Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi impenetrable national park is located in the south western region of Uganda and part of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Bwindi is situated along the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) border next to the Virunga National Park and on the edge of the Albertine Rift. Along with mountain gorillas.

Other species in the park include; the common chimpanzee, L’Hoest’s monkey, African elephant, African green broadbill, and cream-banded swallowtail, black and white colobus, red-tailed monkeys, vervets, the giant forest hog, and small antelope species. There are also many carnivores like; the side-striped jackal, African golden cat, and African civet.

History

Bwindi forest was designated in 2 blocks as crown forest reserves in 1932. Kanyoza crown forest reserve in the north and Kasatora forest reserve in the south. In 1942, the two reserves were combined and enlarged, then renamed the Impenetrable Central Crown Forest. This new protected area covered 298 square kilometres and was under the joint control of the Ugandan government’s game and forest departments.

The reserve was designated as an animal sanctuary in 1964 to provide extra protection for its mountain gorillas and renamed the Impenetrable Central Forest Reserve. In 1966, two other forest reserves became part of the main reserve, increasing its area to almost 321 square kilometres and the Park continued to be managed as both a game sanctuary and forest reserve.

The national park was declared in part to protect a range of species within it, most notably the mountain gorilla. The reclassification of the park had a large effect on the batwa people. They were evicted from the forest and no longer permitted to enter the park or access its resources. Gorilla tracking became a tourist activity in April 1993, and the park became a popular tourist destination. The park’s management changed from Uganda National Parks to Uganda Wildlife Authority, which became responsible for the park.

Geography:

Bwindi impenetrable national park’s underlying geology consists of Precambrian shale phyllite, quartz, quartzite, schist, and granite. The park sits at the edge of the Western Rift Valley in the highest parts of the Kigezi Highlands, which were formed by up-warping of the Western Rift Valley. Its topography is very rugged, with narrow valleys intersected by rivers and steep hills.

The park altitudes range from 1,190 to 2,607 meters above sea level and 60 percent of the park has an elevation of over 2,000 meters. The highest elevation is Rwamunyonyi Hill at the eastern edge of the park. The lowest part of the park is at its most northern tip.

The forest is an important water catchment area, with a generally impermeable underlying geology where water mostly flows through large fault structures, water infiltration and aquifers are limited. Much of the park’s rainfall forms streams, and the forest has a dense network of streams. The forest is the source of many rivers that flow to the north, west, and south some of which include; the Ivi, Munyaga, Ihihizo, Ishasha, and Ntengyere rivers, which flow into Lake Edward. Other rivers flow into Lakes Mutanda and Bunyonyi.

Climate:

Bwindi has a tropical type of climate, with Annual mean temperatures ranging from a minimum of 7 to 15 °C to a maximum of 20 to 27 °C. Its annual rainfall ranges from 1,400 to 1,900 millimetres. A lot of rainfall mostly occurs from March to April and from September to November. The park’s forest plays an important role in regulating the surrounding area’s environment and climate. High amounts of evapotranspiration from the forest’s vegetation increases the precipitation that the region outside the park receives. They also lessen soil erosion, which is a serious problem in south-western Uganda as well as flooding and ensure that streams continue to flow in the dry season.

Vegetation: The park’s forests are afromontane, which is a rare vegetation type on the African continent. Located where plain and mountain forests meet, there is a continuum of low-altitude to high altitude primary forests in the park, one of the few large tracts of East African forest where this occurs. The park has more than 220 tree species, (more than 50 percent of Uganda’s tree species) and more than 100 fern species. The brown mahogany is a threatened plant species found within the park.

Biodiversity

Bwindi impenetrable forest is biologically rich with a biodiversity of great ecological importance, which made the park a UNESCO world heritage site. Among East African forests, Bwindi has some of the richest populations of trees, small mammals, birds, reptiles, butterflies, and moths. The park’s diverse species are partly a result of the large variations of elevation and habitat types in the park.

The park provides habitat for 120 species of mammals, 348 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos, and other various endangered species. The park is among the most diverse forests in East Africa, with more than 1,000 flowering plant species, including 163 species of trees and 104 species of ferns. The northern sector which is on a lower altitude has many species of Guineo-Congolian flora, including two endangered species; the brown mahogany and Brazzeia longipedicellata. In particular, the area shares in the high levels of endemisms of the Albertine Rift.

The park is a home to chimpanzees, colobus monkeys and various bird species like turacos and hornbills. It is most notable for the 400 Bwindi gorillas, half of the world’s population of the endangered mountain gorillas. There are about 14 habituated mountain gorilla groups that are open to tourism and are distributed in the 4 different sectors of Buhoma, Ruhijja, Rushaga and the Nkuringo all under the management of Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).

Along with mountain gorillas, species in the park include; the common chimpanzee, L’Hoest’s monkey, African elephant, African green broadbill, and cream-banded swallowtail, black and white colobus, red-tailed monkeys, vervets, the giant forest hog, and small antelope species. There are also many carnivores like; the side-striped jackal, African golden cat, and African civet.

ACTIVITIES

Mountain gorilla trekking

Mountain gorilla trekking is the major activity done in the park. The park is a home to 18 gorilla families with 4 locations where the trekking takes place; Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, and Nkuringo. You will need a gorilla trekking permit before entering the park. The permits are acquired in advance before the trekking date at the reservation office at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Headquarters in Kampala. A reputable tour operator can help you get it faster and much easily. Permits can be paid for up to two years in advance and participants must be aged 15 and above.

