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Tourist Attractions In Kidepo Valley National Park

There are a variety of tourist attractions in Kidepo Valley National Park to see while on your Uganda wildlife safari including;

  • Over 77 animal species
  • 475 bird species
  • Spectacular valleys
  • Unique Karamojongs and the mysterious IK people

Below is a detailed description of what to see in Kidepo Valley National Park during major safaris in Uganda.

1. Animals In Kidepo Valley National Park

The two dominant features of Kidepo National Park: the Narus Valley and Kidepo valley have habitats that support the largest concentrations of animals in the park.

The dominant wildlife habitat in the Narus Valley is open grassland studded with tall sausage trees and the massive elongated fruits for which they are named.

The Kidepo valley supports drier acacia woodland, through some significant stands of Borassus palms that line the watercourse. Elsewhere are patches of montane forest and riparian woodland.

The Kidepo National Park habitats support the most exciting animals in Uganda, though its total of 86 mammal species has been reduced to 77 after some became locally extinct in recent years.

Predators In Kidepo Valley National Park

Kidepo Valley National Park is particularly rich in predators, with over 20 species recorded. Some of the predators you will see during your Uganda safari in Kidepo Valley National Park include;

  • Lions are the most conspicuous predators in the park,
  • Side-striped jackals are common around Apoka safari lodge, and
  • Narus Valley is gaining a reputation for increasingly frequent sightings of
  • Leopards and Spotted hyenas are also present.
  • While Black-backed jackals, Bat-eared foxes, aardwolf, and caracals are not found in any other National Park of Uganda.
  • African wild dogs have been observed to come into the park from Sudan occasionally but are not residents of the park.

Antelopes In Kidepo Valley National Park

About 14 species of antelopes occur in the Kidepo Valley National Park including;

  • Jackson’s hartebeests (common)
  • Bohor reedbucks (common)
  • Oribi (common)
  • Elands (slightly common)
  • The recently introduced Uganda kobs from Murchison Falls National Park
  • Klipspringer
  • Guenther’s dik-dik
  • Greater kudu
  • Lesser kudu
  • Waterbucks (common)
  • Bush duiker, and
  • Grant’s gazelles.
  • Mountain reedbucks
  • Bushbucks

The localized whited-eared kob is an occasional vagrant from South Sudan. The beisa oryx and the roan antelope are believed to have been extirpated from the region.

Other Herbivores In Kidepo Valley National Park

African bush elephants: Kidepo National Park elephant population has surged from 200 in the mid-1990s to over 1000 today.

African buffalos: These are possibly the most numerous ungulates you will see while on a Uganda wildlife safari in Kidepo. The park host an estimated population of around 15,000 buffaloes and herds of up to 1,000 buffalos are often encountered.

Rothschild’s giraffe: Kidepo is an important refuge for the localized Rothschild’s giraffe, which has bred up to more than 50 individuals from a bottleneck mid-1990s population of three, supplemented by another 3 translocated from Kenya.

Also,  to provide a boost to the population’s viability, an additional 14 giraffes (13 females and one male) were translocated to the park in August 2018 from Murchison Falls National Park

Other common herbivores in the park include Burchell’s zebras, Warthogs, and bush pigs.

Primates In Kidepo Valley National Park

Kidepo Valley National Park is home to 5 species of monkeys including

  • The localized ground-dwelling Patas monkeys which are often seen around Apoka safari lodge
  • Baboons
  • Vervet monkeys
  • Red-tailed monkeys, and
  • Black and white colobus

Lions In Kidepo Valley National Park

Kidepo Valley National Park has a thriving and growing Lion Population. It is one of the best places to see lions on tour in Uganda. The lion population in Kidepo is estimated at around 190 individuals.

Africa’s largest predator, the lion ((Panthera leo), weighs up to 190kg. It is one animal that everybody hopes to see on an African safari. An adult lion’s coat is yellow-gold, and juveniles have some light spots that disappear with age. Only male lions typically boast manes, the impressive fringe of long hair that encircles their heads.

Lions tend to travel in prides, which is the name given to groups of lions. A Lion pride consists of up to 30 members.

Lions usually hunt at night and in the pride, it is the females that do the hard work by hunting for meat whilst the males patrol the territory around in order to keep an eye out for the whole pride. Usually, one pride has 2 or 3 male lions.

