Murchison falls

Murchison Falls National Park lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley, where the sweeping Bunyoro escarpment tumbles into vast, palm-dotted savanna. First gazetted as a game reserve in 1926, it is Uganda’s largest with 5,000sq km and oldest conservation area, hosting 76 species of mammals  including elephant, giraffe, hartebeest, buffalo, lion,  leopard, Uganda kob, hippo plus 451 bird species.

The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile, which plunges 45m over the remnant rift valley wall, creating the dramatic Murchison Falls, the centerpiece of the park and the final event in an 80km stretch of rapids. The mighty cascade drains the last of the river’s energy, transforming it into a broad, placid stream that flows quietly across the rift valley floor into Lake Albert. This stretch of river provides one of Uganda’s most remarkable wildlife spectacles. Regular visitors to the riverbanks include elephants, giraffes and buffaloes; while hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds are permanent residents.

Climate

The Nilecorridor below Murchison falls is the lowest part of Uganda and temperatures are hot, with a mean high of 29°C (80°F). Wet seasons occurduringmid-March-June and August-September.

Culture and people

TheMurchison Nile operates two distinct ethnic groups, the Bantu speaking Banyoroand the Nilotic peoples of northernUganda. South of the river, the Bunyoro kingdomwas once one of Africa’sgreatest empires. More recently,thousands of Acholi and Langi people living north of the Nile were displaced during a prolonged rebellion. Although the region has been at peace since 2006, these societies are struggling to return normal.

Major attractions and activities

the park has game drives rich in viewing wild game, Murchisonlaunch trip which is unique on sight and forgettable, bird watching with 451 species recorded including the shoe bill, sport fishing in the bottom of the falls with fish varieties including Tilapia (boasts of a record weighing 108kg one Tilapia fish), rare species of Primates await in Budongo and pabidi forest include the chimpanzee.

Hoima south of the park contains cultural attractions related to the Banyoro kingdom: Mparoo Tombs, Hoima palace and Katasiha Fort. At Kibiro salt gardens salt beside Lake Albert, salt has been produced sincethe 13th century.

What about the white Rhinos?

Guided walks in the 70 q km Rhino Sanctuary provide the only opportunity to encounter Rhinos in the wild in Uganda. Heavy poaching had left Ugandawithout Rhinos until animals from Kenya and United States were brought to Ziwa in 2004-2005. The sanctuary’ first baby was born in 2009 from a Kenyan father and American mother. His name is ”OBAMA” of course!

Kibale National Park

Kibale National Park of 795 sq. km contains one of the loveliest and most varied tracts of tropical forest in Uganda. Forest cover, interspersed with patches of grassland and swamp, dominates the northern and central parts of the park on an elevated plateau. The park is home to a total of 70 mammal species, most famously 13 species of primate including the chimpanzee.

It also contains over 375 species of birds. Kibale adjoins Queen Elizabeth National Park to the south to create a 180km-long corridor for wildlife between Ishasha, the remote southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, and Sebitoli in the north of Kibale National Park.

The Kibale-Fort Portal area is one of Uganda’s most rewarding destinations to explore. The park lies close to the tranquil Ndali-Kasenda crater area and within half a day’s drive of the Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori Mountains and SemulikiNational Parks, as well as the Toro-Semuliki Wildlife Reserve.

Geography and Climate

Kibale National Park is located in the districts of Kabarole and Kamwenge, approximately 320 kilometers, by road, west of Kampala, Uganda’s capital and largest city. Fort Portal in Kabarole District is the nearest large city to the national park. The geology consists of rocks formed in the Precambrian period which are sedentary, strongly folded and metamorphosed. The Toro system overlaying these rocks forms prominent ridges of quartzite and sometimes schists and phyllites, which are intruded by amphibiolites, gneiss and granites. Some hills have layers of hard laterite exposed on them. About 90% of the Park is overlain by red ferralitic soils of which 70% are sandy clay loams in the North and 30% are clay loams in the South. These soils are deeply weathered, show little differentiation in horizon and are of very low to moderate fertility. The remaining 10% is where fertile eutrophic soil occurs on a base of volcanic ash limited to Mpokya and Isunga areas on the western edge of the park.

The park has a tropical type of climate with two rainy periods, March to May and September to November. The annual mean temperature range rises from 14° – 15°C, – minimum to 26° – 27°C maximum. The annual rainfall is 1,100 – 1,600 mm. There is a pronounced dry season in December to February. Rain falls more in the North than in the South.

