© All CONTENT & PHOTOGRAPHS G.J. VERSPUI 2018 ©
Unless stated otherwise.
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My friend Bobby was already trying to motivate me to go to Uganda with him and his wife Laura after the summer of 2017, the first idea was to make it a christmas / New year getaway, but that did not work out. So the next plan was to do it in the spring of 2018.
Uganda, The Pearl of Africa, why would you want to go there? The presence of some of the most iconic African snake & chameleon species is already reason enough and if you add the possibilities for seeing some African big mammals, than it is even more perfect for me!
Actually I prefered South Africa because I really love the small Bitis species that can be found there, but Bobby promised me that bigger Bitis are also nice, so Uganda it was.
Creating the team was as always a slow thing, Bobby asked Frank as well, but it was not fitting his busy life, so now he has to go without his 'favorite' Dutch herping buddies I guess.
Jelmer Groen was the replacement for Frank and after a long time of waiting, work gave in and I was sure to join as well.
Lets have a look at the team, Laura and Bobby Bok, Jelmer Groen and myself. To start a big thanks to all my trip members since they did share all the preparation that was done to organise this trip.
Laura & Bobby, 2 familiar faces for many herpers around the world already, since almost 2 years a married couple and combining their skills & passion to get to a good set of herping trips every year.
*The Bok original
*Smoker which always starts smoking at times that non smokers can already move on.
*Excellent snake poser, which is almost his fulltime job now and he never complains about that.. ;)
*Not able to speak in the morning.
*Loves all children..or maybe only his students.
*Remains the most friendly man ever when people keep asking for money, or maybe not.
*Not always on time but a great dancer, singer and always a smile on his face (only possible after the early morning).
*Has very nice hair, but only after we made it nice..
*Prefers to herp in local nature clothing.
*Boss of the Bok's.
*Non smoker, thank God!
*Keen eye on taking great people pics.
*Likes to steal complete plates with breakfast.
*Skilled with the iPhone to make video's.
*Likes to sleep early.
*Smooth talker and great story teller.
*Best teacher in talking really weird German stuff.
*A bit slow with photography, but making nice shots!
*Prefers to wear a very special custom made pair of herping trousers.
This was my first trip with Jelmer and I hope we will do some more.
*Can do a great Bobby impersonating.
*Hard worker, but slow smoker.
*Got a fettish for black (melanistic) animals and bats.
*Likes to walk around with always his gentle giant in his hands.
*Sometimes changes his name to Jason, we don't know why.
*Remains the most friendly man ever when people keep asking for money, or definitely not.
*Prefers to herp with his clothes on.
*Does not need rubber boots and a poncho.
*Like to drive and I like to drive people mad.
*Dont like smokers, made a tiny exception here.
*Forgot my boot inlay soles and cried about that.
*A bit direct some times.
*Will rest when back in the Netherlands.
*Making photos can make me emotional. (sounds better than 'mad as hell')
*Loves it when people keep asking for money, haha.
*Prefers to herp in local nature clothing with my buddy!!
The plan for the trip, april 27th - may 12th.
*Mityana area: Mainly for some of the coolest snakes on the planet
*Kibale NP: Chimpanzees and Olive Baboons all over the place
*Rwenzori Mountains at 2 locations: Chameleons
*Queen Elizabeth NP: Big African Safari animals
*Bwindi Impenetrable Forest: Mountain Gorillas
April 27th, lets do it!
On the birthday of our King we all met on Schiphol airport. We first tried to get some dollars and after that some fat food. The duration of the flight was around 11 hours with a short stop in Kigali, Rwanda. Late at night we finally arrived in Entebbe. There is nothing better than going through customs, everybody had to give all fingerprints and other things and I got to walk straight through, haha.
We just landed, but Jelmer was already holding his gentle giant in his hands, he really can't get enough of that thing, or....
Outside Jeff was already waiting for us with our rental car, a Toyota Landcruiser Prado, when we were almost at the car Jelmer looked at his hands and noticed something was missing.. so Bobby and Jelmer had to go back through customs to get the gentle giant again, they stayed away for a long time, so I think they used the biggest part for smoking secretly after they got cold turkey of the 11 hours flight.
From the airport it was around 7 km to our airbnb stay and when we arrived it did not take long before we were outside looking for our first finds in Uganda.
Some toads, geckos, 'barbwire' reed frogs and a worm snake that was climbing the bark of a tree were the living trophies for that night, we also enjoyed the smell of a dead Nile Monitor that I grabbed by the already juicy tail. Time to go to bed.