When not hunting or feeding, lions are remarkably indolent, they spend up to 20 hours of a given day at rest. Lions begin to age and weaken between 10 to 15 years of age at the latest.  A lion’s roar can be heard up to 8 kilometers/5 miles away.

These majestic creatures are the fiercest animals in Africa and are well-known among various tribes in Uganda. The lion is locally known as Empologoma in Luganda local language, Labwor in Lwo, Kami in Lugbara, Italanyi in Lugusu and the Swahili people of Kenya and Tanzania call it Simba.

African Elephants In Kidepo Valley National Park

The African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)  is one of the Uganda animals that many look forward to seeing on a safari in Uganda.

The African elephant is not only the biggest of the Big Five, but it is also the largest animal walking on Earth. They can weigh up to 7,000kg, and stand up to 13 ft. tall. Elephants are instantly recognizable with their large ears, long curved tusks, and unique powerful trunks.

Living in family groups, these graceful-gentle giants are highly social and often visitors on wildlife safaris in Uganda find them very entertaining to watch. Female elephants live in a close-knit family in which the eldest female plays a matriarch over his sisters, daughters, and granddaughters.

Mother-daughter bonds are strong and may last up to 50 years. Males generally leave the family group at around 12 years to roam singly or form bachelor herds.

It is no myth that elephants ‘never forget’. With the largest brain of any land animal, elephants are intelligent mammals. They possess a developed sense of memory that allows them to recognize a long-lost member of their social group.

Additionally, they even grieve for dead relatives and harbor grudges against other elephants – or even people. Elephants have a long life span and typically live 60-70 years in the wild. Kidepo Valley National Park is home to about 700 elephants.

African Buffaloes In Kidepo

If seeing huge herds of  African buffalos is high on your wish list for sightings during the travel to Uganda, visit Kidepo. The total population of buffaloes in Kidepo National park is about 15,000.

The African/Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer), is a large African bovine. Although it looks like a cow, it is never domesticated because of its unpredictable nature and it is regarded as a very dangerous animal because buffaloes are responsible for over 200 human deaths every year.

The buffalo’s horns are its distinctive characteristic; it had fused bases which is a continuous bone shield referred to as a “boss”! They are also part of the ‘Big Five’ and you will find huge herds of them during your Uganda safari and tours in Kidepo national park, moving majestically along the Narus Valley.

Cheetahs In Kidepo Valley National Park

Kidepo Valley National Game Park is one of the only two places where visitors on a wildlife tour in Uganda might see a cheetah, other place is Pian-Upe Wildlife Reserve.

Cheetahs prefer the open grasslands, savannas, and even hills, and mountains – all-terrain found in Kidepo Valley National Park.  The openness of the park with its grasslands fits the Cheetah’s lifestyle and how they hunt, where they run instead of stalking and pouncing like other cats.

Although the leopard is listed as the most elusive of the big cats to locate on safari. In truth, cheetahs on safari can be even more difficult to sight because their population is less abundant.

Regular sightings of cheetahs on safari are usually sporadic and local, hence they are limited to only a few regions where the habitat and predator pressures are most favorable.

Almost everyone knows that this greyhound of the cat family is the fastest land animal on the planet – reaching speeds of 120km/h.

But this cat also has many other remarkable qualities. In fact, the cheetah’s unique body structure, long legs, flexible spine, semi-retractable claws, and long tail are what allow this incredible creature to achieve unbelievable speed.

Thanks to their tremendous speed, cheetahs are among the most successful hunters. However, the advantage of speed comes with a lack of strength to fight the lions and hyenas and they usually snatch his food from him.

2. Birds In Kidepo Valley National Park

With over 475 bird species, Kidepo Valley National Park has the second-highest population of any Ugandan protected area, following only Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Raptors are particularly well represented with about 56 species recorded, of which the most commonly observed include;

  • Dark chanting goshawk
  • Pygmy falcon
  • Tawny eagle
  • Bateleur eagle, and
  • Several types of vultures such as Egyptian vultures, White-headed vultures, and others

Kidepo Valley National Park also supports East Africa’s only population of Clapperton’s francolin and the spectacular African rose-ringed parakeet. Other birds that must be regarded as Kidepo Valley National Park special include;

