Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve

Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve

Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve is one of Uganda’s largest national protected areas covering an area of about 2043sq.km north of Mount Elgon and this makes it the second-largest protected area after Murchison Falls National Park. The Park holds quite a number of wildlife species and other different bird species Ostriches being the Unique bird in the park.

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Discover Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve

Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve has become of the best wildlife safari destination in Uganda. Given that it is still quite one of the newly recognised tourist destinations with raw and beautiful scenery in Uganda. The beauty of this game reserve has stunning landscape sceneries with surrounding mountains and most of the time you will have the whole game reserve to yourself. Pina Upe is the second largest conservation area after Murchison falls national park with an area coverage of up to about 3,893 kilometres squared. Pian Upe wildlife reserve covers an area of about 2,275 square kilometres to the north of Mount Elgon, under the Uganda wildlife Authority mandate to conserve for future generations, Pian Upe is managed by the Mountain Elgon Conservation Department. Therefore, Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve is joined to other two wildlife protected areas in the North-eastern part of Uganda namely; the Matheninko and Bokora Wildlife Reserve plus Mount Elgon national park to form the Mount Elgon Conversation Area.

 Location of Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve 

Pian Upe is located in the North Eastern part of Uganda in Nakapiripiti district with a total of about 8 other districts either closely or partly covered by the stretch of the game reserve, these district including; Amudat, Moroto, Katakwi, Napak, Kween, Kumi, Bukedea, and Bulambuli. The wildlife reserve can easily be accessed by road from Kampala capital city via Mbale to Soroti road which takes about 8 to 9 hours and about 4-5 hours from Mbale city town and 5-6 hours from Kidepo national park to Pian Upe wildlife reserve. While in Nakapiripiti, Pian Upe can easily be accessed from the south of Chepsikunya trading Centre or north of Namalu trading centre for visitors travelling from Moroto city. The closest operational airstrip is located in Amudat airstrip

History of Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve

Years before Pian Upe wildlife reserve was gazetted as a conservation area, the area was a famous battleground for two of Karamojong’s pastoral groups comprised of those from the North-eastern part of Uganda and the Pokot who are from Kenya, right up into Matheniko & Bokora Wildlife Reserve and into Kidepo Valley National Park, the main road leading into the reserve forms the boundary where both tribes intersect to raid one another during ruthless cattle rustling. However, Peace has since returned to this region, and tourism introduced for the better of the communities.

In the 1958, the southern part of Pian Upe wildlife reserve was gazetted as the Debasien Animal sanctuary even when the boundaries of the wildlife reserve were still being threatened when the government established a project for an agricultural produce in the south of the Girik River. This escalated threats on the reserve resources, hard-pressed the state to expand the area northward and rename it Pian Upe Game Reserve in 1964. Fortunately, the Government of Uganda has expressed great interests in upgrading the Pian Upe Game Reserve to National Park position, and efforts to introduce and restore wildlife numbers in the reserve is already in the process, as well as plans to open up more areas/communities for tourism development.

How Pian Upe wildlife reserve got its name

Pian upe derives its name from its community where “Pian” refers to a clan among the Karamajong people of north-eastern Uganda while “Upe” refers to a Kalenjin speaking pastoralist community of the Karamongs who are said to have originated from the Pokot tribe in Kenya, but now settled close to the wildlife reserve in Amudat district. “Pian” actually means “calm hearted people” while “Upe” means “enemy”, when both words are combined, you get a word “friendly enemies”. These people are predominantly pastoralists and live a very traditional lifestyle, only being cantered around their cattle. This group is mainly found in Nakapiripirit district close to the Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve Headquarters. 

Best time to visit Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve

All national parks and wildlife reserves in Africa have the best time to visit and Pian Upe wildlife reserve is not an exception. The best time to visit Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve is between the months of January to March when the vegetation is dry, you have clear views and animals gather at the water sources making it easy for game viewing. It is also at this period when the reserve management also carries out controlled bush burning to keep the grasses short, leaving the vegetation dry and it becomes easier to view the animals around the major water sources when they gather for a drink. Girik River which located in the southern part of the reserve is a source of water for the animals living in this semi-arid region. From the months of November to December, it’s a dry season but the vegetation is still lush making it difficult to spot animals hidden in the grass, treetops and other invisible places.

From April to October, it’s the rainy season, so the trails or the tracks are usually muddy thus the roads are even impassable due to flooding making game viewing impossible. The tracks in Pian Upe wildlife reserve are still poorly developed so in the wet season, it can be a bit challenging, lush vegetation, bad hazel views. Visitors are recommended to travel in 4WD Vehicle; Land Cruiser most preferably in case of weather challenges. 

Attractions in Pian Upe wildlife Reserve

Flora and Fauna;

Flora – Pian Upe wildlife reserve is one of the most fascinating and interesting conservation area with distinct wildlands dominated by wooden savannah plains which are surrounded by mountains and also cut between rock-strewn ridges and kopjes, plateau, and seasonal rivers. Pian Upe is dominated by short trees and shrubs, thatching grass, lemon grasses, bristle species, beard grasses to mention a few. The reserve plains are draped with red acacia, shrubs like the butterfly pea, desert date and bush willows

Fauna – Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve is one distinguished place for harbouring quite a number of rare animals found nowhere else in Uganda, such as a healthy population of Cheetahs and Uganda’s only remaining population of Roan Antelopes. Seeing the Cheetah measures up to 80% chances thus Pian Upe wildlife reserve is the best place to see world’s fastest mammal. Other predators found in the reserve include; the wildcats, Jackals, Spotted Hyenas, Civets, Serval Cats, the mysterious Leopards and prides of Lions are reported to periodically travel between the nearby Amudat Wildlife Conservation Area and Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve. 

