Changing Planet

The Great Water Wall: Murchison Falls (Fishy Ugandan Tales: Episode 5)

I have been at Lake Nabugabo in Uganda for over a month now spending most of my time looking for Nile perch, east Africa’s most important fishery.  This fish, locally known as ‘Mputa’, has only been around here since the 50’s, when it in was introduced to the Lake Victoria basin for sport fishing and as a food resource.

Before the 50’s, Nile perch were only found downstream from here, in the waters of the Nile. I had often wondered why this was the case when Lake Victoria would clearly have made an excellent habitat for them. Recently, I found out that Murchison Falls, a powerful waterfall along the Nile, was too difficult for them to swim through, preventing their spread into Lake Victoria.

Curious about these falls, I decided to travel north to visit them.

Murchison Falls
Murchison Falls

During my visit to these falls and the national park that surrounds them, I discovered a number of other animals that inhabit the varied ecosystems of Uganda.

Hippo, Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

Just below Murchison Falls, these grazers can often be found hanging in the waters of the Nile. At night, this hippo, a nocturnal feeder, will emerge and spend the entire evening searching for grass.

On the banks of the Nile, hundreds of birds can be observed. Although I had imagined this type of diversity, I never would have guessed that birds could also live peacefully alongside buffalos, crocodiles, and elephants.

Buffalo and Hadada Ibis
Buffalo and Hadada Ibis
Yellow-billed stork, great cormorants and… crocodile!
Yellow-billed stork, great cormorants and… crocodile!

Below, this elephant seems to be up to something on this tree. Originally, I thought this individual might be starting to push over this tree to access its leaves for food, and that this type of activity could contribute to changes in forest extent.  After conversing with some scientists that study elephants in Kibale National Park, here in Uganda, I learnt that they can play a role in forest dynamics, but usually only when a number of other factors such as fires, climate change and logging are a play.

In addition to this, apparently elephants rarely push over trees to access their leaves for food. Currently, some researchers believe that they might actually push over trees for “fun”, because they are angry, or simply to practice using their tusks!

Elephants, Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

 

Giraffe, Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

Notice how dark the spots on this giraffe are?   In this species, coloration is often correlated with age: the darker the spots, the older the individual.

These two male cobs are preparing to duel, fighting to acquire mating opportunities.

Cob face-off
Cob face-off

 

Cob duel
Cob duel

 

While famous for their hunting, lions are often seen close to cobs. They don’t always pose a threat to antelopes because they spend a great deal of their time resting, and generally only hunt at dusk and dawn. Here, they sit calmly close to a cob breading ground.

Lions, Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

Lions, Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

 

Ugandan Sunset, Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
Ugandan Sunset, Murchison Falls National Park

…Now, back at Lake Nabugabo, more fishy tales to come soon!

 

Since as far as I can remember I've spent my time outside attempting to understand and connect with the natural world that surrounds us. When it came time to make a career choice, this lead me toward research in ecology and conservation, topics that are of fundamental importance to me. I completed a Bachelors degree in Environmental Sciences at the University of Ottawa in 2011, during which I studied the effects anthropogenic traffic noise on birdsong; discovering the impacts human activity has on even the most unexpected aspects of animal life! I then completed a cross-Canada canoe journey in partnership with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society & the Ottawa Riverkeeper Alliance raising funds and awareness for watershed conservation. Between 2012 & 2014 I studied mercury contamination in African freshwater fish as part of a Masters degree in Biology at McGill University. (The stories in this blog series are from my field work in Uganda!) Following this, I spent time developing Science Faction, a podcast all about unbelievable discoveries and creating an urban beekeeping collective in Montreal, Canada, with which we teach locals about beekeeping and pollinator gardens. Today, I'm working on a PhD in the department of Natural Resource Sciences at McGill University, during which I will explore questions related to riverine ecosystem service conservation.
  • Kimbowa Richard (@rkimbowa)

    I do not think elephants are one deforestation actors. Rather they are feeding on their natural food sources. As a natural process, the trees normally regenerate, esp if the elephant habitats are not restricted by human influence

    • Thank you for the comment! After hearing your concerns I decided to ask some questions to a scientist studying elephants in the Kibale National Park here in Uganda. I found out that you were indeed right about elephants alone not truly being a source of deforestation. I’ve corrected this post to try and clear up why elephants push over trees and how this can affect forest ecology.

    • Thank you for the comment! After hearing your concerns I decided to ask some questions to a scientist studying elephants in the Kibale National Park here in Uganda. I found out that you were indeed right about elephants alone not truly being a source of deforestation. I’ve corrected this post to try and clear up why elephants push over trees and how this can affect forest ecology.

  • Kimbowa Richard (@rkimbowa)

    I do not think elephants are one deforestation actors. Rather they are feeding on their natural food sources. As a natural process, the trees normally regenerate, esp if the elephant habitats are not restricted by human influence

  • Sanat Kumar Kar

    Wonderful! Thanks to the photographer and commentator for furnishing these beautiful pictures with notes.

  • Sanat Kumar Kar

    Wonderful! Thanks to the photographer and commentator for furnishing these beautiful pictures with notes.

  • Rui Santos de Souza

    Beautiful and Majestic!

  • Rui Santos de Souza

    Beautiful and Majestic!

  • Renee and Gary

    Gary and I visited Murchison Falls. In fact we spent a week there. Magical…

  • Renee and Gary

    Gary and I visited Murchison Falls. In fact we spent a week there. Magical…

  • Mamerito

    What a magnificent article about the Murchison Falls and the Murchison Falls National Park conservation area. Thank you for visiting our country. We hope to host you here soon. You might consider visiting Kidepo Valley National Park, on your next travels to Uganda! Its a awesome wildlife & nature conservation area.

  • Mamerito

    What a magnificent article about the Murchison Falls and the Murchison Falls National Park conservation area. Thank you for visiting our country. We hope to host you here soon. You might consider visiting Kidepo Valley National Park, on your next travels to Uganda! Its a awesome wildlife & nature conservation area.

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