If you’re a wildlife lover, you may well have dreamed of taking a trip to Africa to take in the glory of its amazing animal species. There really is nothing like the thrill of seeing a leopard on the hunt, a hippo wallowing in a river, or a giraffe wrapping its long tongue round an acacia branch. But when people think about going on an African safari, Uganda’s animals are often overlooked in favour of more celebrated countries like Tanzania and Kenya. And that’s a mistake. Because Uganda has an astonishing array of magnificent animals, all living in some of the most stunning landscapes to be found anywhere on the continent.
WHY GO TO SEE ANIMALS IN UGANDA
Uganda has 10 national parks, 12 wildlife reserves, 5 community wildlife management areas and 13 wildlife sanctuaries. And these parks and sanctuaries are teeming with life – with around 345 species of mammal – including more than half the world’s endangered mountain gorillas – and over 1000 species of birds . So there’s definitely no shortage of amazing animals to spot in Uganda!
There are plenty of ways to see them too – whether it’s a traditional game drive in a car with a pop-up roof, a horseback safari, river cruise, mountain hike, primate habituation experience or guided forest trek.
So here’s my complete list of the top Amazing Animals to See in Uganda! I took these photos on a a single , 2-week trip around Uganda so rest assured that with a bit of luck you really can get to see all this fantastic wildlife on your visit to this beautiful country.
UGANDA ANIMALS: PRIMATES
1/ MOUNTAIN GORILLA
No round up of Ugandan animals could possibly start anywhere else than with the country’s star attraction: the legendary mountain gorilla. Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) are so critically endangered that there are fewer than 1000 of them left in the world, and Uganda is one of the last places on earth you can see them. That’s why for many visitors, the chance to hike to see the gorillas is THE reason to come to Uganda.
Seeing them is such a thrill not only because they are among our nearest cousins, sharing 98% of our DNA, but also because they are so rare. As humans have expanded ever further into their mountainous territory, and poaching and conflict continues to threaten them, their numbers have decreased. But there is hope: thanks to more awareness and conservation efforts, their numbers are on the rise again. It may be alarmingly expensive to go and see them, but it costs that much for a reason: your money is helping to secure the future of these gorgeous creatures.
Where to see gorillas in Uganda
The main place to see gorillas in Uganda is in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in the west of the country, though it’s also possible to see them in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. At Bwindi there are four gorilla trekking centres: Buhoma, Ruhija ,Rushaga and Nkuringo. Each sector has a small number of habituated families. The price is the same wherever you go, so where you end up depends on your personal preferences and what permits are available. Buhoma is the most easily accessible and therefore the most popular area.
Gorilla trekking may be Uganda’s top attraction, but the chance to see chimpanzees up close in the wild is no less thrilling. Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are our closest animal relatives (they share 99% of our DNA), and when you see them in real life, with their intelligent faces and the way they move and act like humans, it’s impossible not to see the similarities. In fact there are many ways in which chimpanzees are just like us. They make and use tools to hunt and feed; they’re very sociable and enjoy bonding and grooming; and they communicate with verbal and non-verbal expressions like hand and facial gestures.
There are around 300,000 chimpanzees in the forest of equatorial Africa, of which around 5000 live in Uganda. Over the years, scientists have spent time with some of the groups, gently getting them used to the presence of humans so they can study them more closely. This process is called habituation, and means that visitors can now also get the chance to get close to these incredible creatures without scaring them off.
Where to see chimpanzees in Uganda
The most popular place to see chimpanzees in Uganda is in Kibale Forest, where there are around 1500 chimpanzees. However you can also see them at Kalinzu Forest and Kyambura Gorge near Queen Elizabeth National Park, Budongo Forest (Murchison Falls National Park), and Semuliki Wildlife Reserve.
If you want to find out more, I also wrote about chimpanzee trekking for Lonely Planet.
3/ BLACK-AND-WHITE COLOBUS MONKEY (AND OTHER PRIMATES)
Uganda is home to at least 18 different species of primate, including the black-and-white and the red colobus monkey, blue monkey, red-tailed monkey, L’Hoest’s, De Brazza’s, vervet and golden monkey, as well as some smaller nocturnal species like the bushbaby and potto.
Black-and-white colobus monkeys are particularly common. The name ‘colobus’, which means ‘mutilated’ in Greek, comes from the fact that unlike other primates they have no thumbs. Baby colobus are born completely white; they develop their distinctive black markings at around three months. They particularly enjoy eating young leaves, making them easy to spot around the edges of Uganda’s forests.
Where to see monkeys in Uganda
Monkeys are one of the most common animals in Uganda, especially in the national parks. With their striking colouring and long hair, the black-and-white colobus are particularly eye-catching, though you’ll probably see vervets, blue and red-tailed monkeys if you keep your eyes peeled. Kibale Forest is said to be the primate capital of Uganda, but Queen Elizabeth National Park is another great place to see monkeys, and you will also spot them in Bwindi and many of the smaller forested parks.
4/ OLIVE BABOON
As you travel around Uganda you will definitely see olive baboons (Papio anubis) along the roadside. Baboons seem to show no fear of humans and can be quite alarming when they eye up or even approach your car, hoping for food. They live in groups of up to 150, made up of lots of females with their young, headed up by a few dominant males. While the babies can be pretty cute, the largest males can weigh up to 50 kg and be quite aggressive.