On the trekking day, you are expected to be at the park headquarters at 7am and depending on the sector you will be trekking. You will be briefed by the park ranger guide about the activity plus the dos and donts while in the park. You will then be arranged in groups of 8 people and then drive to the start of the trek depending on the gorilla group you will be trekking.

Set out into the forest and start the trek to look for these great gentle giants. Tracking the gorillas can last from a few hours to a whole day, depending on how far the group has moved since it was observed nesting up the previous evening.  As you look for the gorillas, you will expect to spot various bird species that live in the forest and other primates. You will expect to see the gorillas feeding, playing, resting as they go about their day. You will be given an hour with the gorillas to take photos and videos of the gorillas (don’t forget to switch off your flashlights). You will then trek back to the start.

Bird watching

With over 350 species living in the park,bird watching is a possibility and with 23 Albertine endemic species around the waterfall trail and in the Mubwindi swamp land. Many of the bird watching tours at bwindi forest are at the Buhoma area along the forest margins and on village paths or in the Ruhija section where forest birding and swamp birding take place with knowledgeable local guides. The gem for forest birding at Ruhija is at the Mubwindi swamp where some rare Albertine endemics and lifers can be observed in their national habitats.

As you walk through the misty covering rain forest, you will expect to spot birds like; African Green Broadbill, yellow-streaked Greenbuls, handsome Francolin, white-tailed crested Flycatcher, Cinnamon-chested bee-eater, Rwenzori batis, western Green Tinkerbird, red-faced woodland Warbler, as well as the Mountain marked plus chestnut-throated Apalises, African Goshawk, Sooty Falcon, Great Blue Turaco, African Wood-owl, African Pygmy-kingfisher, Double-toothed Barbet

Elliot’s Woodpecker among many more. Some Endangered species like; Chapin’s Flycatcher -Muscicapa lendu; Vulnerable and Shelley’s Crimson-wing -Cryptospiza Shelley- Vulnerable.

Forest walk 

A walk through the thick tropical forest is the perfect way to experience the depth of impenetrable forest. there are various trails trekkers can follow as the move through the forest; Munyaga river trail, Muzabajiro loop trail, Waterfall trail, Rushura hill trail, Bamboo trail, River Ivi trail.  These trails lead you to the great features the park has like; beautiful pristine waterfalls, rivers and a truly rewarding experience.

The sounds of the forest and the gentle cover of morning mist makes your walk enchanting. Along the way you will expect to see plenty of flora and fauna, black and white colobus monkeys, blue monkeys, lots of colorful butterflies, orchids, tree ferns, epiphytic ferns. There are stop over points which offer beautiful scenery of the topography, vegetation, valleys and ridges.

Community visits

Community walks reveal to you to the local people who stay close to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and their culture. As you move through the surrounding communities, you will witness the traditional way of life of the local people; very hardworking, you’ll see them toiling the fields, celebrating harvests, or planting lots of plantain that is locally known as ‘matooke’. Children with wide smiles calling out to you, “Mzungu”. It’s their own way of expressing how happy they are to see you.

You get access to locally made art crafts which you can buy as a way to support the community, their dances, their traditional way of cooking, the Brewing as well as their local medicines. The Buhoma Village Walk gives one an opportunity to observe the people neighboring to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. You can try to interact with the locals, this helps them accept and appreciate tourism activities in their region.

Batwa experience

The Batwa cultural experience is a full day activity which was created by the displaced Batwa pygmies to educate their children and to share their amazing heritage and traditions with the world.

Hike in the forest with the people of the forest is usually in the company of a Batwa guide and he will provide you with the chance; to see the forest and its habitants through their eyes, See how they lived and hunted in the traditional manner. Enjoy trying out your hunting techniques as the Batwa teach you how to shoot with a bow and arrow, Talk to a medicine men and learn about the medicinal properties of the forest flora and many more.

Visit Lake Bunyonyi

Lake Bunyonyi is a lava dammed lake is a stunning stretch of water with 29 little islands dispersed throughout, overlooked by the volcanoes. All this offers beautiful scenery of the landscape.

The lake is safe for activities like canoeing, and swimming. The boat trip on the lake take you to the different islands on the lake. The commonly visited island is the “Akampene” island also known as the punishment island, where until 1940’s unmarried pregnant girls were dropped and left to die helplessly or starve to death or drown trying to swim to the shore. They were often saved by poor men who could not afford the bride price.

The word “Bunyonyi” means birds which means there are many bird species that live in the vegetation around the park and on the islands. You can spend an afternoon after your gorilla trek canoeing or bird watching. You will expect to see lots of small birds as well as various water bird species.

GETTING THERE

There are various routes that take you to this great national park. Most of the roads around the region are not in good condition, make sure you are in a 4×4 tourist vehicle to avoid any inconveniences more so in the rainy seasons.

From Kabale to Buhoma through Ruhija, is a lengthy drive of about 108km which takes approximately 3 hours.

There are 2 routes from fort portal or Kasese i.e;

Kasese-Katunguru-Ishasha-Kihihi (this takes between 3-5 hours).

Ishaka-Mbarara-Kagambe-Ntugamo-Rukungiri. From here there are various routes that will lead you to Buhoma.

You can also easily access the park from Rwanda.