The reserve is also home to large herds of ungulates including the Common Eland, a small population of Zebra, Hartebeests, Günther’s Dik Dik, the popular Oribis, and the Impalas which were recently relocated here from Lake Mburo National Park. Cape Buffalo, the Uganda Kob, Waterbuck, Blue and Common Duiker, Klipspringers and the Bohor and Mountain Reedbuck also enjoy the homely Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve. Some of the rare animals in the reserve including; the Ververt and Patas Monkeys, the African Hare, Crested Porcupine, , Aardvarks, , Rock Hyrax, Four-toed HedgeHogs, and the Olive Baboons. 

Pian Upe wildlife reserve is home to a variety of reptiles including; the common Agama, Geckos, Venomous puff adders, rock pythons, Savannah monitors, Chameleons and crocodiles that can be found in River Girik. The reserve is still untouched with low numbers of visitors, this guarantees all wildlife sightings in a private, and intimate experience, dismissing crowds that can be seen in other national park. Morning and evening game drives are the best time to see most of the animals with the dazzling sunsets and sunrises for example every morning the sun comes out behind the mountains and descends over the horizon in some of the most fascinating sunsets. Most of the animals in Pian Upe wildlife reserve had become extinct during the era of insurgencies however; the Uganda Wildlife Authority already has plans of reintroducing most of the animal species to re-active the reserve for tourism development.  

Bird watching 

Pian Upe wildlife reserve has become of the Uganda’s top bird watching destinations. The reserve offers some great birdwatching experience with a variety of different bird species found there. The reserve’s ecosystem has attracted unique bird species making the reserve a desired birding destination in Africa. Some of the bird species found in the reserve include; the rare Ostriches which are easily seen while in this reserve compared to Kidepo valley national park, the Karamoja Apalis which is an endemic bird found in to north-eastern part of Uganda. Other bird species include; Superb sterlings, Green bitta, Secretary bird, Abyssinian ground hornbill, the rare shoebill stock and the Fox weaver bird that can be seen in the park’s stretch of land. 

Community tours

Pian Upe wildlife reserve is located in the Karamoja region where we find the Karamojong people who are similar to the Masai of Kenya and Tanzania. These people have a rich culture and tradition that is exciting to experience even though they are known to be hostile in the early days of their settlement. The Karamojongs are best known for their pastoral practises. The cultural visit to one of the local Karamojong community near the reserve will offer you an exciting cultural experience on a rare cultural music, dance and drama performance by the locals most especially the famous Edonga dance. 

Mountain hiking and guided nature walk

Driving through Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve introduces you to an endless flow of Savannah plains, dotted with Acacias and Sausage trees as well as rocky ridges, embraced by three mountains – Mount Napak, Mount Kadam and Mount Elgon. When you look beyond the horizon, you will see these mountains stretching high above the sky. These mountains allow hiking opportunities for example hiking to the Napedet cave is one of the best experiences of hiking while in Pian Upe wildlife reserve. This hike tests one’s physical fitness levels, working on health levels and granting awesome views of the reserve’s ranges. Napedet cave is a popular ancient recreational place for the first inhabitants of this area who would gather to engage in painting before the area was gazetted. Visitors can be able to see odd paintings of Roan Antelope, Hartebeests, Baboons, as well as Giraffes which once roamed the reserve’s open plains. 

Accommodations available in Pian Upe wildlife reserve

Pian Upe wildlife reserve does not have so many of the accommodations since it is still under development. The commonly used accommodation facility in the park is the Uganda Wildlife Bandas which are located at the park headquarters. Alternatively, someone can choose to camp around the park headquarters with own tent or hired tent from the park. There is only one available mid-range accommodation facility called Karamoja Overland Camp with tents that are self-contained featuring en-suite facilities like showers, electricity. 

Packing list for a Pian Upe Safari

Just as one needs to prepare for a gorilla trekking safari, visiting Pian Upe wildlife reserve requires adequate preparation in what to bring given its insufficient resources to host visitors. There are key things one has to bring when visiting the reserve namely;

You need comfortable light clothes of neutral colours. However, warm clothes are also advisable since the evenings and early mornings often get chilly.

Comfortable closed shoes are highly recommended especially if you are going to hike on one of the mountains when you visit Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve.

For those camping, you are advised to come with your own camping equipment like the tent and beddings, own cup, plate and other necessary daily things to use. 

Insect repellent to protect you from the wild flies and safari bugs

You will want to pack some sunscreen lotion, sunglasses, and a sunhat, as this semiarid part of the country can get pretty hot.

Remember to pack your personal toiletries (lotion, toothpaste, toothbrush, bath soap, deodorant, and lip balm.

Carry gadgets that can take some decent photos, cameras, binocular for bird watching. You will want to remember this stunning landscape, and photos will help you tell your stories.

A portable external battery charger/power bank is highly recommended as the electricity can be on and off sometimes, especially in the night. Remember to carry a touch. 

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