Preserving cultural customs is a challenge in a rapidly developing country, but it lies at the core of luxurious 27-suite Emburara Farm Lodge in the agricultural Mbarara district, a two-hour drive south. On the working ranch, activities revolve around 45 Ankole longhorn cattle. In the morning, I accompanied herdsman John Karuhanga as he lovingly polished his treasures with a bundle of stringy sisal fibres. Eager for attention, their mighty horns curved and twisted to form an elaborate calligraphy script.
A few hours later, I observed as John replenished their trough with a coating of iron-rich termite mud, using his hands to mould the clay mixture into shape. “Look at them nodding their ivories,” he exclaimed, beaming like a proud parent. “They know we are friends.”
After watering cattle, most men would strip off and bathe naked, John told me. Thankfully the shower facilities at Emburara meant no nudity was necessary that day. Surprises were in store that evening, however, when John lit a fire with cow dung to cajole his cattle back into their corral. Seeking warmth and respite from biting insects, they marched obediently, and a clatter of horns danced in the flames.
Both domesticated and wild, strange creatures can be found all over Uganda – some much closer to human habitation than you might think. The final stop of my journey took me to the Manamba swamps of Lake Victoria, near to international airport gateway Entebbe, where dozens of shoebills have made a comfortable home. Plucked from a prehistoric era, the enormous birds stealthily move through reeds and lilies looking for lungfish, while Boeing 777s zoom overhead.