April 28th, Entebbe, Kampala, Mityana
Buongiorno, we woke up pretty early, enjoyed a hot shower and sucked some wifi until the breakfast was ready.
When we got outside we saw Uganda by daylight for the first time, lots of beautiful birds flying around from one beautiful tree to an other, the sky was blue and the sun was like gold and it almost looked like paradise.....Hohohoho wtf, stop these nonsense, make a fast pic of of the bloody Pitman's Worm Snake and get our asses in the car, we got gorilla permits to pick up and after that as fast as possible to Mityana and find something really cool there..
The drive to Kampala was horrible and we were lucky that Jeff was with us, he knew some short cuts and showed us how to drive in Uganda. Its simple, if you have a big steel bumper on your car the other cars will make room for you.
At the UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) we had to pick up our gorilla permits, after an hour we were finally helped by Josephine and an other hour later we had them...$2400 to see some Mountain Gorillas for 1 hour with 4 persons, I hope it is worth it.
The time spend at UWA was a bit long, but Josephine was not the worst person to be looking at for 2 hours.
Jeff used his driving skills again to get us out of Kampala and Mityana was our next stop. Close to Mityana we stopped to pick up our snake man named Nsuggu, Nsaggu Or Nsangu, I choose for the first option.
Nsuggu is a man who is good at catching snakes, he does not speak English, but thats why Jeff is with us for the first 4 days.
Nsuggu took us first to a half open place to look for all the species he could think of at that moment and we searched there for many hours.
Nsuggu found 2 snakes, a tiny Montane Egg Eater and a big Jackson's Tree Snake and while the others were busy with photographing I saw an Olive Sand Snake (Psammophis mossambicus), unfortunately it made a speedy escape into a very big bush. Jelmer could not get enough of the black snake, it was the first black animal here for him!
When we got to the car we got company of a lot of kids so I gave them a short lesson about how cool snakes are. You have to start somewhere..
In the evening we went to our hotel, it was not the best place, but it was cheap, they sometimes had wifi and they made hot water for us at night. One thing I was really pleased with was our room compared to the room for married couples, it was obvious that the room with the big bed was rented a lot more often, but only by the hour..
The dinner we had was good for that day because we were really hungry, except for the beans it all tasted the same, but still I managed to eat the food of the others as well.
April 29th, Mityana
After breakfast Jeff was already waiting for us and we drove to Nsuggu's house, but it was an other one than yesterday, Nsuggu is not only good at catching snakes, he is also good at making children at more than one location. Today we would visit a patch of rainforest that was still in good shape.
When we went in there we all choose a path, after 40 minutes the first snake was found, it was a big Variable Bush Viper that was sitting 2 meters high in half shady place in a sunny patch in the rainforest.
Photographing this beauty was a treat, it is not often that such a beautiful animal is in front of my camera, after photography I released the animal and continued searching, around half an hour later I walked by the same place again and I wanted to know if the viper was still in the same place, it was only 1 meter away from where it was found and released, it was curled up in a bush and I only found it because I knew it was there. I left it in peace and tried to find the others.
When I found them they had already found a second Montane Egg Eater, a much bigger one than the one from the previous day. Photographing it was horrible, so I made only a couple of quick shots and from that moment we searched again. Late in the afternoon we gave up, dropped off Nsuggu at one of his families and before dinner we checked out a possible place to come back there at night.
Dinner was at the Enro Hotel, it was a good and very welcome meal after walking all day through dense undergrowth. In the evening we went to an other piece of Jungle that was sort of protected by the government. Here we walked down a trail and it did not take long before I spotted a black shiny snake on the floor, it was not easy to see what it was so we did not take any risks and handled it with proper care, the moment we touched it you could see typical behavior for only one species of snake, it turned its head and hit our glove sideways with it, on the side that hit us there was a fang sticking out. It was a Variable Burrowing Asp, also known as a Stiletto Snake. This behavior also made sure that photographing it was a real challenge.
A bit later in the night Laura found an other snake, again it was a Montane Egg Eater, the 3rd one already.. It was time for bed already.... at least that was the excuse to stop searching, apparently wifi on the balcony was enough reason to stay awake for 1,5 hours more. Yes yes, I did the same.
April 30th, Mityana
Being early at the breakfast table with Laura gave us some chances to experience the Ugandan music clip industry and it was great! The best one was about a poor guy losing his lady to a very rich and good man, but he kept fighting for her (maybe it was stalking) and in the end he still had nothing, it was brilliant. So if you already read this, than why not watch the video.. Do it!
After a while Bobby and Jelmer came in too and we had breakfast. We tried to explain how wonderful the music video was, but non emotional Bobby did not react at all the first 5 minutes.
