The most famous description of Uganda comes from no less a figure than Winston Churchill who, in My African Journey described the country as “the pearl of Africa.” Honestly, Sir Winston was writing from the standpoint of a colonial power, evaluating the spoils…but his description still has merit. Uganda is a lush, beautiful land blessed with fertile, well-watered soil upon which at least a little rain falls in almost every month of the year.
These conditions, obviously excellent for crops and livestock, are also fantastic for wildlife. Although a relatively small country—slightly smaller than Oregon—Uganda offered a wide range of species from great to small, and in the 1960s emerged as a “new” safari destination, still within the British realm, but offering an alternative to long-established operations in Kenya and Tanganyika. I well remember corresponding with Brian Herne (of Uganda Safari fame!) when I was shopping for my own first safari. I recall that, until very late in the game, a major drawing card in Uganda was ‘five buffalo on license!’
Unfortunately, a charismatic psychopath named Idi Amin emerged at about the same time. From a legal standpoint safari hunting never really stopped in Uganda; it just became untenable under Amin’s regime and fizzled out in the mid-1970s. Fast-forward thirty years, which saw civil war, intervention by Tanzania, and finally stability. Hunting is open again, but Uganda is not the wildlife paradise it once was. The human population has increased tremendously, with wildlife pushed into parks and enclaves. This is not necessarily negative, just a fact that prospective hunters must understand: hunting in Uganda today is not the same as it was in 1970.
That said, it is very good in certain areas for certain species. Today Uganda, with perhaps five fledgling outfitters operating something over a dozen viable hunting areas, some private and some government land, is very much a specialized hunting destination. Most areas offer just a couple of key species, but this is mitigated by an excellent road network and good internal communications. While Uganda is not currently a ‘general bag’ destination— and probably won’t be in the near future— the game that is available is very good, and includes a number of great prizes. East African sitatunga are extremely numerous along papyrus-lined rivers on the mainland. Uganda may well be the best place in Africa to hunt sitatunga! More difficult is the Sesse Island sitatunga, found on the Sesse Islands of Lake Victoria, but current success is at least as good as it was forty years ago.
Nile bushbuck are common and well distributed, and in the north-west there are several good pockets of western kob. Nile buffalo are difficult, but there are pockets in the north-west and a great reservoir in Murchison Falls National Park. Jackson’s hartebeest is much the same. On the north-east side, east of the Great Rift Valley, one finds pockets of very good Cape buffalo, along with some ‘East African’ species—big impala, eland—and rarities such as Guenther’s dik-dik and Chanler’s mountain reedbuck. ‘Common game’ is limited, but includes East African bush duiker, oribi, warthog, bushpig, and Eastern bohor reedbuck, all of which are very plentiful.
The return of hunting has brought greater protection and development, but all is still in at best in a toddler status. The hunting currently available is good…but the potential is unlimited, and the country is friendly and seemingly pro-hunting. It’s a good picture now, but look for it to improve rapidly!