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Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve

Pian Upe wildlife reserve is one of the largest national protected areas in Uganda covering an area of about 2,275 sq. km north of mountain Elgon and this makes the reserve the second largest protected area after Murchison falls national park

Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve

Pian Upe wildlife reserve is one of the largest national protected areas in Uganda covering an area of about 2,275 sq. km north of mountain Elgon and this makes the reserve the second largest protected area after Murchison falls national park. The reserve harbors quite a number wildlife species and other different bird species among which include an ostrich which is the unique bird in the park.

Pian Upe wildlife reserve is one of the best wildlife safari destinations in Uganda. Given that it is still quite one of the newly recognized tourist destinations with raw and beautiful scenery in Uganda. The beauty of this game reserve is the stunning landscape sceneries with surrounding mountains and most of the time you will have the entire game reserve to yourself. Pian Upe wildlife reserve is the second largest conservation area after Murchison falls national park with a total area of 2.275 square kilometers on the northern side of mountain Elgon and is managed and controlled by the Uganda wildlife authority. Pian Upe game reserve is joined to other two wildlife protected areas in the northeastern part of Uganda namely mountain Elgon national park and mountain Elgon conservation area as well as Bokora wildlife reserve.

Location of Pian Upe wildlife reserve

Pian Upe wildlife reserve is situated in the northeastern part of Uganda north of mountain Elgon in the Nakapiripiriti district. The park shares 8 districts among which include Moroto, Amudat, Napak, Kween, Bukedea, Katakwi and Bulambuli. Pian Upe wildlife reserve can be easily by accessed by road from Kampala the main capital city of Uganda via Mbale to Soroti road which takes about 8 to 9 hours, from Mbale city town it takes 5-6 hours while from Kidepo national park its 5-6 hours. For those already in Nakapiripiriti, they can access Pian Upe from south of Chepsikunya Trading Centre or north of Namalu Trading Centre for visitors travelling from Moroto city. The closest airstrip to Pian Upe wildlife reserve is located in Amudat airstrip.

History of Pian Upe wildlife reserve

Pian Upe wildlife reserve was first gazzated as a conservation area, the area was a popular Batake ground for two Karamanjong pastoral groups made of those from Pokot who is from Kenya and those of northeastern part of Uganda, right up into Matheniko wildlife reserve and Bokora wildlife reserve and into Kidepo valley national park, the main route connecting to 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 1958, the southern sector of Pian Upe was gazette as the Debasien animal sanctuary even when the boundaries of the wildlife reserve were still being threatened when the government established a project for 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 interest in upgrading the Pian Upe a game reserve to the 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 Karamojong 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 the word “friendly enemies”. These people are predominantly pastoralists and stay in a very traditional lifestyle, only being cantered around their cattle. This group is mainly located in Nakapiripirit district close to Pian Upe 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 one of them. The vest time to visit Pian Upe game reserve is between January to march when the vegetation is dry, you have stunning views and the animals gather at the water sources making it easy for game viewing. It is also during this period when the reserve management also carries out controlled bush burning to keep the grass short, leaving the vegetation dry and it becomes easier to view the animals around the main water sources when they gather for a drink or bathing. Girik river which is situated in the southern part of the reserve is a source of water for animals living in this semi-arid region. From November to December, it is a dry season but the vegetation is still lush making it difficult to spot animals hidden in the grass and treetops.

From April to October, it’s always a rainy season, so the trails are usually muddy thus the roads are even impassable due to flooding making game viewing impossible. The tracks in Pian Upe wildlife reserve are not well developed so, in the wet season, it can be a bit difficult, with lush vegetation, bad aerial views. Visitors are always advised to travel in a 4WD land cruiser most preferably in case of weather challenges.

Attractions in Pian Upe wildlife reserve Flora and fauna;

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

Fauna – Pian Upe wildlife reserve is one distinguished place for hosting quite several rare animals that can’t be found anywhere 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 area to spot the world’s fastest mammal. Other predators the reserve hosts include; wildcats, spotted hyenas, jackals, civets, several cats, leopards, pride of lions are reported to periodically travel between the nearby Amudat wildlife conservation area and Pian Upe wildlife reserve.

The reserve harbors large herds of ungulates including the common eland, a small population of zebra, Gunther’s dik dik, hartebeests, oribis, and the impalas which were recently relocated here from lake Mburo national park, cape buffaloes, waterbucks, Uganda kob, klipspringers, blue and common duiker, the bohor and mountain reedbuck also enjoy the homely Pian Upe wildlife reserve. Some of the rare animals in the wildlife reserve including patas monkeys and vervet monkeys, African hare, aardvarks, crested porcupine, rock hyrax, olive baboons, and four toied hedgehogs.

Pian Upe wildlife reserve harbors a variety of reptiles among which include the common agama, venomous puff adders, chameleons, crocodiles, rock pythons, and savannah monitors. Pain Upe game 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 parks. Morning and evening game drives are the best hours 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 wild animals in the Pian Upe wildlife reserve had become extinct during the time of insurgencies, however; the Uganda wildlife authority is soon introducing most of the animal species to reactive the wildlife reserve for tourism development.

Bird watching

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

Community tours

Pian Upe game reserve is situated in the Karamoja region where we find the Karamojong people who are comparable to the Masai of Kenya and Tanzania. These people have a rich culture and tradition that is thrilling to experience even though they are branded to be hostile in the early days of their settlement. The Karamojong are famous for their pastoral practices. The cultural encounters with one of the local Karamojong communities near the wildlife reserve will offer you an amazing cultural experience on occasional cultural music, dance, and drama performance by the local people most especially the popular Edonga dance.

Mountain hiking and guided nature walk

Driving through Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve presents you to an endless flow of Savannah plains, scattered with Acacias and Sausage trees and rocky ridges, comprised of three mountains – Mount Kadam, Mount Napak, and Mount Elgon. When you look beyond the horizon, you will see these mountains extending high above the sky. These mountains allow mountaineering opportunities for example climbing to the Napedet cave is one of the best experiences of hiking while in Pian Upe wildlife reserve. This climb tests one’s level of physical fitness, working on health levels and granting awesome sights of the reserve’s ranges. Napedet cave is a famous earliest recreational place for the first inhabitants of this area who would gather to involve in painting before the area was gazetted. Visitors get an opportunity to see odd paintings of Roan Antelope, Baboons, Hartebeests, as well as Giraffes that once roamed the reserve’s open plains. 

Accommodation available in Pian Upe wildlife reserve

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

Packing list for a Pian Upe Safari

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

You are highly recommended to pack comfortable light clothes of neutral colors. However, warm clothes are also recommended 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 game Reserve.

For those who prefer camping, you are strongly advised to come with your camping equipment such as tent and beddings, own cup, plate and other necessary daily things to use.

You are advised to pack Insect repellent to protect you from wild flies and safari bugs

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

Remember to come along with your toiletries (lotion, toothpaste, toothbrush, bath soap, deodorant, and lip balm.

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

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