The plan of today was to pick up Nsuggu again at what ever place he could spend the night and go to the same area as yesterday, but now we would search first in a more open area with high grass, lots of bushes and eucalyptus trees. It was a very hot day, but still we found some great animals, an Emerald Snake and a Blue-headed Tree Agama. The snake was not that bad to take some photos, but the agama did not like us that much... I can't blame him.
Around noon we headed into the rainforest again and that was perfect seen the disgusting heat in the open area. Here we tried to find a way through the jungle, but it was not that easy without any trails. Nsuggu was a bit further away, so we tried to get a bit closer to him, just in case...we can be honest about it, he just finds the most things.
When we were closer we heard him shout and now there were some additional sounds as well, like 'howoho' and 'yeah', kind of victory yells.
I was the first one to arrive and in the dense undergrowth was an enormous Gaboon Viper.
While we were photographing the Gaboon Viper Nsuggu came and asked if I wanted to help him, he saw a Jameson's Mamba, but could not reach it alone, I doubted not at all, looked at Jelmer and grabbed the gentle giant from his hands. After a 300 m run we reached the place and we crawled through the dense bushes to get closer, it took me like 5 minutes to finally spot just a small part of this big snake, the next moment I didn't see it anymore and Nsuggu lost it too so I walked back to the others and made some more photos of the 9 kg viper.
20 min later Nsuggu screamed and it sounded very victorious again, he found the Jameson's Mamba after we lost it and now he caught it. It must have been a real struggle because the ventral scales of the snake did looked a little bent.. At moments like this it made me realize once more that we did good by making some rules with Nsuggu about all the animals that were found during our 4 days of snake tracking together.
All the snakes were released by ourselves, so there would be no chance that the snakes found in this trip would end up in the animal trade.
The mamba looked awesome, those scales, the way it was moving and its black tail. This snake is by far the most difficult to handle safely I have ever had the pleasure of seeing in the wild. For this reason we used a solitary tree where the snake could move around while we shot some photos, I wanted to have a good photo of the full snake where you could see the black tail as well, but that was too much to ask for..
Dinner time again at the Enro Hotel and after that some swamp herping followed by an other night walk in the rainforest. At the swamp we saw many Reed Frogs, I got up close with 3 Spotted-necked Otters (Hydrictis maculicollis) which were still jumping on and over each other while they made an escape. When photographing some grashoppers I bumped into the first pair of Montane Side-striped Chameleons and even if we saw at least 60 more this trip, this male was one of the best looking ones.
In the rainforest we were hoping for Rough-scaled Bush Viper and I don't know how it is possible, but Bobby spotted one next to the trail and after I took some quick shots of it I searched more and half an hour later I found a second one that was just a bit different in size and color from the first one. The others took some photos too of the second one and I searched a bit more. When I came out of the forest it was already after 01:00, so we decided to walk back and sleep.
This was without a doubt the most successful day of the trip!
May 1st, Mityana
After a good night of sleep we picked up Nsuggu again and went to a small piece of rainforest, we were still very desperate to see the Rhinoceros Viper, the forest was open on the ground so it was not that hard to search, while people were searching others photographed the Rough-scaled Bushvipers, they were not very cooperative, but Im pretty pleased with the photos. The Rhinoceros Viper was not found.
The search in that forest was not all lost because an other nice elapid was found, the much hoped for Forest Cobra, it was just over 1 meter in length, so it was a very handy size for handling it. In the late afternoon we made a group picture with Jeff and Nsuggu, Jeff had other things to do in Kampala, so he left us and Nsuggu said he was tired and needed a rest because we planned a night search with him that night, we dropped him off and this time it was in a little village, probably the best place to rest.
Dinner was again at the Enro Hotel, but before that we released the Rough-scaled Bush Vipers at the place we found them. After dinner we tried to pick up Nsuggu for the night search, he was not in the rendez vous place, so Bobby and Jelmer started a search for this man. They tried first at the bar and what a surprise, he was sitting there with a beer in each hand, he was still half singing and dancing when we pulled him into the car. From there we had to drive by his house first before we could start, it was very convenient that we had a car..
At his house we met with some of his kids, his daughters showed us a Montane Side-striped Chameleon and they knew more than we expected about all the snakes that we found so far, his son joined us for that night. After a family picture we went to yet an other piece of rainforest within the cultivated lands. When we got out of the car we had to walk for 15 minutes before we reached the forest. Here we searched as hard as we could and lucky us it did not take long before our nr 1 target was found.
Some people were so happy that they danced some very strange dance with Nsuggu. The Rhinoceros Viper was bagged so we could photograph it the next day.