Baboons are native in 25 countries right across equatorial Africa, and are listed as a species of ‘least concern’ by the. International Union for Conservation of Nature One of the reasons for their abundance is the fact that they’re omnivorous, eating just about everything they come across, from insects, small mammals and birds to leaves, roots, grass, flowers and fruit. They also hunt small rodents and other primates, and come into conflict with humans when they raid crops and orchards.
Where to see baboons in Uganda
You can find baboons in all of the national parks apart from Mgahinga, Rwenzori Mountains and Mount Elgon and they’re frequently seen by the side of the road or scavenging near populated areas. I spotted this guy while out for a run near Queen Elizabeth National Park.
UGANDA ANIMALS: CARNIVORES
5/ AFRICAN LION
The lion (Panthera leo) is one of the safari ‘Big Five’ and for good reason – their grace, power and beauty is truly exhilarating to see. If you’re lucky enough to see a pride on the hunt, it’s an experience you’ll never forget. After gorillas, lions are the most popular Ugandan animal. A recent study found that a single lion in Queen Elizabeth National Park can generate about US$ 13,500 a year in tourism revenue for the country.
Where to see lions in Uganda
Not all of Uganda’s national parks are home to lions, but the best places to spot them are Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park. There are also a few in Lake Mburo National and Semliki Wildlife Reserve, but they are rarely seen.
In the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park the lions have developed the unusual habit of climbing trees – earning them the title of ‘The famous Ishasha tree-climbing lions’. Most lions don’t climb trees except in extreme circumstances, so the chance to see tree-climbing lions is definitely not to be missed! And what’s great is that not only is it much easier to spot and photograph a lion when he’s sitting up in a tree, but the lions will tend to rest there for most of the day, giving you ample opportunity to spend time with them.
6/ AFRICAN LEOPARD
The African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) is native to sub-Saharan Africa, but compared with lions they’re not an easy animal to spot in Uganda due to their solitary nature. Lions travel in prides and frequently hunt during the daytime, while leopards operate alone. They’re also mainly nocturnal and spend their days resting in trees, caves or long grass where their stunning spotted coat helps camouflage them, making them difficult to see. But when you do see a leopard, it really is a jaw-dropping experience!
Where to see leopards in Uganda
Leopards can be found in Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Lake Mburo, Kidepo and Semiliki National Parks. I was lucky enough to see this one at around 5 pm resting in a tree in Queen Elizabeth National Park, and hand on heart it was one of the most thrilling moments of my entire Ugandan experience.
7/ SPOTTED HYENA
The spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) is the most common large carnivore in Africa. There are between 27,000 and 47,000 spotted hyenas in sub-Saharan Africa, and although they are nocturnal, your chances of seeing one on your Uganda safari are relatively high. They’re such a successful species because they eat almost anything – they’re primarily hunters but they also scavenge and they can consume an entire carcass including the bones and skin. They hunt in groups of 2-5 and can chase their prey for several kilometres at speeds of up to 60 km per hour.
Spotted hyenas are also known as laughing hyenas because of the weird barking noise they make. This is one way they alert other members of the pack to a potential food source and the sound can be heard up to three miles away.
Where to see spotted hyenas in Uganda
For the best chance to see these fascinating Ugandan animals, head to Lake Mburo, Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls or Kidepo National Parks.
UGANDA ANIMALS: HERBIVORES
8/ AFRICAN ELEPHANT
Of all the animals in Uganda, elephants are the big one – literally! Uganda is home to both African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) and the smaller forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis).
Elephants are the largest animals on land and can live up to the age of around 70. They’re sociable, caring, intelligent animals that live in family groups led by a female. They travel hundreds of miles foraging for food – a single adult can consume up to 350 kgs of vegetation and around 200 litres of water in a single day to they need to roam far and wide to get it. Because of they way they strip trees, turn over soil and fertilise the ground with their dung, they play a key role in the renewal and survival of ecosystems.
Sadly, due to heavy poaching, the population of this beautiful animal in Uganda collapsed from about 30,000 elephants in the 1960s to around 2,000 in the 1980s. Thanks to conservation efforts, numbers have now increased to about 5,000, though recovery is slow. A single female elephant only has one calf about every 9 years so it will take a long time for Uganda to see the numbers it once did.
Where to see elephants in Uganda
In a single afternoon in Murchison Falls we saw about 20 elephants, while in Queen Elizabeth we must have seen over 100! You can also see savanna elephants in Kidepo, and if you want to see forest elephants, head for Bwindi and Kibale forests (though they are much harder to spot).
You can also get friendly with two elephants that were rescued as babies in Uganda Wildlife Education Centre.
Meet and greet mountain gorillas in their natural environment the stunning afromontane forest of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Discover the rich biodiversity of Uganda in Queen Elizabeth National Game Park. This Safari Guarantees you Lion hunting Experience
Enjoy a wonderful safari to Uganda's largest game park and see the most powerful fall in the world. The Hub for Wildlife in Africa
Amazing animals in Uganda