White Nile River Basin Exp. – Murchison Falls NP

Welcome to #8 in a series of blogs written by Alison Jones before her departure to Uganda and Kenya as NWNL’s lead photographer. Updated 4/11: to revise park description.

Aerial view of Murchison Falls, Uganda

Date: Mon–Tues, 5–6 April 2010 /Entry 8
Reporter: Alison M. Jones
Location: Murchison Falls National Park

The last of the six national parks to be visited on this expedition is the 556 sq mi (1,442 sq km) Kidepo Valley National Park, with its views of Mt Morungule, home of the resettled Ik tribe. This park (elev 2998 ft, 914 m) is located on the Sudanese border. It is comprised of savannah landscapes ending in the rugged horizon formed by Mountain Forest. Along its Lorupei, Narus and Kidepo Rivers, there are whistling thorn and white barked acacias, as well as acacia geradi forests and kopjes – quite typical of arid areas of Kenya and Tanzania. Its huge latitudinal range, and thus climate variety, accommodates a high diversity of flora as well as fauna. Carnivores here include lion, bat-ear fox, striped hyena, aardwolf, caracal, cheetah and hunting dog. Ungulates include the lesser and greater kudu, reedbuck, klipspringer, bright gazelle, Rothschild giraffe and oribi, and kavirondo bush baby. The tree-climbing lions are found in Narus Valley. There are 58 birds of prey in this park.

This park is known for its giant kigelia trees, wide sand rivers, unusual fox kestrels and fascinating walks. We will also visit the Kanangorok Hot Springs, located 11 km from Kidepo River, and part of the volcanic system of Lotuke Mountain, which NWNL will photograph from across the border in Sudan. The Karamajong manyattas and kraals just outside the park will offer interesting cultural perspectives.

From the field: Aerial documentation along the shores of Lake Albert, en route to Murchison, revealed sites of oil exploration on fan deltas (approximately 25 on L. Albert) and a hydro-power site at Tonya Falls on the lake’s eastern escarpment. Neither the details of Uganda’s Oil Production Agreement, means of transporting the oil, nor the selected extraction companies have been announced. This secrecy has led to many rumors in the press. Hopes are that the expected oil income will be put towards food, healthcare, education and energy, rather than rumored purchases of fighter jets for a quarter of a billion dollars. On April 11, 2010, President Museveni noted Uganda’s need to focus on electricity and infrastructure: “Political clashing has blocked us [on developing electricity and infrastructure]. That is why we ended up setting up the Energy Fund now, and now we are moving on building the dams without losing time.”

Murchison Falls defines the northernmost tip of Africa’s Western Rift Valley, a 1,864 mile (3,000 km) tectonic trench between here and Lake Malawi. It has been “opened” for the last 12 million years. The park itself is defined by its abundance of borassus palms, oribi, Jackson’s hartebeest and Rothschild giraffes. A boat trip up to Murchison Falls offered incredible photo ops of migratory and resident birds, Nile crocodiles (a species older than hominids) and hippos.

The ephemeral Yamsika River empties into the final reaches of the Victoria Nile and local people believe that their small gods lived here at the confluence, where pied kingfishers now nest in holes in the soft stone cliffs. Crocodiles and fish eagles congregate under the falls to gather fish mutilated by their plunge here 141 ft down into the Western Rift Valley.

Both below and from above the falls one can see the river’s natural “pollution” in the form of foam clusters moving with the current. These islands of bubbles are created by the action of minerals and sediments that are carried over the falls and become a nutrient rich froth nourishing riverine fish and wildlife.

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