From that moment Nsuggu already wanted to get back to the car and the others just walked as a chat club through the forest, thinking they had more chances of finding stuff that way... but somehow that actually worked! They spotted a Rough-scaled Bush Viper some meters above the ground, which was too high up to get down.... I still wonder if it was too high up as well if it would have been the first one, but ok, apparently finding a Rhinoceros Viper makes you care less.
From one moment it became very silent in the forest, the chat club decided to walk back to the car, for me it was all fine, not being clearly notified means that I can do an other tour through the forest.
Meanwhile the others found some geckos on a building and woke up the people who lived there, a pitty I missed that.
When we were all back at the car we dropped off our drunk snake man and his son and went back very happy to the hotel.
May 3rd, last day in Mityana
This day we used to photograph the Rhinoceros Viper, this took a very long time, luckily we were in one of the best and biggest pieces of rainforest of that area so while some were photographing, others could go herping, or maybe not.. The moment I started the others were already busy a couple of hours and I must admit, it was not an easy animal to photograph, constant moving, but this is far better than not finding it at all!
I don't think I need to explain that we all wanted a photo that shows how much we were in love with the Rhinoceros Viper, we even made a contest out of it and you people can make a choice... Who has the most awesome face looking at the snake? Write your choice in the comment section below please!
In the evening we went to the same forest again and had a search around some swampy areas and small streams, we found many more trails there that were perfect, but we did not see more than a couple of frogs. While herping we also heard the voice of a well known Dutch robot named Robin ,but even when a famous robot talks dirty talk demotivation can be around the corner, at 21:42 somebody said it was time to go back to the hotel. Its not even an option to go back this early, Africa is known for not finding animals easily and in that hotel no good animals will be found for sure.
We were back at the car at 22:45 and at the hotel the wifi was not working again, so we actually could go to bed early and rest for our drive to Kibale National Park that was planned for the next morning.
May 3rd, Kibale National Park
After breakfast we left Mityana and I was the one driving, Uganda can be a bit different when driving, but as long as you keep paying attention and you have a big bull-bar on the car you will be fine. Just take care at night because all the head lights are blinding you and there are a lot of people walking next to the road and you really don't see them. Luckily we did not run over anybody.
On the road we found 2 snakes that would have been awesome finds alive, first a rather big Central African Rock Python (Python sabae) and inside Kibale NP a Forest Wolf Snake (Lycophidion ornatum).
We did not have a place to sleep yet and we wanted to know about a place where we could walk around at night so we went to a ranger station and asked about all those things. The night tours that they had were for Bushbabies, but we saw them already almost every night and chimpanzee tracking was 150$ per person.
Lets find some accommodation first, we found a place on the edge of the National Park and for normal prices we could rent a small house with plenty of room for 4 persons and the staff of that place made sure we had the best food, thanks for that Meri!
Meri also introduced us to a guide that lives there, his name was Isaiah. He took us into the forest in the late afternoon, Laura found a cool Kivu Tree Frog and a bit later I saw a black head looking at me from a shady place in front of us on the trail: "guys, there is a big black male chimp sitting on the trail" Jelmer: "really, a black one? Thats so awesome!"
It was an impressive male Chimpanzee and he observed us for a while. After 2 minutes he just stood up and walked our way, just passing us on the trail while looking at us... for me that was a very exciting moment. The female with a young also walked by us, but they went around us and kept a lot more distance.
We could watch the chimps for at least 10 minutes, after that we already had to walk back to be in time for dinner, on our way we walked by a ditch and Bobby yelled 'snake' and jumped after it, it was a huge Forest Cobra that effortless disappeared into the vegetation. We were not fast enough to grab its tail.
After a very good dinner we met with Isaiah again and first we cruised the road for a while where we found the DOR Forest Wolf Snake, but not much was found. When we returned at our stay we picked up an armed ranger and went into the National Park again, still close to our cabin we heard some noises in the forest and waited, 2 African Bush Elephants crossed the trail only 15 meters from where we were standing, an other impressive encounter at this great place!
During our walk over the trails we found many proof of the elephants walking around there, at the lower parts the elephant tracks were filled with water, which were perfect places for amphibians. We saw many Kivu Tree Frogs and I grabbed one of them to photograph later, but back home I found out it was an other species, the even more pretty Christy's Tree Frog. The last thing we did was check out some long ditches that could be a trap for some animals, next to some more amphibians Laura found the only snake of the night, a Fawn-headed Snake Eater, a snake that has very similar headshape and behavior as the Coral Snakes I found in Costa Rica and Mexico, even the tip of the tail had some was sort of similar with being pointed and it was also used to pinch me while I was handling it.