Mount Elgon National Park

At 4,000km² Mt. Elgon has the largest volcanic base in the world. Located on the Uganda-Kenya border it is also the oldest and largest solitary, volcanic mountain in East Africa. It’s vast form, 80km in diameter, rises more than 3,000m above the surrounding plains. The mountain’s cool heights offer respite from the hot plains below, with the higher altitudes providing a refuge for flora and fauna.

Mount Elgon National Park is home to over 300 species of birds, including the endangered Lammergeyer. Small antelopes, forest monkeys, elephants and buffalos also live on the mountainside. The higher slopes are protected by national parks in Uganda and Kenya, creating an extensive trans-boundary conservation area which has been declared a UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve.

A climbon Mt. Elgon’s deserted moorlands unveils a magnificent and uncluttered wilderness without the summit-oriented approach common to many mountains: the ultimate goal on reaching the top of Mt. Elgon is not the final ascent to the 4321m Wagagai Peak, but the descent into the vast 40km² caldera.

KIDEPO VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

Kidepo Valley National Park lies in the rugged, semi-arid valleys between Uganda’s borders with Sudan and Kenya, some 700km from Kampala. Gazetted as a national park in 1962, it has a profusion of big game and hosts over 77 mammal species as well as around 475 bird species.

Kidepo is Uganda’s most isolated national park, but the few who make the long journey north through the wild frontier region of Karamoja would agree that it is also the most magnificent, for Kidepo ranks among Africa’s finest wildernesses. From Apoka, in the heart of the park, a savannah landscape extends far beyond the gazetted area, towards horizons outlined by distant mountain ranges.

During the dry season, the only permanent water in the park is found in wetlands and remnant pools in the broad Narus Valley near Apoka. These seasonal oases, combined with the open, savannah terrain, make the Narus Valley the park’s prime game viewing location.

QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK

Queen Elizabeth National Park is understandably Uganda’s most popular tourist destination. The park’s diverse ecosystems, which include sprawling savanna, shady, humid forests, sparkling lakes and fertile wetlands, make it the ideal habitat for classic big game, ten primate species including chimpanzees and over 600 species of birds.

Set against the backdrop of the jagged Rwenzori Mountains, the park’s magnificent vistas include dozens of enormous craters carved dramatically into rolling green hills, panoramic views of the Kazinga Channel with its banks lined with hippos, buffalo and elephants, and the endless Ishasha plains, whose fig trees hide lions ready to pounce on herds of unsuspecting Uganda kob.

As well as its outstanding wildlife attractions, Queen Elizabeth National Park has a fascinating cultural history. There are many opportunities for visitors to meet the local communities and enjoy storytelling, dance, music and more. The gazetting of the park has ensured the conservation of its ecosystems, which in turn benefits the surrounding communities.

Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park is truly a Medley of Wonders!

History

The area currently occupied by the Queen Elizabeth National Park was previously a grazing area for local Basongora pastoralists. When British explorers Stanley and Lugard toured the area towards the end of last century, both reported the area to have been largely depopulated as a result of cattle raiding (from the Bunyoro and Buganda kingdoms) and epidemics of rinderpest and smallpox. The Basongora social economy could not recover from these events and with the exception of remnant villages around the two lakes, the area was almost completely depopulated. Those who did remain were forced to turn to fishing. These events allowed the game populations to increase and vegetation to change significantly, and played an important role in determining the creation of the national park by the Protectorate administration. In 1906, the area to the north of Lake George was declared a Game Reserve, in order to prevent what some administrators believed to be unregulated hunting by Africans and Europeans and growing pressure for development of cotton and wheat production.

By 1912, the whole of the Lake George and Ishasha areas (Lake George Game Reserve) were declared restricted areas, agricultural and fishing communities moved out to other non-affected areas and the area was largely abandoned. Further outbreaks of sleeping sickness continued up until the mid-1930s. The National Park Ordinance was passed on 31st March 1952 and Queen Elizabeth National Park then, Kazinga National Park was legally gazetted later that year, following intense lobbying by the Chief Game Warden of that time, Bruce Kinloch, and the Governor. As a result, the land area protected within the Lake George Game Reserve area was expanded considerably to include a large area to the east of Lake Edward and Kazinga Channel.

