A ranger-led walk in Maramagambo Forest, Uganda

Photo of Robert Ntegeka
By Robert Ntegeka, Rangerin Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

Robert Ntegeka is a ranger currently based at Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. He led a group from the Queen Elizabeth Parks Twinning Project on a walk through Maramagambo Forest.

Looking up at colobus monkeys in the canopy of Marmagambo Forest

Our journey to Maramagambo commenced at about 11:25am from the parking point at the Mweya peninsula. With our senior drivers, Adam Stanley and Ronnie Bwambale in control, we swiftly set off to the estimated 440sq km, semi-deciduous Maramagambo Forest which lies in the southern part of Queen Elizabeth National Park. We drove through the 22km long channel track to the forest.

At Maramagambo we were cordially received by Harriet Agaba, ranger guide at the Nyamusingiri out-post. The fact that she was feeling unwell meant she was unable to conduct the walk herself. We soon agreed and I had to take full charge. Maramagambo being an old home to me meant I had come to remind myself of what I used to do there way back 2009-2010.

The start

Without further ado, I armed myself with an AK47, rifles are obligatory on walks. After a short briefing near the former office, we set off. Kamiranjojo was the first trail we started with which connects to the celebrated bat cave. Our first major sighting was the black and white colobus monkeys. They were grooming each other, some relaxed and the rest having siesta. Many bird species were also heard making various calls.

Before crossing river Kamiranjojo to connect to the bat cave, we took a short break near the river to orient ourselves with the trail map. Later, we started crossing off one by one the stoned ‘bridge’. There was also high team spirit as Steve Peach was sighted helping Jan cross over. After everyone crossing successfully, we took a few pictures and also enjoyed the sound of the whispering river.

Connecting to the cave

Entrance to bat cave in Maramagambo Forest

Before I announced that we were soon approaching the bat cave, everyone seemed aware because the offensive smell of the bat droppings and urine had already welcomed us. On arrival at the cave, members took pictures and videos and enjoyed the sound of the thousands of the fruit bats in the cave. They were either hooked up on the ‘ceiling’ of the cave or flying about. On our wish list was also the resident African rock pythons which are known to feed on the bats in the cave. Our dream was however cut short after failing to see these enormous creatures. We were still convinced that the pythons indeed live in the cave as their skin peel offs were seen. After making our summary at the cave, we walked back to the camp to prepare for the Kyasanduka trail.

At the Kyasanduka trail

On the trail by Kyasanduka Crater Lake

In the Kinyaruguru dialect Kyasanduka means ‘unexpected’. It is known that in the past the neighbouring Kakoni community used to fetch water from a small river in the forest. One day it was observed that a big water body was seen instead of the usual small one, something that surprised many hence Kyasanduka or unexpected. The trail goes round the Kyasanduka Crater Lake and takes about one and half hour to walk it to the end. The beginning part of this trail is on grassland. Before entering the forest, there is an alternative of branching off to the nearby Kakoni community. We opted to pass there in order to appreciate the community activities and how they go about life. It is from Kakoni where one gets a good glimpse of the Kabukwiri Hill which forms part of the eastern wall of the Albertine rift.

Moving uphill on the hot day was not an easy task as many members were seen deeply soaked in. I somewhat regretted later that the hilly Kakoni trail was not the best option. We kept a normal pace to allow us move uniformly.

As we descended to the forest, scores of black and white colobus monkeys were visibly sighted at the forest edge. Other major sightings included red-tailed monkeys, butterflies, insects, and nests of different organisms. The strangling figs also fascinated everybody as I expounded more on them.

The Melicia excela tree, AKA the ‘cormorant’ tree

Kyasanduka trail is also celebrated for its Melicia excela tree a.k.a the cormorant tree. This tree is believed to be one of the pioneer species in the forest, estimated to be more than 500 years old. Hundreds of great cormorants that flock the Kazinga Channel roost and breed on this tree. The tree is ever seen ‘painted’ white with the cormorants’ guano. We did not stay long here because of the smelly droppings of the birds and the branches that are almost falling.

The illegal fishermen

A haul of illegally caught fish in Maramagambo Forest

After walking a short distance from the cormorant tree, drama unfolded as two illegal fishermen carrying fish were seen fleeing on seeing us. The speed of these men can be equated to that of lightning. As we were wondering what to do next, these men had completely vanished and we were left in total disbelief. Their footwear was left behind. As we continued to share more ideas, Ronnie and the student on industrial training in Mweya who had accompanied us were already hatching a plan on how to transport the ‘exhibit’. ‘’Exhibits are supposed to be handled well’’ observed Ronnie. Later the catch was successfully carried by the duo to the camp. All was not a bed of roses for them as the exhibit was heavy.

Carrying the illegally caught fish away

The drizzle

On walking a reasonable distance after our encounter, it started drizzling. No one was worried and our walk continued normally. The stopover at the fig with big buttresses still remains immortal. We took many shots here as we admired this beautiful tree. Before hitting the road that connects to Jacana lodge, I had time to share my personal experiences with Liz and Bea amid enjoying some flowers and the fruits of Oncoba spinosa (thorny tree).

End of the walk

Arriving at the Jacana road meant the walk was coming to an end. With a lot of bliss everyone was giving a word of thanks to Uncle Senior (my assumed name) for having conducted the walk successfully. On our arrival at the camp members took their final pictures as Ronnie a.k.a fisherman was loading the exhibit in our car boot. As it clocked past 4pm, I returned the AK47 to the armoury and subsequent departure back to Mweya.