We were back at the cabin around 02:00 and we decided to photograph most of the amphibians already so we had more time in the morning. Breakfast was very good and after some quick snake photography and chasing away a big Olive Baboon family and some Bushbucks we walked towards a sound that could only mean chimps. We found a big group and could witness lots of different activities going on like a contest how to put as much food in your mouth as possible, juveniles playing with each other and with the adults, adults taking care of each others flees. Again an awesome experience!
After this we said goodbye to Meri and Isaiah and left towards Fort Portal for our next adventure in Uganda, this time in the Rwenzori mountains.
May 4th, Rwenzori Mountains
From Kibale NP to Fort Portal is only a short distance so we could spend a big part of the day still with the chimps.
In Fort Portal we went to the company we booked a day tour with that goes over the Bwamba Pass in the Rwenzori Mountains. We had to pack our most needed stuff into one bag and the rest was left in the office there. Before we went to our stay on the slopes of the Rwenzori's we first had some basic energy intake, beans and a liter of coca cola.
For our tour which was the next day we had 2 guides, Acleo and Lucy, Lucy was still in training to become a guide. The place we stayed was reached after a 20-25 minutes steep hike, we slept in a banda and I never had a view like this before, sadly it also shows the few parts of wild nature that is still left at the lower altitudes.
At the Rwenzori Unique Ecotourism Campsite the owner Elisha was already waiting for us and made us a very good herbal tea, while drinking it Jelmer did his best Bobby imitation ever and shortly after they went searching together. Meanwhile dark clouds were rolling in and I was happy that I did not check out the area like Bobby and Jelmer because they came back running through the rain.
In the evening we took the guides with us and showed them how you find chameleons, we only found one species, but the number of them made up for that, around 30 were seen.
May 5th, hiking the Bwamba Pass
The next morning we had a good breakfast with a view and after that we grabbed our stuff and started the hike over the Bwamba pass, the camp was at around 1600 m absl, before we started the climb we first had to go down to around 1400 m absl, so that was perfect, from there it was up up up and on the way we pick up an armed ranger that would go with us for the entire day while we were in Rwenzori National Park.
During our hike we had the company of 2 young girls who were carrying up some goods, the one that was walking close to me was always keeping an eye on me and stayed close to Lucy and laura. The next day we would meet her again and than she liked me a bit better.
The rainforest did not start until we were at 2200 m absl, so it took us a while to get there. The moment we were about to walk into the rainforest Lucy spotted a small snake on the trail, it was moving very weird and slow, unfortunately one of our group members walking in front of her already stepped on the snake. It was a Western Green Snake, after some quick shots we got it out of its misery.
When we climbed up further Bobby spotted a pair of Rwenzori Three-horned Chameleons, we kept climbing and reached an altitude of around 2560 m absl, we went through the bamboo zone and from that place we decided to wait for darkness, so we could search for the rare Rwenzori Helmeted Chameleon (Kinyongia carpenteri) while walking down. The late afternoon surprised us with some horizontal cold rain and heavy winds, the only thing we could do is wait at a safe place till the weather was over, lots of big branches and even complete trees came down.
We were all prepared for this weather....except one, Jelmer did not bring his poncho, so I used mine to keep us dry, the guide Acleo didn't have one either, so he jumped under mine as well. Bobby witnessed this funny happening from under his umbrella wearing his poncho, that was excellent sharing & teamwork haha.
After 45 minutes the rain stopped and I noticed some people were getting a bit cold so we kept moving to stay warm. Jelmer was warm the quickest because he had to do 50 pushups for forgetting his poncho.
On the way back we were walking slow because we wanted to search, some of us were already out of food and they were getting cold again. We did find some more chameleons, but not the one we wanted so badly, I did like the Boulenger's Pygmy Chameleon that Bobby found, that is a real special little one.
Once we got out of the rainforest we started to walk a little faster, but the steep slippery descent was a bit hard for the very tired Lucy, I literally had to help her getting down at all the shitty parts. She was also getting a bit slow with talking so I gave her some food and that helped a bit.
Back at the bandas Elisha made us a great midnight meal and everybody was feeling alive again, around 02:00 we were all in bed.
The next morning we had breakfast and we observed a mother chicken with 8 chicks and Jelmer running behind it, Jelmer really loved her black chicks. I guess you should have been there... after that we said goodbye to Elisha and his kids who found us 2 more horned chameleons. When we came down at the road I saw a familiar face, it was the girl who walked with us the other day and now she had a lot more guts and we even became friends.