Rwenzori Mountains National Park

The Rwenzoris – the fabled Mountains of the Moon– lie in western Uganda along the Uganda-Congo border. The equatorial snow peaks include the third highest point in Africa, while the lower slopes are blanketed in moorland, bamboo and rich, moist montane forest.Huge are draped across the mountainside with giant lobelias and “everlasting flowers”, creating an enchanting, fairytale scene.

Rwenzori Mountains National Park protects the highest parts of the 120km-long and 65km-wide Rwenzori mountain range. The national park hosts 70 mammals and 217 bird species including 19 Albertine Rift endemics, as well as some of the world’s rarest vegetation.

The Rwenzoris are a world-class hiking and mountaineering destination. A nine- to twelve-day trek will get skilled climbers to the summit of Margherita – the highest peak – though shorter, non-technical treks are possible to scale the surrounding peaks.

For those who prefer something a little less strenuous, neighboringBakonzo villages offer nature walks, homestead visits home cultural performances and accommodation, including home-cooked local cuisine.

Geography and Climate

Rwenzori Mountains National Park is located in southwestern Uganda on the east side of the western (Albertine) African rift valley. It lies along Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and borders the DRC’s Virunga National Park, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for 50 km. It is situated in the Bundibugyo, Kabarole, and Kasese districts, 25 km from the small town of Kasese. The park is 996 sq. km in size, 70% of which exceeds an altitude of 2,500m above seas level. The park is 120 km long and 48 km wide.

The Rwenzori Mountains straddle the equator along the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, extending north–south for about 110 km and east–west for about 50 km. Rising gradually from the highland plains of Uganda, the mountains fall steeply on the west to the Semuliki River, the outflow of Lake Edward and a major tributary of Lake Albert, one of the sources of the White Nile. Geologically the mountains are young, created in the late Pliocene by an up thrust of crystalline rocks (mainly gneiss, amphibolite, granite and quartzite) that rose from within the western rift to divide palaeolake Obweruka and create present-day Lakes Albert and Edward. Hence, the range itself is not of volcanic origin although numerous craters (crater-lakes) of more recent age are found in the surrounding area.

The Rwenzori are wetter than other East African mountains, with annual rainfall varying with altitude from 2,000 to 3,000 mm, and being heaviest on the eastern slope, which faces the prevailing winds. On the Uganda side heavy rain can occur any time of year, but the rainiest periods are from mid-March to May and from September to mid-December. This therefore means those onRwenzori Mountain Hiking Safari should target the dry period of June to September. The equatorial position of the mountain range creates daily air temperature oscillations between −5°C and 20°C in the Alpine and Nival zones, an order of magnitude greater than the seasonal variation in maximum daytime temperature. Occasional night-time freezing occurs from 3,000 m altitude (the present-day boundary between Bamboo and Ericaceous zones); to 4,000 m (the Ericaceous–Alpine zone boundary) freezing occurs on 80–90% of the nights.

Lake Mburo National Park

Lake Mburo National Park is a compact gem, located conveniently close to the highway that connects Kampala to the parks of western Uganda. It is the smallest of Uganda’s savannah national parks and underlain by ancient Precambrian metamorphic rocks which date back more than 500 million years. It is home to 350 bird species as well as zebra, impala, eland, buffalo, oribi, Defassa waterbuck, leopard, hippo, hyena, topi and reedbuck.

Together with 13 other lakes in the area, Lake Mburo forms part of a 50km-long wetland system linked by a swamp. Five of these lakes lie within the park’s borders. Once covered by open savanna, Lake Mburo National Park now contains much woodland as there are no elephants to tame the vegetation. In the western part of the park, the savanna is interspersed with rocky ridges and forested gorges while patches of papyrus swamp and narrow bands of lush riparian woodland line many lakes.

History

Lake Mburo was originally gazetted in 1933 as a Controlled Hunting Area and upgraded to a Game Reserve in 1963. The Banyankole Bahima residents continued to graze their cattle in the Reserve until it was upgraded to National Park status in 1983. The Obote government’s decision to upgrade the Park was reportedly in part intended to weaken the Banyankole, who supported anti-Obote rebels. As the evicted pastoralists were not compensated for lost grazing land or assisted with resettling, many remained hostile to the Park’s formation. The rangeland outside the park was subsequently subdivided into small ranges and subsistence farming plots.