  • Common ostrich
  • Secretary bird
  • Fox kestrel
  • Greater kestrel
  • Abyssinian roller
  • Abyssinian Scimitarbill
  • Abyssinian Ground Hornbill
  • White-billed go-away bird
  • Northern carmine bee-eater
  • Little green bee-eater
  • Red and yellow barbet
  • Black-breasted barbet
  • D’Arnaud’s barbet
  • Kori bustard
  • Karamoja Apalis
  • Northern red-billed hornbill
  • Eastern yellow-billed hornbill
  • Jackson’s hornbill
  • Rofous chatterer
  • Purple grenadier
  • Golden pipit
  • Chestnut weaver
  • Purple Heron, etc

Ostriches In Kidepo Valley National Park

As noted above, Kidepo is the National park where you can see ostriches while on your Uganda tour. The ostrich is the largest feathered creature on Earth.

It belongs to the ratite family, along with its similarly flightless cousins such as emus, cassowaries, and kiwis. It is also the holder of many other records for example;

Ostriches are the fastest birds on land and can reach a speed of 70km. This is not only the fastest land speed of any bird, and the fastest of any two-legged creature, but also faster than most birds can fly.

An ostrich’s eggs are the largest of any bird: up to 15cm long and weighing up to 1.4kg. They are 20 times the size of a domestic chicken. Nonetheless, they are the smallest eggs of any bird – in relation to their body size.

Ostriches have the largest eyes of any land animal, measuring up to 5cm across. This helps them to perceive predators at a great distance. Heavy eyelashes help shield them from the sun.

Secretary Birds In Kidepo Valley National Park

The secretary bird is one of Africa’s weirdest birds. It struts about the savannah with the head of an eagle and the legs of a stork. In reality, it is a bird of prey – with a family all to itself. The Secretary bird possesses a snake-killing prowess that is the stuff of legend.

Snakes form only a small part of the secretary bird’s diet, which also includes insects, small mammals, birds’ eggs, crabs, and other reptiles.

Secretary birds use the thickened soles of their feet to stamp on their prey, stunning it, and then swallowing it whole.

Studies of the secretary bird’s feeding technique helped scientists to shed light on the hunting strategies of the prehistoric ‘terror birds’. These were giant flightless predators that roamed the planet over 3 million years ago.

There are different theories about the origins of the secretary bird’s name. One holds that the feathers behind the bird’s head reminded 19th-century Europeans of the quill pens that secretaries tucked behind their ears. It is more likely, however, that the name derives from the Arabic saqr-et-tair or ‘hunter bird’.

3. Narus Valley In Kidepo National Park

The name Narus means ‘muddy’ in Karimong local dialect. Narus Valley is a rolling, grassland plain enclosed by distant mountains.

Wildlife here is prolific throughout the year, but doubly so in the later dry season (January to March) when Narus River is the only reliable source of water for miles around.

The lion Rock within the valley is often frequented by lions and the crocodile pond often attracts huge herds of buffaloes and reliably hosts a profusion of water birds including;

  • African jacana
  • Yellow-billed stork
  • White-faced whistling duck
  • Various herons and egrets

Also, herds of 20 to 30 elephants often come to drink in the Narus River in the morning before marching back to more remote grazing grounds in the afternoon.

A unique feature of the Narus Valley is the spectacular thousand-strong herds of buffaloes that are frequently encountered around Apoka, generally preferring wooded savannah to open grassland.

These buffaloes are the main prey to the Kidepo Valley National Park population of around 190 lions which currently include two large prides of more than 20 individuals each.

Lions in Kidepo National Park are often seen on the park’s trademark granite outcrop which they use as lookout points. The Narus Valley is also gaining popularity for increasingly frequent sightings of Cheetahs. Other large mammals that can be found in Kidepo Valley National Park include;

  • Burchell’s zebras
  • Rothchild’s Giraffe
  • Waterbuck
  • Bohor reedbuck
  • Warthogs
  • Jackson’s hartebeest
  • Oribis
  • Elands

Birders can look for Clapperton’s francolin and the spectacular African rose-ringed parakeet, most especially around Apoka. Other unique bird species to look for in Narus Valley include;

  • Abyssinian ground hornbill
  • Superb starling
  • Bateleur
  • Meyer’s parrot, and
  • Black coucal (only seen in the rainy season)

4. Kidepo Valley And Kanangorok Hot Springs

Kidepo National Park was named after the magnificent Kidepo River within the Kidepo Valley. Kidepo valley is famous for the scenic Borassus palm tree a delicacy of elephants as well as indigenous communities; they are beautifully scattered all through the valley.

