dik and mountain reedbuck occur nowhere else in Uganda. Other antelope species found in Kidepo are Jackson’s hartebeest, eland, bushbuck, common duiker, klipspringer, oribi, Defassa Waterbuck, and bohor reedbuck.
Kidepo also supports populations of elephant, Burchell’s zebra, warthog, bushpig and buffalo. The black rhinoceros recently became extinct in Kidepo, but giraffes have been saved from local extinction by the translocation of several animals from Kenya. If you are looking for an ultimate destination for wildlife safaris in Uganda, Kidepo Valley National Park is the way to go.
The bird checklist of 463 confirmed and 26 unconfirmed species is second only to Queen Elizabeth National Park, and more than 60 of the birds listed have been recorded in no other Ugandan national park. Kidepo’s long bird checklist is made even more impressive by the relatively small size of the park and the fact that as many as 100 of the birds listed are either dry-country species, which within Uganda are practically confined to Kidepo, or else northern or eastern species, which have been noted elsewhere only in the north of Murchison Falls National Park or in the Mount Eldon area. Raptors are particularly well represented: 56 species in total, of which the most commonly observed, are the dark chanting goshawk, pygmy falcon, tawny eagle, bataleur, secretary bird and several types of vulture. Other birds which must be regarded as Kidepo specials, at least within Uganda, include the ostrich, kori bustard, fox and white-eyed kestrels, white bellied go-away bird, carmine, little green and red-throated bee-eaters, Abyssinian roller, Abyssinian scimitarbill, d’Arnauds, red-and yellow and black-breasted barbets, red-billed, yellow-billed and Jackson’s hornbills, Karamoja apalis, rufous chatterer, northern brownbul, golden pipit, chestnut weaver, red-billed and white headed buffalo weavers, and purple grenadier to name only a few of the more colourful and/or visible species.
That said, the variety of butterflies and other smaller creatures is far less than in the forested national parks of western Uganda.
Around the Park
Kidepo Valley National Park is ringed by mountains, but its area is dominated by the broad valleys of the Kidepo River to the north, and the Narus River in the south. Apoka, the site of the park’s headquarters, lodge and hostel, overlooks the Narus Valley which is the prime game-viewing area. The park enjoys just one wet season each year, and during the long, hot dry season game migrates south from the semi-arid Kidepo Valley to find what moisture it can in swamps and remnant pools along the seasonal channel of the Narus. The Narus Valley is explored by three game loops: the Kakine, Katurum and Nagusokopire circuits. Game is scarce in the Kidepo Valley, a result of poaching by Sudanese visitors and dry conditions. Worth a visit is the Kidepo River itself which is beautiful in its unorthodox fashion. Lined by lovely borassus palm forest, it is for 95% of the year completely dry and its 50m wide course is swathe of white sand. Hot springs are found at kanatarok on the Sudanese border, though these are a low key event which don’t compare with those in Semliki National Park in Western Uganda.
Enroute to the Kidepo Valley, the Kanatarok Road passes through a rather incongruous 10km squared enclosure contained within a 2m-high electrified fence. This was created in 2001 as a secure location for the introduction of locally extinct or endangered species, including giraffe, eland, Grant’s gazelle and roan antelope. The intention is to import breeding pairs of each species and as their numbers increase, release animals into the wild. A number of eland were brought up from Lake Mburo National Park in 2003. Unfortunately less than rigorous firebreak maintenance enabled fire to sweep through the compound in 2005, whereupon the eland crashed through the fence and dispersed. The compound presently awaits new residents.