If you’re a wildlife lover, you may well have dreamed of taking a trip to Africa to take in the glory of its amazing animal species. There really is nothing like the thrill of seeing a leopard on the hunt, a hippo wallowing in a river, or a giraffe wrapping its long tongue round an acacia branch.
But when people think about going on an African safari, Uganda is often overlooked in favour of more celebrated countries like Tanzania and Kenya. And that’s a mistake. Because Uganda has an astonishing array of magnificent animals, all living in some of the most stunning landscapes to be found anywhere on the continent.
Why go to see animals in Uganda
Uganda has 10 national parks, 12 wildlife reserves, 5 community wildlife management areas and 13 wildlife sanctuaries. And these parks and sanctuaries are teeming with life – with around 345 species of mammal – including more than half the world’s endangered mountain gorillas – and over 1000 species of birds. So there’s definitely no shortage of amazing animals to spot in Uganda!
There are plenty of ways to see them too – whether it’s a traditional game drive in a car with a pop-up roof, a horseback safari, river cruise, mountain hike, primate habituation experience or guided forest trek.
So here’s my complete list of the top Amazing Animals to See in Uganda! I took these photos on a a single 2-week trip around Uganda, so rest assured that with a bit of luck you really can get to see all this fantastic wildlife on your visit to this beautiful country.
Read More: How To Take Great Photos Of Wildlife
1/ Mountain Gorilla
No round up of Ugandan animals could possibly start anywhere else than with the country’s star attraction: the legendary mountain gorilla. Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) are so critically endangered that there are fewer than 1000 of them left in the world, and Uganda is one of the last places on earth you can see them. That’s why for many visitors, the chance to hike to see the gorillas is THE reason to come to Uganda.
Seeing them is such a thrill not only because they are among our nearest cousins, sharing 98% of our DNA, but also because they are so rare. As humans have expanded ever further into their mountainous territory, and poaching and conflict continues to threaten them, their numbers have decreased. But there is hope: thanks to more awareness and conservation efforts, their numbers are on the rise again. It may be alarmingly expensive to go and see them, but it costs that much for a reason: your money is helping to secure the future of these gorgeous creatures.
Where to see gorillas in Uganda
The main place to see gorillas in Uganda is in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in the west of the country, though it’s also possible to see them in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. At Bwindi there are four gorilla trekking centres: Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo. Each sector has a small number of habituated families. The price is the same wherever you go, so where you end up depends on your personal preferences and what permits are available. Buhoma is the most easily accessible and therefore the most popular area.
Read More: Gorilla Trekking in Rainy Season
Gorilla trekking may be Uganda’s top attraction, but the chance to see chimpanzees up close in the wild is no less thrilling. Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are our closest animal relatives (they share 99% of our DNA), and when you see them in real life, with their intelligent faces and the way they move and act like humans, it’s impossible not to see the similarities. In fact there are many ways in which chimpanzees are just like us. They make and use tools to hunt and feed; they’re very sociable and enjoy bonding and grooming; and they communicate with verbal and non-verbal expressions like hand and facial gestures.
There are around 300,000 chimpanzees in the forest of equatorial Africa, of which around 5000 live in Uganda. Over the years, scientists have spent time with some of the groups, gently getting them used to the presence of humans so they can study them more closely. This process is called habituation, and means that visitors can now also get the chance to get close to these incredible creatures without scaring them off.
Where to see chimpanzees in Uganda
The most popular place to see chimpanzees in Uganda is in Kibale Forest, where there are around 1500 chimpanzees. However you can also see them at Kalinzu Forest and Kyambura Gorge near Queen Elizabeth National Park, Budongo Forest (Murchison Falls National Park), and Semuliki Wildlife Reserve.
If you want to find out more, I also wrote about chimpanzee trekking for Lonely Planet.
Read More: Chimpanzee Trekking in Kibale
3/ Black-and-white Colobus Monkey (and other primates)
Uganda is home to at least 18 different species of primate, including the black-and-white and the red colobus monkey, blue monkey, red-tailed monkey, L’Hoest’s, De Brazza’s, vervet and golden monkey, as well as some smaller nocturnal species like the bushbaby and potto.
Black-and-white colobus monkeys are particularly common. The name ‘colobus’, which means ‘mutilated’ in Greek, comes from the fact that unlike other primates they have no thumbs. Baby colobus are born completely white; they develop their distinctive black markings at around three months. They particularly enjoy eating young leaves, making them easy to spot around the edges of Uganda’s forests.