Possibly, the name ‘Kidepo’ is a derivative of the Karamonjong ‘akidep’ which means ‘to pick’, and as the Kidepo Valley was frequented by people traveling to collect ripe Borassus palm fruits from the Borassus palm trees that line the Kidepo River.

Wildlife is sparse in Kidepo Valley, partly because the valley is drier than Narus Valley and partly as a result of poaching.

Worth a visit is the beautiful seasonal Kidepo River itself, lined by lovely Borassum palm trees. The river is completely dry for most time of the year and its 50 meters wide course is a swathe of white sand.

About 11 kilometers from Kidepo River on the Sudan border is found the Kanangorok Hot Springs, a glorious place to sit and view the mountains beyond the frontier. The hot spring water is about 50°C temperature hot.

The local people believe that the water in Kanangorok hot springs contains some healing powers or spiritual cleansing hence visitors can find some people bathing therein. The thicket bush that surrounds the Hotsprings harbors lesser and greater kudus and it is the place to look out for;

  • Uganda’s only population of Ostriches
  • Secretary birds
  • Jackson’s hornbills, and
  • Speckle fronted weavers

5. Mount Morungole In Kidepo Valley National Park

Mount Morungole (also known as the IK land) stands at 2,750m on the eastern border of Kidepo Valley National Park.

This forest-swathed range is best known as the main stronghold of Uganda’s last population of around 10,000 IK people (the smallest ethnic group in Uganda, with their own unique culture) who hold the mountain sacred. This region can be explored on foot with a ranger.

6. Namamukweny Valley In Kidepo Valley National Park

Namamukweny is a Napore word meaning “a place with no birds or a lonely place with few people”. However, regarding the birds, quite the opposite is true. The valley is inhabited by a large number of bird species such as;

  • Eastern Paradise Whydah
  • White-crested Turaco
  • Common Bulbul
  • Abyssinian Roller, and
  • Green-Wood Hoopoe, etc.

Namamukweny Valley is located northwest of the park and can be accessed by car or on foot.

2. People And Culture At Kidepo Valley National Park

Several communities of people live around Kidepo Valley National Park; these include,

  • The Karamojong people
  • The IK people
  • The Acholi and other tribes.

The Karamojong People

The name Karamojong was derived from the phrase “ekar ngimojong”, meaning “the old men can walk no further”. The Karamojong people are Uganda’s most distinctive tribe known for their love for cattle and cattle rustling and their resistance to the trappings of the modern world.

They take a lot of pride in their culture and customs, harbor foreign interference with their traditional lifestyle, and view new trends in life, travel, education, technology, dress, fashion, housing, medicines, religion, and several others as unnecessary inconveniences.

This cattle-herding group of people lives on the edge of Kidepo Valley National park in their manyattas (villages) surrounded by sharp thorns, with small entry points for people and a larger entry point for cattle.

History Of The Karamojong People

The Karamonjo people originated from a southern migration by the Jie, an Abyssinian pastoralists tribe 300-400 years ago. On reaching the Kenyan-Ugandan-Sudanese border region, the Jie split to create the Toposa of Southern Sudan, the Turkana of Kenya, and the Dodoth of northern Karamoja.

Then some of the Turkan Jie crossed the mountains that line the present-day border between Kenyans to the plains of northeastern Uganda.

Some groups remained around Kotido as the Uganda Jie. Others continued further, until the aged parents among them became fed up with walking, the gist of the word ‘Karamojonjo’ meaning ‘the old men can walk no further’ or  “the old men sat down”.

The youth among them continued a nomadic lifestyle further southwards, reportedly consisting of seven groups or clans who settled in today’s southern Karamoja, eventually merging to become the three clans now existing: the Matheniko in the east around Moroto mountain, the Pian in the south and the Bokora in the west.

However, a significantly sized group went west and formed the Iteso, the Kumam, and the Langi. It was actually this group who were said to have used the phrase “the old men can walk no farther”.

Karamojong Culture

More recently, to more Westernized Ugandans, Karamojong was something of an embarrassment. The common view was that they were a backward lot, who ran around naked, and half-century ago, the latter was absolutely true.

