Kidepo Valley National Park lies in the rugged, semi arid valleys between Uganda’s borders with Sudan and Kenya, some 700km from Kampala. Gazetted as a national park in 1962, it has a profusion of big game and hosts over 77 mammal species as well as around 475 bird species.
Kidepo is Uganda’s most isolated national park, but the few who make the long journey north through the wild frontier region of Karamoja would agree that it is also the most magnificent, for Kidepo ranks among Africa’s finest wildernesses. From Apoka, in the heart of the park, a savannah landscape extends far beyond the gazetted area, towards horizons outlined by distant mountain ranges.
During the dry season, the only permanent water in the park is found in wetlands and remnant pools in the broad Narus Valley near Apoka. These seasonal oases, combined with the open, savannah terrain, make the Narus Valley the park’s prime game viewing location.
Dodoth pastoralists and Ik farmers lived in the area before it was gazetted as a game reserve by the British colonial government in 1958. The purpose was both to protect the animals from hunting and to prevent further clearing of bush for tsetse fly control. The game reserve was converted into the Kidepo Valley National Park in 1962.
The first Chief Warden of the National Park was Ian Ross, a Briton. In 1972 Paul Ssali, a Ugandan, replaced him. Their handover and training was the subject of the 1974 American documentary film, "The Wild and the Brave."
The park consists of the two major valley systems of the Kidepo and Narus Rivers. The valley floors lie between 910 m and 1,200 m above sea level.
Kanangarok is a tepid hot spring in the extreme north of the Park, beside the South Sudanese boundary. This spring is the most permanent source of water in the park. The park predominantly has clay soils although in the Kidepo Valley, black chalky clay and sandy-clay loam predominate, while the Narus Valley has freer-draining red clays and loams.
Kidepo Valley National Park’s climate is divided into one short wet season and a long dry spell. The wet season falls between April and October and the dry season fills the remainder of the year. On average 800 mm of rain is received annually. The dry season is characterised and dominated by very hot north-easterly monsoon winds which results in extreme drought with no green vegetation. At this point temperatures can reach over 40 degrees Celsius and average 30 degrees Celsius. Water is primarily a temporary phenomenon, flowing only during the wet season. However, throughout the length of the Narus River Valley, surface water flow alternates to subterranean flow and emerges at few permanent water points throughout the year. The climate can be summarised as arid but changes to semi arid towards the Narus Valley, which is the only region of the park containing water during the dry season.
The relief of the park rises dramatically from 900-1200m above sea level. on the border with Sudan, to 2750m above sea levell. at the top of the forested mountains of Morungole and Zulia. It comprises of semi-arid plains intersected with hills, rocky out crops and mountain ranges. Two great valley systems divide the park into almost two equal parts. The Narus Valley in the south and west of the park occupies one third of the park and is much favoured by wildlife due to the permanent availability of water. The Kidepo valley system in the east and north-east occupies the remaining two thirds of the entire park. Nyangea-Napore hills and Morungole and Zulia hill ranges hold the sources of most rivers in Karamoja, including River Nalakas and River Kidepo.
The vegetation of the park can be categorised into four associations; the Narus Valley contains grey-haired acacia (Acacia gerrardii) savannah woodland that emerges in the south and into a fire climax grassland, tree and shrub steppe and slowly graduates into bush lands with forests on the higher mountain slopes. The borassus palms (Borassus spp.) follow ridges that are associated with water and sand alluvial soils, and are common along the major rivers of Kidepo, Lopirpir and Kulao. Much of the park is composed of open savannah grassland, dominated by a mixture of acacia and other perennial grasses, such as Themeda, Chloris, Panicum and Seteria species. Dry thickets composed of numerous short trees and shrubs also common. This vegetation is usually dry for more than a half of the year and antelopes such as Guenther’s dik-dik (Madoqua guentheri), which is found nowhere else in Uganda, are common in such habitats.
Kidepo Vally National Park has high biodiversity, with at least 86 mammal species, 475 bird species and 692 plant species, second only to Queen Elizabeth NP in terms of its known plant diversity and third behind Queen Elizabeth and Murchison for its mammal and bird diversity. Twenty-eight of the 86 species of mammals in KVNP are not found in any other of Uganda’s national parks. Some of the animals unique to this park include striped hyaena (Hyaena hyaena), aardwolf (Proteles cristata), caracal (Caracal caracal), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), greater and lesser kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros and Ammelaphus imberbis), klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus), dik-dik, Bright’s gazelle (Nanger granti brighti) and Chandler’s mountain reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula chandleri). The beisa oryx (Oryx beisa) and the roan antelope (Hippotragus equinus) are believed to have been extirpated from the region. African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) have been observed to come into the park from Sudan occasionally but are not resident in the park. Many of the other large mammals found elsewhere in Uganda such as African elephant (Loxodonta africana), zebra(Equus spp.), buffalo (Syncerus caffer), waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), Jackson’s hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus jacksoni), lion (Panthera leo), leopard (Panthera pardus), and both black-backed and side-striped jackal (Canis mesomelas and C. adustus), are found here.
The park is outstanding for its birds of prey, of which 58 species have been recorded including lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), Verreaux’s eagle (Aquila verreauxii), the pygmy falcon (Polihierax semitorquatus), and Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus). Fourteen raptors are unique to this park in Uganda. Of the hornbills (Bucerotidae) which are characteristic of the savannah habitat, five species are represented. Some of Africa’s rarest and most sought after birds occur in KVNP, including the the Karamoja apalis (Apalis karamojae) and black-breasted barbet (Lybius rolleti).
The Narus valley is very important for the elephants in the park and also holds a population of Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus), which, during the dry season, is restricted to a 10 km long section of the Narus River that retains water intermittently in depressions or pools. Perhaps due to limited availability of food, water and space, the crocodiles have a diminutive size with a maximum length of 2.5 m. (Nile crocodiles regularly exceed 4m in other parts of the species range).
Tourists can visit the park any time throughout the year, although conditions in the park are more difficult during the rainy season (Jan to May, and Oct to Dec: It is Quite hot and generally dry, where as June to Sept: Rain is more prevalent, temperatures still warm and storms generally don't last more than an hour) and it is usually advisable to use 4x4 vehicles while in the park. Available tourist accommodation in and around the park includes lodges notably Apoka Safari Lodge, Nga Moru Wilderness Camp, and alternative budget accommodation at Apoka Rest Camp managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority.
The major tourist activities in the park include game viewing by vehicles on dirt roads that crisscross the southern and western parts of the park. A few trunk roads are improved with murram and are passable in all weather.
Seek advice from your local Uganda safari operator on how best you can access the park as well as how to pay for any of the activities you wish to get involved in. Note that you can book your activities from the Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Kampala or at any entry points of the park.
Kidepo Valley National Park is approximately 12 hours from Kampala by road. Regular scheduled flights by Aero Link take about 2 hours and fly into Kidepo from Entebbe airport. Charters can easily be arranged as well by Aero Link, Eagle Air, Kampala Aero Club, and Ndege Jju.
Kidepo Valley National Park travel guide from Wikivoyage