In 1985 the second Obote regime fell and the previous residents of Lake Mburo re-occupied the Park’s land, expelling park staff, destroying infrastructure and annihilating wildlife. Less than half of the Park’s original land area was eventually re-gazetted by the NRM government in 1986.

Pre-Cambrian rocks underlie Lake Mburo area, with the rocks comprising of a mixture of Cenozoic Pleistocene to Recent rocks, wholly granitized–Granitoid and highly granitized rocks, and Karagwe–Ankolean system. Argillite rocks predominate but are more arenites and silty rocks, which are regularly, distributed as thin bands throughout the area. The area is predominated by ferrallitic soils which are mainly sandy loams and sandy clay loams.

Lake Mburo National park contains a wide variety of habitat types, which gives it a surprisingly high diversity of animals and plants for its size. The system is a unique habitat, which lies at the convergence zone of two biological zones. It supports globally threatened species of birds, supports two of the endangered cichlid fish species which have gone extinct in the main lakes and it is the only system in Uganda in which the Impala is found. The system also provides refuge to 22 species of Palaearctic and Afro-tropical migrant birds during adverse conditions.

The Lake Mburo wetland system is of immense socio-economic value. It is a source of water for domestic use, livestock and wildlife. The system is source of pasture for the local herds during droughts, a source of fish and source of materials for crafts and thatching. The park’s location near the Masaka-Mbarara highway makes it easily accessible from Kampala.

Lake Mburo National Park has a tropical climate found in the Ankole-Southern climatic zone. Lake Mburo National Park lies in a rain shadow area between Lake Victoria and the Rwenzori Mountains. The park has two marked seasons, the rain and dry seasons and receives a bi-modal low rainfall ranging between 500 and 1000 mm. But the rainfall tends to be erratic and unreliable, causing shortage of pastures and thus affecting the behavior of wildlife, including birds, and creating demands on the park by local Pastoralists. Temperature ranges between 23 – 25 degrees Celsius. Evapotranspiration of areas northwest, north, and north east to east, ranges between 1450 – 1600 mm. However, areas south and south west of the park experience a much lower evapotranspiration ranging between 1300 – 1450 mm.
Lake Mburo National Park is home to 350 bird species as well as zebra, impala, eland, buffalo, oribi, Defassa waterbuck, leopard, hippo, hyena, topi and reedbuck.

Together with 13 other lakes in the area, Lake Mburo forms part of a 50km-long wetland system linked by a swamp. Five of these lakes lie within the park’s borders. Once covered by open savanna, Lake Mburo National Park now contains much woodland as there are no elephants to tame the vegetation. In the western part of the park, the savanna is interspersed with rocky ridges and forested gorges while patches of papyrus swamp and narrow bands of lush riparian woodland line many lakes.

Lake Mburo National Park supports globally threatened species of birds, including two of the endangered cichlid fish species which have gone extinct in the main lakes and it is the only area in Uganda in which the Impala is found. The park also provides refuge to 22 species of Palaearctic and Afro-tropical migrant birds during adverse conditions, within the wooded Savanna with Acacia/Commiphora thicket and grasslands.

The Flora is Acacia hockii which is one of the dominant tree species. Five species of wetland dependent plants belonging to 5 genera have been recorded in the Lake Mburo area.

Tourists can visit the park any time throughout the year, although conditions in the park are more difficult during the rainy season. Available tourist accommodation includes lodges notably Mihingo Lodge, Mantana Tented Camp, Arcadia Cottages, Rwakobo Rock, Mburo Safari Lodge, Mpogo Lodge, Eagle’s Nest Lodge, Rwonyo Camp Site, and many other options in the nearby towns of Mbarara and Lyantonde. The Park is well situated on the Kampala – Mbarara highway and is a great stop over while connecting to the attractions of the further western part of Uganda.

Activities in Lake Mburo National Park include; Game drives in the rolling hills and open grasslands, Boat trip along Lake Mburo, Nature walk, sport fishing, Forest walk in Rubanga which offers an opportunity to view different bird species, as well as adventure activities like horseback riding and quad biking.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park(434 sq km) sits high in the clouds, at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m. As its name suggests, it was created to protect the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit its dense forests, and it is also an important habitat for the endangered golden monkey.

As well as being important for wildlife, the park also has a huge cultural significance, in particular for the indigenous Batwa pygmies. This tribe of hunter-gatherers was the forest’s “first people”, and their ancient knowledge of its secrets remains unrivalled.

