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Cats’ cradle

Laura Griffith-Jones travels to Ishasha, in the isolated south of Queen Elizabeth National Park, to experience a true Ugandan wilderness and seek its fabled tree-climbing lions
SLEEPING LIONS: The Ishasha Sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park is famous for its tree-climbing lions
LAURA GRIFFITH-JONES

The wide-open savannah of the north of Queen Elizabeth National Park is broken only by acacias, giant cacti and herds of buffalo, topi and Uganda kob, backed by the mystical Rwenzori Mountains. The scenery transforms as we drive towards Ishasha, in the park’s far-flung south-west; and soon we are passing through dense forest inhabited by elephant, red-tailed and vervet monkeys. Then Lake Edward, known as Mwitanzigye (meaning the ‘killer of locusts’), opens up before us like a mirage; beyond it lies the Congo. Ishasha derives from the word ‘plains’, and soon we are immersed in miles of feathery elephant grass tickled by the wind. It’s May, Uganda’s wettest month, so lilac and white flowers speck the unspoilt, undulating countryside.

Morning has broken. Uganda kob and grey crowned-cranes roam Ishasha’s verdant plains
LAURA GRIFFITH-JONES

QE, named after the British monarch following her visit in 1954, lies in the heart of the Albertine Rift Valley, where the snaking Kazinga Channel joins Lakes Edward and George. The 1978sq-km park has a rich and diverse ecosystem, boasting five types of vegetation — tropical forest, woodland, savannah, swamps and thicket — so it’s perhaps no surprise that it harbours 95 mammal, nine primate (including chimpanzees), 35 reptile and 614 bird species. As a result, thousands of visitors are drawn here each year, but most make a terrible mistake: they stick to the more accessible (and thus more touristy) north rather than venturing south, where the landscape is wilder, the cars are fewer and where lions climb trees.

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About Travel Africa

Come rain or shine - how the seasons affect your safari experience • On foot in Mana Pools • 5 Amazing islands in Mozambique • Guide to Tanzania's Udzungwa Mountains • South Africa's emotive Battlefields • Why Tsavo West? • Tree-climbing lions in Uganda • Cultural journey through Côte d'Ivoire... and much more!
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