Where to see monkeys in Uganda
Monkeys are one of the most common animals in Uganda, especially in the national parks. With their striking colouring and long hair, the black-and-white colobus are particularly eye-catching, though you’ll probably see vervets, blue and red-tailed monkeys if you keep your eyes peeled. Kibale Forest is said to be the primate capital of Uganda, but Queen Elizabeth National Park is another great place to see monkeys, and you will also spot them in Bwindi and many of the smaller forested parks.
4/ Olive Baboon
As you travel around Uganda you will definitely see olive baboons (Papio anubis) along the roadside. Baboons seem to show no fear of humans and can be quite alarming when they eye up or even approach your car, hoping for food. They live in groups of up to 150, made up of lots of females with their young, headed up by a few dominant males. While the babies can be pretty cute, the largest males can weigh up to 50 kg and be quite aggressive.
Baboons are native in 25 countries right across equatorial Africa, and are listed as a species of ‘least concern’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. One of the reasons for their abundance is the fact that they’re omnivorous, eating just about everything they come across, from insects, small mammals and birds to leaves, roots, grass, flowers and fruit. They also hunt small rodents and other primates, and come into conflict with humans when they raid crops and orchards.
Where to see baboons in Uganda
You can find baboons in all of the national parks apart from Mgahinga, Rwenzori Mountains and Mount Elgon and they’re frequently seen by the side of the road or scavenging near populated areas. I spotted this guy while out for a run near Queen Elizabeth National Park.
5/ African Lion
The lion (Panthera leo) is one of the safari ‘Big Five’ and for good reason – their grace, power and beauty is truly exhilarating to see. If you’re lucky enough to see a pride on the hunt, it’s an experience you’ll never forget. After gorillas, lions are the most popular Ugandan animal. A recent study found that a single lion in Queen Elizabeth National Park can generate about US$ 13,500 a year in tourism revenue for the country.
Where to see lions in Uganda
Not all of Uganda’s national parks are home to lions, but the best places to spot them are Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park. There are also a few in Lake Mburo National and Semliki Wildlife Reserve, but they are rarely seen.
In the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park the lions have developed the unusual habit of climbing trees – earning them the title of ‘The famous Ishasha tree-climbing lions’. Most lions don’t climb trees except in extreme circumstances, so the chance to see tree-climbing lions is definitely not to be missed! And what’s great is that not only is it much easier to spot and photograph a lion when he’s sitting up in a tree, but the lions will tend to rest there for most of the day, giving you ample opportunity to spend time with them.
6/ African Leopard
The African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) is native to sub-Saharan Africa, but compared with lions they’re not an easy animal to spot in Uganda due to their solitary nature. Lions travel in prides and frequently hunt during the daytime, while leopards operate alone. They’re also mainly nocturnal and spend their days resting in trees, caves or long grass where their stunning spotted coat helps camouflage them, making them difficult to see. But when you do see a leopard, it really is a jaw-dropping experience!
Where to see leopards in Uganda
Leopards can be found in Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Lake Mburo, Kidepo and Semiliki National Parks. I was lucky enough to see this one at around 5 pm resting in a tree in Queen Elizabeth National Park, and hand on heart it was one of the most thrilling moments of my entire Ugandan experience.
7/ Spotted Hyena
The spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) is the most common large carnivore in Africa. There are between 27,000 and 47,000 spotted hyenas in sub-Saharan Africa, and although they are nocturnal, your chances of seeing one on your Uganda safari are relatively high. They’re such a successful species because they eat almost anything – they’re primarily hunters but they also scavenge and they can consume an entire carcass including the bones and skin. They hunt in groups of 2-5 and can chase their prey for several kilometres at speeds of up to 60 km per hour.
Spotted hyenas are also known as laughing hyenas because of the weird barking noise they make. This is one way they alert other members of the pack to a potential food source and the sound can be heard up to three miles away.
Where to see spotted hyenas in Uganda
For the best chance to see these fascinating Ugandan animals, head to Lake Mburo, Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls or Kidepo National Parks.
Read more: What To Do In Murchison Falls National Park
8/ African Elephant
Of all the animals in Uganda, elephants are the big one – literally! Uganda is home to both African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) and the smaller forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis).
Elephants are the largest animals on land and can live up to the age of around 70. They’re sociable, caring, intelligent animals that live in family groups led by a female. They travel hundreds of miles foraging for food – a single adult can consume up to 350 kgs of vegetation and around 200 litres of water in a single day to they need to roam far and wide to get it. Because of they way they strip trees, turn over soil and fertilise the ground with their dung, they play a key role in the renewal and survival of ecosystems.