Mgahinga’s most striking features are its three conical, extinctvolcanoes, part of the spectacular Virunga Range that lies along the border region of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. Mgahinga forms part of the much larger Virunga Conservation Area which includes adjacent parks in these countries. The volcanoes’ slopes contain various ecosystems and are biologically diverse, and their peaks provide a striking backdrop to this gorgeous scenery.

History

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park which has one habituated trans-boundary gorilla group was declared a game sanctuary by the British administration in 1930; it was gazetted as a National Park in 1991.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has three volcanoes, which are part of the Virunga volcanic range in East Central Africa, expanding to the Albertine Rift on the Rwanda, DRC and Uganda border, north and north east of Lake Kivu. The three volcanoes in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are thought to have arisen in the early to mid-Pleistocene era, and to have formed through a deposition of layers of ash and cinders from successive lava flows. Sabyinyo is believed to be the oldest volcano, followed by Gahinga, which is younger, and with a swamp crater of about 180m diameter at the summit. Muhabura is believed to be the youngest volcano. It is cone-shaped with a small crater lake approximately 36m in diameter at its summit. There are numerous caves on the slopes of the mountains, caused by lava tubes.

Because of its protective vegetation cover, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is an important water catchment area. Apart from the numerous streams flowing northwards from the mountains, there is a crater lake on Mt Muhabura and a swamp crater on Mt Gahinga summit. There are also swamps in the saddles between the three volcanoes that retain water all year round, while the plains at the foot of the volcanoes are characterized by deep volcanic ash, and run-off from the mountains rapidly disappears underground.

In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, there have been 39 mammal species recorded, although it is believed that up to 89 do occur in the park. The larger mammals include the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei), elephant (Loxondata africana) and buffalo (Syncerus caffer). There is also the rare golden monkey (Cercophithecus mitis kandti) known only to occur in the Virungas and two other forests in Central Africa, also recorded is the blue monkey. Other mammals include; the spotted hyena (Crucuta crocuta), the golden cat (Felis (Profelis) aurata), leopard (Pantherapardus), serval cat (Felis (Leptculurus) serval), side-striped jackal (Canisadustus), giant forest hog (Hylocheorusmeinertzhageni), black-fronted duiker (Caphalophusnigrifrons), and bushbuck (Tragelaphusscriptus).

The park provides haven to about 79 bird species, including several endemic to the East Congo Montane region. A total of 185 bird species have been recorded in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and most are likely to occur in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is an afromontane forest, covering the smallest area as a vegetation type on the continent. The vegetation in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park consists of woodland, and only a small area of pure montane forest still remains at the base of Mt Muhabura following encroachment in the 1950s. Above the montane forest belt is the bamboo zone that stretches from the western boundary on Sabyinyo to the lower slopes of Muhabura. The Hagenia-Hypericum zone appears above the bamboo zone on Mt. Sabyinyo and below it on Gahinga. The Afro-Alpine Belt, characterised by giant Senecio and Lobelia species, occurs above the Ericacious Belt and reaches its maximum development on Mt. Muhabura.

Semuliki National Park

Semuliki National Park sprawls across the floor of the Semuliki Valley on the remote, western side of the Rwenzori. The park is dominated by the easternmost extension of the great Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin. This is one of Africa’s most ancient and bio-diverse forests; one of the few to survive the last ice age, 12-18,000 years ago.

The Semuliki Valley contains numerous features associated with central rather than eastern Africa. Thatched huts are shaded by West African oil palms; the Semuliki River (which forms the international boundary) is a miniature version of the Congo River, the forest is home to numerous Central African wildlife species, and the local population includes a Batwa pygmy community that originated from the Ituri. As a result, this park provides a taste of Central Africa without having to leave Uganda.

While Semuliki’s species have been accumulating for over 25,000 years, the park contains evidence of even older processes. Hot springs bubble up from the depths to demonstrate the powerful subterranean forces that have been shaping the rift valley during the last 14 million years.

Semuliki is an exciting destination for 15 species of primates more than kibale – live within 6 km of primeval hot springs at sempaya while 441 recorded bird species include 216 forest birds and 80 Central African species found in few, if any, other East African forests including black dwarf hornbill,shining blue kingfisher,nkulengu rail, yellow throated nicator.