Our recent trip to Uganda has led me to reflect a bit about the process and experience of wildlife watching. Back home in the UK, my approach usually centres on stealth. I try to be as quiet as possible, wear clothing that will blend in, and stay downwind of my target. In Uganda, for at least some species, a different approach was needed.
This came home most strongly on a safari walk in Lake Mburu National Park, where we were looking for antelopes and zebra. I turned up in my safari gear, ready for a couple of hours of hushed observation. Then our guide explained that it was important to keep talking. The animals are suspicious of quiet humans (and leopards), as predators tend to use stealth to creep up at attack them. By talking, and trying not to be stealthy, they knew where we were, and that we were unlikely to pose much of a threat.
Generally, when wildlife watching, my ideal is to see animals oblivious to my presence, behaving ‘naturally’. Being in a car really helped with this – most animals paid very little attention to us when we were out on drives. But one of the most vivid memories of my trip was not like that.
We were in the Inshasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, famed for tree climbing lions. Our car was stopped by a tree, and we were watching a male lion who was sleeping in the branches. Eventually he woke, fidgeted a bit, then, hearing a noise in the distance, became alert, using smell, sight and sound. After satisfying himself about whatever it was that was happening in the distance, he turned a long, intense gaze straight at me. It’s quite disconcerting having such a large, powerful predator look you straight in the eyes. We both knew who was top cat.