Sadly, due to heavy poaching, the population of this beautiful animal in Uganda collapsed from about 30,000 elephants in the 1960s to around 2,000 in the 1980s. Thanks to conservation efforts, numbers have now increased to about 5,000, though recovery is slow. A single female elephant only has one calf about every 9 years so it will take a long time for Uganda to see the numbers it once did.
Where to see elephants in Uganda
In a single afternoon in Murchison Falls we saw about 20 elephants, while in Queen Elizabeth we must have seen over 100! You can also see savanna elephants in Kidepo, and if you want to see forest elephants, head for Bwindi and Kibale forests (though they are much harder to spot).
You can also get friendly with two elephants that were rescued as babies in Uganda Wildlife Education Centre.
9/ Southern White Rhinoceros
There are two kinds of rhino in Africa, the white rhino and the black rhino. In Uganda, all the rhinos are a subspecies of white rhino called the Southern White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum simum), which is the most common kind of rhino – although still endangered due to poaching for its horn. The word ‘rhinoceros’ comes from the Greek words rhis, meaning ‘nose’, and keras, meaning ‘horn’.
Although they are called ‘white’ and ‘black’, both types of rhino are the same colour. The name ‘white’ is thought to have come from the Afrikaans word ‘wyd’ which means ‘wide’, and refers to the white rhino’s wide and square top lip when compared with the more v-shaped mouth of the black rhino.
Rhinos are native to Uganda, but these animals were declared extinct due to poaching in 1983. So in 1997 the government began a project to reintroduce them. They established a sanctuary and began a breeding programme. The project has been a success and the sanctuary is now home to 22 rhinos.
Where to see rhinos in Uganda
The only place you can see wild rhinos in Uganda is Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. Here you can do a guided walk and get astoundingly close to adult and baby rhinos. There are also two rhinos at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre.
Read More: A Visit To Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
One animal you are almost guaranteed to see in Uganda is the hippo (Hippopotamus amphibious). Thanks to its many lakes and rivers, Uganda is home to thousands of these awesome animals, which are the second largest land mammal after elephants. The word hippopotamus means ‘river horse’ in Greek.
Although their closest relatives are whales and dolphins, hippos cannot float or swim. Rather, they walk or bounce along the bottom, where they can stay submerged for up to six minutes without taking a breath. During the day they stay in the river to protect their skin from the burning sun, and at night they come out onto the land to graze on grass.
Hippos are one of the most dangerous animals on land. They can charge at terrifying speeds of up to 40 km per hour and many deaths in Africa are caused by humans coming into contact with hippos.
Where to see hippos in Uganda
The best way to see these animals in Uganda is by boat. You can take boat trips to see hippos in Murchison Falls Park on a River Nile Boat Safari, or on the wonderful Kazinga Channel boat ride in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Other options are on a boat ride on Lake Mburo, or at Semliki Wildlife Reserve where you can take a trip on the Semliki River or into Lake Albert.
When we stayed at Bush Lodge in Queen Elizabeth, we even had a hippo wandering through the camp at night, which was a pretty thrilling experience!
11/ Rothschild Giraffe
There’s only one species of giraffe, and nine subspecies. The giraffes found in Uganda are Rothschild’s giraffes (Giraffa Camelopardalis rothschildi) – also known as the Ugandan giraffe – which can only be found in Uganda and Kenya. They look different from other types of giraffe because their patches are are darker brown and less sharply defined than other giraffes and they have no markings on their lower legs.
Giraffes are nature’s gentle, graceful giants. They move peacefully in same-sex herds – either related females and their young, or unrelated adult males – and they’re very sociable, often coming together in large groups. Although they are generally peaceful, they will defend themselves fiercely against attacks by lions, hyenas and leopards. Males also engage in fights where they use their heads and necks to strike each other – this is a way for a male to prove his dominance and gain access to females.
Where to see giraffes in Uganda
The best place to see giraffes in Uganda is Murchison Falls National Park where they have over 1000. There are also about 50 in Kidepo Valley, and around 15 in Lake Mburo National Park. There are no giraffes in Queen Elizabeth so if giraffes are your priority, don’t go there!