The attire of male Karamojongs comprised solely of an elaborated style hairdo, a feathered headdress, a small T-shaped stool, and a spear, while the female dress was represented by a heavy roll of neck beads and a bit of a skirt.

These minimalist styles were pushed underground in the 1970s when dictator Idi Amin Dada sent soldiers to impose Western dress on Karamonjongs at gunpoint.

Men took to wearing, at the very best, a light blanket/cloak, usually of a striped or-interestingly given the suggestion of a Gaelic connection-tartan pattern.

During the 1990s, this was frequently worn as a sole item of clothing but these days, some additional layers now seem mandatory, most obviously in the undercarriage department.

Despite expanding wardrobes and pressure from Kampala to join the modern world, most rular Karamojongs remain true to their traditional way of life.

Communities still commonly inhabit manyattas; traditional homesteads in which concentric defensive rings of thorny brushwood surround a central compound containing huts, granaries, and cattle pens.

Unlike the rest of Uganda, some semblance of the cultural dress remains part of everyday attire. For men, this is epitomized by the cloak and some form of the Western hat with ostrich feathers added to indicate status.

Though the great-headed ruffs of yesteryear are less common, neck beads remain very much in vogue with the ladies.

Karamojong Language

The language of the Karamojongo people (Ngakarimojong) is an interesting and seemingly ancient curiosity. Scotsman John Wilson, who lived in and around Karamoja for 30 years, has identified numerous words and phrases of similar meaning in Ngakarimojong and Gaelic.

Subsequent investigation has identified further similarities with other widely spaced languages including Hebrew, Spanish, Sumerian, Akkadian, and Tibetan among others.

For example, we have a bot (a house in Gaelic) and eboot (a temporary dwelling in Ngakarimojong); cainnean (live embers in Gaelic), and ekeno (a fireplace in Ngakarimojong).

The Spanish word corral, for a circular stock enclosure, is uncannily close to the Ngakarimojong synonym ekorr, and the Spanish ajorar for ‘theft of cattle’ is not dissimilar to the Ngakarimojong ajore meaning ‘cattle raid’.

The thinking is that these various, far-flung modern languages are legacies of a common tongue spoken by the ancient human population, presumably before the Tower of Babel incident and perhaps as far as back as the late Pleistocene.

A Visit To The Karamajong People

If you’re on a Uganda safari tour to Kidepo, a visit to Karamajong Manyattas can be included in your Uganda safari itinerary. There is such a rich culture in these homesteads that have been preserved over the centuries and has not been eroded by civilization.

The Karamojong is proud of its traditional lifestyle. They highly value their traditional beliefs and have rejected outside religions such as Christianity and Islam. To them, Akuj is still the god of their faith who they believe gave them the birthright of all the cattle in the Karamoja region and the world beyond.

They consider cattle royalty and it is the measure of a man. The number of cows the family head possesses is a sign of wealth, prestige, and social status symbol.

These people believed and many still believe that all the cattle in their known world or their area of existence were given to them by their god Akuj and that the cattle of the neighboring tribes were also theirs.

This belief is probably the root of years and years of tribal wars and cattle rustling because the neighboring tribes have the same belief.

The IK People (The mountain people), Kidepo

You will need an early morning start to climb up into the Monrungole Mountains for a visit with the mysterious Ik people. The climb is steep, part of the adventure of the day.

The IK is the smallest ethnic group in Africa, of between 10,000 to 11,000 people. In the local language, “IK” loosely translates to “the first to migrate here”.

True to the meaning of their name, they were the first settlers in the region possibly running away from their warrior neighbors.

The Mountain people, the IK are traditional hunter-gatherers who probably migrated from present-day Ethiopia and speak a unique language quite different from the Karamojong tongue.

Today the IK rank among the most marginalized and isolated Ugandans, having been forced to turn to subsistence farming and beekeeping in response to outside factors such as their eviction from Kidepo Valley National Park and victimization from Karamoja cattle raiders.

But they also retain a strong sense of tradition, with ritual hunts for the small game being several times of the year, usually over the period between January and February.

The IK people became famous in 1972 when British-American anthropologist Colin Turnbull published his book “The mountain people” in which he described the  IK people he comes across as people who did not love.

However, a visit to one of the IK villages on mount Morungole will disapprove of that, they are loving and welcoming and Turnbull simply got it wrong. Like the Batwa people of southwestern Uganda, IK people still practice their ancient ways.

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