May 6th, Ruboni, Rwenzori Mountains
After picking up our stuff at the office and saying goodby to Acleo and Lucy we drove out of Fort Portal, the road was not that good with many big holes in it. Not that far from where we had to get off the main road we stopped for some supplies, Bobby and Jelmer were always the ones who really wanted to go to the small shops, maybe because they have a smoking addiction, they were immediately targeted by some local guys who wanted to get some money out of them. From inside of the car it was lovely to see Bobby's face turn into a thundercloud in no time at all, Jelmer on the other hand was very patient and stayed friendly.... hahahaha, no not at all!
This time it was a bit of a strange situation, there was a reason I kept an eye on things, the moment we stopped the guys already checked out our luggage and with how many we were, there were only 2 annoying guys talking, but there were 2 more who also followed my buddies, they did keep some distance.
5 minutes later Jelmer and Bobby got back in the car and said: "this is the worst place we stopped so far"
When we drove away we noticed that most people were really not looking friendly at us and that was new for us here in Uganda.
A bit later we arrived at Ruboni Community Camp and we were welcomed by Mercylean and some men from the staff, they helped us carry our stuff to our very nice cabins. Mercylean was a very nice and friendly woman who was pretty strong too, she had no problems at all with all the heaviest bags I gave to her..
That afternoon we had a look around in the neighborhood, close to our stay was a small location where the rangers are sleeping with their families and a bit further down the road was a big resort which had some trails and hot springs, so we went there for a drink and a talk.
While we were walking Bobby spotted a small thing on the road, it was a juvenile Great Lakes Bush Viper and it was almost black, so a certain someone yelled: "even the Atheris nitschei can be bmmmelanistic here" We just looked at him and said: "I think we need a beer to celebrate!"
So we did and with that beer in the hand we checked out the trails and the river around that place and we were invited to check out the trails at night as well. That beer tasted really good by the way!
After a great dinner we went out again, we soon noticed that the people from our stay did not let us walk outside alone because they always send someone with us. When we were close to the trails it started to rain really hard, so we ordered a drink and waited till the scheisse wetter was over, after that we had a look at the river and on the trails, we did see some chameleons, but only the species we already saw many times before, next to that some Reed Frogs and Kivu Tree Frogs were seen.
May 7th, Plate-nosed Chameleons
We needed our poncho to get to our breakfast so the weather was not very good for herping in the morning, but there are many other things to do on moments like this, lets give Bobby a new haircut and walk around naked through the jungle with the gentle giant and my buddy, many ways to kill the time!
In the afternoon it got better so we could go for our main target now, the Rwenzori Plate-nosed Chameleon, we needed a good plan, the Plate-nosed Chameleons are only here during this trip, so we needed to get into some good areas and maybe motivate some local people to keep an eye open for them. So we needed a smooth talker with a good smile, maybe I know someone...Laura!! I tried it too, but mine is not that good, but still I managed to let Mercylean help me to show the chameleon photos to some local people in the area.
For the other part of the plan I grabbed Laura by the hand with Bobby's permission of course and took her to the ranger station, together we made a great story with many smiles so the guys would let us search on their village area. It did not take long, one of the ranger guys that talked with Mercylean came to Laura and me and said that he had found the chameleon, skeptical as we are we showed the target species to him on a photo and he said yes, but only with a smaller horn. It turned out to be an adult female and we were happy. That man deserved some beers!! (but choose cheese and butter instead)
As I like to say, effort pays off and effort can come in many forms, so far so good! After this I searched at a shitty area close to th river and Laura teamed up again with Bobby and Jelmer, 2 hours later we met again and I could already see a big fat smile on Jelmer's face, the last time I saw that was when he almost caught the black chicks in the garden of our previous stay.
He showed me a photo and yelled: "Even the coolest chameleons here are melanistic!" it was an adult male and guess the color....it was black because it was probably very mad, chameleons tend to get darker when conditions are not the way they would like it, for example when you handle them.
After dinner we went out and the weather was fine, we searched at the road and trails, Bobby found 2 Boulenger's Pygmy Chameleons in the grass and we saw many of the usual suspects, Bobby and Laura went back early and after that I was happy to find a pair of Boulenger's Pygmy Chameleons sitting close together and Jelmer spotted a tiny chameleon higher up in the tree that turned out to be a juvenile Rwenzori Plate-nosed Chameleon.
Back at the bandas I had to find Montane Side-striped chameleon for Jelmer because he did not make photos of them yet, I promised him, so he would search also longer that night. We found one!
When we photographed the chameleons, the male was already getting dark fast when he was disturbed only a little. After that we let them all go again at the place we found them.