Though if you love giraffes as much as I do, then arguably the best place to go is Uganda Wildlife Education Centre where if you do the Behind the Scenes tour you have the chance to actually feed these stunning Ugandan animals. I did this and it was one of the most thrilling moments of my life!
12/ African Buffalo
The African or Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous animals in Uganda thanks to its powerful build, aggressive temperament and unpredictable nature. African buffalo trample or gore over 200 people in Africa every year. This is also the reason it’s never been domesticated, unlike its gentler Asian cousin, the water buffalo.
Buffalo live in large family herds, sometimes hundreds strong. But although they’re feisty, they’re also very democratic. When the herd is ready to move, they all face the direction they want to go. Whichever direction gets the most votes, wins, and that’s the way they go.
You don’t need to worry too much about getting hurt by a buffalo. They never roam far from water, and in Uganda’s hot sun they spend most of their time wallowing around the edges of the country’s many lakes and rivers, preferring to graze at night when it’s cooler.
Where to see buffalo in Uganda
As buffalo like to wallow in water during the day, that’s the best place to see these impressive animals in Uganda. These photos were taken on a boat ride on the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park, where huge herds congregate. You’ll also find them in Murchison Falls and Lake Mburo among others. If you’re lucky enough to stay in a safari tent within one of the parks, you might even get them wandering through your camp at night, so watch out!
Read more: A Boat Trip on the Kazinga Channel
Uganda’s zebras are Plains zebras – the most common kind. Uganda used to be home to thousands of zebras but their numbers have declined dramatically – today there are only around 3000. This decline is thought to be caused by climate change affecting the vegetation they eat.
Zebras are a well-known and popular animal in Uganda thanks to their distinctive stripes, which are like fingerprints – no two zebras have exactly the same pattern. It’s thought a zebra’s stripes help individuals identify each other, and protect the animal by confusing predators and repelling insects.
Zebras are social animals that live in large herds. Unlike elephants and giraffes, they can be skittish and run away when humans approach.
Where to see zebras in Uganda
Somewhat surprisingly, zebras only live in two parks in Uganda – Kidepo Valley in the north of the country, and Lake Mburo in the west. The others are unsuitable for zebra due to their thick vegetation and long grass – zebras prefer open plains so they can spot predators approaching.
14/ Ankole Cattle
These fantastic cows are not wild, but I’ve included them in this list because they look incredible and are definitely among Uganda’s most amazing animals. With their enormous horns that are the largest of any breed of cattle and can reach two metres from tip to tip, it’s no wonder these are known as the Cattle of Kings.
Ankole are bred for meat and milk, and their horns are used to make jewellery and ornaments. They are also a status symbol. In some communities a family’s importance is measured by the size of its herd, and in a traditional Ugandan wedding cows are sometimes given by the groom to the bride’s family.
If you’re wondering how the cow can manage to walk around with those huge horns, there are two reasons. Firstly the horns are hollow, making them much lighter than they look. The cow also has an extra large muscle on the top of its shoulder to help support the weight.
Where to see Ankole cows in Uganda
Ankole are farmed all over west and southwest Uganda. You may see them in the fields as you travel around the country, accompanied by a herder. We met this one and the rest of his herd in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.
15/ Uganda Kob
The Uganda kob (Kobus kob thomasi) is the national animal of Uganda and features on the Ugandan coat of arms.
The kob is a type of antelope found all across Sub-Saharan Africa. They move around in small herds, which can come together into large groups sometimes up to 1000 strong. Kobs are abundant and not protected, though their grazing areas are coming under strain due to farming.
In Uganda, these animals are one of the main sources of food for predators including lions, leopards and hyenas.
Male kobs can whistle – which they do both to mark their territory and as part of their courtship rituals.
Where to see kob in Uganda
You’ll have no trouble spotting kob in Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Parks among many others.
16/ Common Warthog
Warthogs (Phacochoerus africanus) have become pretty popular ever since Disney created the character of Pumbaa in the Lion King. And when you see them, you have to admit they’re pretty funny, with their skinny legs and the way they run with their tails straight up in the air.
Warthogs are omnivorous – eating grass, insects, eggs, fruit, bark, roots, fungi, and carrion. They live in burrows, and although they can use their front feet and tusks to dig, they usually take over the vacated burrows of other animals, which they enter backwards so that they can charge out, tusks first, should they be threatened by a predator. Although their first line of defence is to sprint away, Warthogs can also pack a punch – they’ve even been known to kill lions by fatally wounding them with their sharp tusks.
