At first, it appeared as one of the few relatively nondescript stretches of road that I encountered in Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda, referred to, depending on which specific portion of the stretch you’re driving on, as the Ishasha road, or the Rwenshana road. It’ll forever be etched in my mind as Uganda’s Baboon Boulevard.
From a distance they first appear as small bobbing dots on the macadam horizon that multiply exponentially as you draw nearer. By the time you realize that you’re staring at and driving head on into an extended family of Olive Baboons, they take on the look of a group out of Occupy Uganda, fanning out in protest to block your way.
That gradually melds into the scene below, one that could have been lifted from the Planet of the Apes franchise. It becomes very clear that this is their territory, their home. Even as they scamper down through narrow openings in the brush along even narrower paths as you approach, the momentary eye contact of a final wayward glance lets you know that you’re the visitor, the interloper. They’re in charge.
This is the first of at least four posts I’m planning to piece together on my three-day visit to Queen Elizabeth National Park in late March. In many ways this wildlife encounter along this otherwise largely deserted stretch of road heading towards the southernmost Ishasha sector of the park was my favorite; the baboons were plentiful, curious, and close. I won’t forget this stare any time soon.
Named for their green-gray coats, Olive baboons (Papio anubis) are among the most wide-ranging of the Old World monkeys, found in a strip of 25 African countries that stretch along or near the equator, nearly coast to coast. They can live in groups of 15 to 150, and are made up mostly of females and their young. Over a half mile stretch of road we probably encountered at least 80 or so; most didn’t seem as excited to see us as we were to see them, but quite a few played along, posing for photos before disappearing into the forest or, at the very least, like this trio, sitting and moping in the slight but steady rain.
The most animated was this juvenile who for whatever reason seemed to think I was eyeing his dinner. I wasn’t.
Six more images below.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Fort Portal-Mpondwe Road, Uganda
Phone:+256 41 4355000
Website (via the Uganda Wildlife Authority)