Around noon we said goodbye to the people at Ruboni and we were on our way again.
May 8th, Queen Elizabeth National Park
Only 75 km to drive today so that is fine, still it took like 2 hours to reach our lodge, during our drive we crossed the equator so we stepped out of the car to make a nice photo, the only downside on the photo is that Jelmer was a bit of a party pooper by getting the knot out of his shirt just before the photo was made. Dude it is ok, we walk around like this the whole trip already, so don't fear the reactions, be yourself...
If you read this and you think very weird stuff... its ok, you should try it too..
Laura insisted we made a second photo, but I think you can see that we did not like that.
As soon as you drive into the area of QE NP you can see the difference, not that much cultivated land and very big and exotic animals on the road.
We stayed at Engiri Game Lodge, a very good place with small bandas, perfect food and hippos, warthogs and elephants in the garden.
After some much needed food we tried to reach a cave, because there are supposed to be many pythons and spitting cobras inside the cave, the chance we could get marburg virus was not very important, we were even sure that the snakes would come out, so we would not die like the Dutch woman in 2008 after she entered that particular cave.
All the above was not very important anyway since the rain was falling daily. The road was very slippery and we literally ended up next to it, the tires had a thick layer of clay around them and it was a real challenge to get back on the track and turn around. Back at Engiri we had dinner and after that we went road cruising, nothing was found. At the lodge we had a hippo running around and at night we had like 20 bats flying in and out of our banda, at 04:50 in the morning one of the bats got stuck between some pieces of wood in the wall and started peeping like my worst alarm clock ever.
When I tried to free the bat it jumped on the floor and ran, yes it ran over the floor towards Jelmer's luggage where it most likely found a very good place because I could not find it anymore, I think we are lucky that Jelmer really likes bats. Did you find it at home mate, I saw it going in your bag...
May 9th, Kazinga Channel
Breakfast was great and we needed it because we had booked us a boat for a big tour on the Kazinga Channel, it started with birds, but the hippos were also out in big numbers, other animals we saw were African Buffalos, Warthogs, Waterbucks, African Bush Elephants, Nile Monitors and 1 big Nile Crocodile.
Around lunch time we were back at our lodge and while we were eating we saw an other elephant walking close by.
Later in the afternoon we tried the road to the snake cave / cave of death one last time, but the track was very risky again, so we had to turn around.
Now we drove around over the roads that went through the park and saw a lot of animals again, at night we went to a flooded plain first because the night before we had heard many amphibian 'noise' coming from that area. Some guys with long stick came with us to chase the hippos and elephants away that normally also like to play in that swampy area, 2 elephants were close by, we heard them all the time, but only Bobby ran into the big male. After that we went road cruising again and this time we found a big Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) that was freshly killed by a truck.
At the banda Jelmer chased the bats before we went to sleep.
Video, © Jelmer
May 10th, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
The road to Bwindi from QENP was only 165 km, but still it took us almost 6 hours to get there, the best part is that we were low on petrol, so we had to drive 20 km back for a gas station, the first one on our route was over 100 km away, I hate novice actions like this..
Somewhere in the afternoon we reached Bwindi, on the way we had to be careful not to run over one of the many Olive Baboons that were on the road, for the 10 million butterflies on the road we could not do much...sorry butterflies.
In Bwindi we found our stay, Cuckooland was on a slope at the edge of the rainforest, to reach this place we had to drive 500m over a narrow trail, park the car and walk for 10 minutes down the hill. About 100 meters lower than our tented bandas was a river and from there the rainforest was on steep slopes again.
In the evening we split up and searched around a pond and next to the road, team Bobby & Jelmer found a new Chameleon species for this trip and Laura and I spotted 2 Congo Wot Wot frogs before we started to walk towards the others, after meeting each other we went back to the pond and searched there some more, meanwhile there were many more Congo Wot Wot frogs, many of them being in amplexus.
We did not find much more and it was already pretty cold, around midnight we were back at Cuckooland.
May 11th, Mountain Gorillas
Around 06:15 we were told to get our breakfast, but the guys who told us that time had a watch which was 15 minutes slower than ours, the breakfast was tiny and the lunch they packed for us was not enough either. At the ranger station in Ruhija we got a safety briefing about tracking the Mountain Gorillas and all the extras we could hire to make this special day a very lazy day as well, a porter, or even an entire stretcher team was possible, because the hikes can be very long, steep and exhausting. Meanwhile we heard our guide already having motorola contact with the tracker-team and they already knew exactly where we had to go.