Where to see warthogs in Uganda
Warthogs can easily be seen in many of Uganda’s National Parks, including Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth – where I had this close encounter…
There are over 200 different species of chameleons, which are type of lizard. They vary widely in appearance, from the tiny pygmy chameleon to the Parson’s chameleon which can grow up to 70 cm long, to the weird-looking three-horned chameleon. They come in many different colours, and some are famous for being able to change colours.
Chameleons are excellent climbers and hunters. They can be found all over the world in warm climates, such as Africa, South Asia and South Europe.
Chameleons are iconic for two main reasons: their swivelling eyes which can look in any direction, and their long, sticky tongues, which they use to catch insects.
Where to see chameleons in Uganda
Due to their small size and excellent camouflage it isn’t easy to spot these animals in Uganda. You may be lucky to come across one on the path in the Rwenzori Mountains or in the Sipi Falls region. Sometimes kids will catch one and show them off to tourists, though for animal welfare reasons it’s not a good idea to encourage this.
If you want to be sure of seeing a chameleon, head to the Entebbe Reptiles Village, where they have a chameleon enclosure and you can meet these intriguing animals face to face!
18/ Nile Crocodile
The Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), is the largest reptile in Africa and is 150 million years old! They can be found in 26 countries across Africa, mainly in the central, east and south regions. These animals can grow up to 6 m long and weigh almost a tonne – the same as a small car.
Nile Crocodiles are extremely aggressive predators. They eat mostly fish, birds and small mammals but will happily attack anything that comes within reach – even humans. Nile crocodiles kill or injure hundreds each year and in fact are the most dangerous predator of humans – beating more notorious animals like lions and sharks hands down. This is partly because there are more of them but also because they often come into contact with humans. The only animals responsible for more human deaths are snakes – which only attack in self-defence – and parasite-carrying creatures like rats and mosquitoes.
Where to see crocodiles in Uganda
The best – and safest – way to see these animals in Uganda is on a boat trip. Great options are a boat launch trip along the Nile at Murchison Falls, or along the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park. You can also see them on the shores of Lake Mburo.
19/ Forest Cobra
Uganda is home to six different types of venomous snakes: the puff adder (the most common venomous snake in Uganda), Gaboon viper, Jameson’s mamba, black mamba, black-necked spitting cobra, and this one, the forest cobra.
Forest cobras are the biggest kind of cobra, reaching up to 2 metres long. Forest cobras are identified by their distinctive yellow-and-black stripes and their hood, just like that of other cobras. They’re excellent swimmers and are often found near water.
Like other cobras, when threatened it will raise its body off the ground and spread its hood. A bite from a forest cobra will kill you if not treated quickly.
Where to see cobras in Uganda
Unlike most of the other animals on this list, you probably don’t want to spot one of these – at least not while you’re walking around! By far the safest and easiest place to see these animals in Uganda is at the Reptiles Village in Entebbe, where they house snakes that have been found in people’s homes.
Read More: Things To Do In Entebbe, Uganda
20/ Jackson’s Tree Snake
Not all of Uganda’s snakes are dangerous to humans. The Jackson’s black tree snake, as its name suggests, lives in trees. It can climb high to eat eggs from birds’ nests. It also eats frogs, chameleons and small mammals.
These animals can grow to a little over two metres long. When threatened, it puffs up its neck to nearly twice its size.
Where to see tree snakes in Uganda
Fortunately, most snakes are shy and will slither away when they hear people. So as with the cobras, the best place to check these beauties out is the Uganda Reptiles Village about 1-2 hours drive from Kampala.
21/ Monitor Lizard
Uganda is home to two kinds of monitor lizards: the savanna monitor and the Nile monitor. The Nile monitor is Africa’s largest lizard – growing up to two metres long – but unlike their cousins the crocodiles they are harmless to humans, and in fact make popular pets.
Monitor lizards are powerful, with sharp claws and a strong tail. They’re carnivorous, eating smaller reptiles, birds, fish, small mammals and crocodile eggs.
Despite their size they are both excellent tree climbers and great swimmers – staying underwater for up to an hour.
Where to see monitor lizards in Uganda
Like the crocodiles, the easiest way to see these animals is along the edges of Uganda’s lakes and rivers. A boat trip on the Kazinga Channel, on the Nile near Murchison Falls, or on Lake Mburo are your best options if spotting monitor lizards is your goal.
Feeling inspired? Ready to plan your trip to Uganda? Click here to read Two Weeks In Uganda – A Suggested Itinerary