Jelmer was extremely sharp and hard this morning, the rangers trying to sell us the stretcher-teams and porters were not getting away with that without Jelmer giving them his thoughts, so we decided to call him Jason that day.
First we drove for some minutes and from there we walked into the rainforest, it was a big track with lots of elephant tracks, within 5 minutes we saw a big pile of gorilla sheit, 10 minutes later we met with the trackers and from there it all started, one hour with this gorilla family.
After 39 minutes our guide said that the time was almost up, so I checked my first photo and told him we were at 39 minutes now, Jason was ready to take over my conversation with some short & sharp verbal violence, but he controlled himself. The guide stopped talking about the time straight away, when we were there really an hour he started talking again and said that we were very lucky today and he let us stay 6 more minutes with the gorillas.
When we walked back from this great experience we walked slowly because you never know if a Bush Viper would be next to the trail.
Our guide suddenly turned into a snake expert and told us that snakes were not here and that it was better to move a bit faster. We really tried to walk faster, but somehow it did not work... When we were almost back at the car he turned to Jason and said that he should tell us to move faster, but Jason looked at him and told him that nobody was going to walk faster.
Back at the ranger station we had to go through a typical touristy ceremony, Augustine the guide already asked me to tell the rest to hurry up (again), so for one time only I told Bobby and Jason to smoke an other cigaret before they would come to us.
Augustine started a blaartrekkend verhaal (blisters growing out of nowhere story) about how good we were tracking the gorillas and about how much fun he had with us, halfway I broke into his talk and I asked him why he was so much in a hurry, but giving a good answer was not one of his qualities.
Our friend Josephine from UWA was very interested in this story.
I know this sounds a bit negative, but the experience of seeing the gorillas was really awesome and the trackers did a great job of getting us close to the group and they jumped in front of us when the silverback did a fake charge at us. Our time there was good!
Unfortunately the trackers were not around when the 10 year old future silverback charged me from 15 meters away when I was peeing in his territory, luckily the impressive young gorilla stopped 1 meter in front of me, so all was fine.. really, I did not cry or piss my pants..
In the afternoon we searched some more close to the ranger station, but not much was found except some lizards, a toad and a couple of 3 horned chameleons. After a great dinner we searched a bit higher than the night before and we found many chameleons, but that was all.
May 12th, Bwindi to Entebbe
This day was a full day of driving, from Bwindi to Entebbe was around 11 hours, on the way my buddies did many things to keep me awake, Laura told some stories, Bobby was the DJ and Jelmer showed all his photos of melanistic animals..
It worked, we made it all the way. At a gas station I had a welcome stop and a good talk with 2 guys, one wanted to put extra air in my tires for a small amount and the other wanted to drive with us to Kampala and when I said no he wanted some money for the cab, maybe next time my friend!
In Entebbe we treated ourselves on some tasty burgers.
From there it was only 6 more km's to the airport, Jeff was waiting there for us with his son Jerome to get the Toyota. We said goodbye and thanks for the days he was with us and walked into the airport.
In the plane I watched 2 movies and did some sleeping, around 07:00 Dutch time we were back in the Netherlands, after we all said good bye Laura had to take an other flight to Munich, see you all later my friends, thanks for these great 2 weeks!
Laura & Bobby, see you in july again when we will look for some Vipera species in Georgia with Dom & Anniek. Can't wait for that!
Video, © Jelmer
Uganda is an amazing country to travel around, lots of things are worthy to do and see, besides herping we also had some awesome encounters with other wildlife. The herping itself can be very hard if you compare it to other rainforest habitats on the planet, but what we saw was all very special stuff.
Im really thankful for my travel buddies Jelmer, Laura and Bobby who did all the preparation for this trip, many people were asked for useful information in the process or asked to help identify some of the species, so also thanks to Jonas Arvidsson, Matthieu Berroneau, Eli Greenbaum, Andre van Hecke, Christoph Liedtke, Stephen Spawls, Colin Tilbury and Tom Williams.
For us 'tourists' it is always very easy to talk about the habitat loss and the other so called problems we see while we travel around, but on the other hand, how good are we for our beloved earth when we fly long distances more than 4 times a year, eat lots of meat & avocados, keep buying all the palm oil products and own at least 2 cars per family... I live in the Netherlands and there is absolutely no original nature left anymore, what we have is just a little bit and it is all influenced greatly by us humans.
Uganda still has some really wild nature, I hope they keep trying to protect these areas!
Thank you for your time!
--. Central African Rock Python - Python sebae (DOR)
--. Forest Wolf Snake - Lycophidion ornatum (DOR)
--. Puff Adder - Bitis arietans (DOR)