Kibale forest national park is a tropical rain forest in western Uganda. The park covers an area of about 766 square kilometers and sits at an elevation between 1100 meters to 1600 square kilometers. Kibale is one of the last remaining expanses to contain both lowland and montane forests. In eastern Africa, it sustains the last significant expanse of pre-montane forest. Kibale forest was put a side as a protected area in 1932 and formally established in 1993 to protect a large area of forest previously managed as a logged forest reserve.
The park forms a continuous forest with Queen Elizabeth National Park. This adjoining of the parks creates a 180 kilometers wildlife corridor. It is an important eco-tourism and safari destination, popular for its population of habituated chimpanzees and 12 other species of primates. The Forest covering predominates in the central and northern part of the park on the raised Fort Portal plateau.
At the park’s northern tip, Kibale is highest and stands 1590m above sea level. Additionally, the wettest area is Northern Kibale, receiving an average annual rainfall of equal to 1700mm, mainly during March-May and September-November. The climate is usually pleasant with an average annual temperature range of 14 to 27 degrees celsius. Temperatures are at maximum in the south where the terrain drops onto the blistering rift valley floor and forest provides way to open grassland.
Only Children above 12 years are allowed to go into the forest to view the chimpanzees. Kibale has a variety of activities for children under 12 years including educational forest walks of 1-2 hours followed by creative activities. Through these educational forest walks, the children can learn about the ecosystem and its inhabitants. Parents can enjoy their forest walk with the knowledge that their Children are occupied in worthwhile activity with trained ranger guide.
The park is a home to about 13 species of primates. The park protects a good number of well-studied habituated communities of chimpanzees as well as several species of Central African monkey including the mangabey, red colobus and the L’Hoest’s monkey. Other primates that are found in the park include the black-and-white colobus and the blue monkey.
The park also has a good number of elephants which travel between the park and Queen Elizabeth national park. Other terrestrial mammals that are found within Kibale National Park include red and blue duikers, bushbucks, sitatungas, bushpigs, giant forest hogs, common warthogs, and African buffalo. The carnivores that are present include leopards, African golden cats, servals, different mongooses and two species of otter. In addition, lions visit the park on occasion. The park is also a home to about 325 bird species some of which include the olive long-tailed cuckoo, western tinkerbird, two species of pittas (African and green-breasted) and the grey parrot. There are also some endemic species like the ground thrush.
ATTRACTIONS WITHIN AND OUTSIDE THE PARK
The park is commonly known for its primate species. The moctly visited part of the park is for primate walks is kanyachu but tourists can also trek the sebitoli forest to see some primates. Some of these primates include black and white colobus monkeys, grey checked mangabey, blue monkeys, red tailed monkeys, red colobus monkey, vervet monkey and the olive baboon. There are also some nocturnal primates include bush babies and pottos. These treks are done with the help of flashlights.
Apart from the primates, there are other mammals that live in this great tropical forest and tourists to the park have chances of spotting some of them. Some of these include elephants, golden cats, leopard, lion (occasionally spotted), serval cat, buffalo, bush pig, peters duiker, African palm civet. Most of these animals travel from Queen Elizabeth national park to the forest. Other mammals can be spotted around the bigodi wetland like sitatunga. There are also some reptiles that live in the swampy areas of the park as well as amphibians.
Birds and butterflies
The park has a great bird list with about 375 bird species. Some of the include blue breasted kingfisher, yellow rumped tinkerbird, brown-chested alethe, white-napped pigeon, black bee-eater ground thrush, white tailed ant thrush, green breasted pitta, western nicator, white napped pigeon. The park is also a home to about 250 colorful butterflies, and you will expect to spot some of them.
Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary
With about 136 bird species, the wetland is a birder’s paradise with about 138 species. Located outside the park in Magombe Swamp it also hosts eight species of primates including the black-and-white colobus, grey-cheeked mangabey, red-tailed, l’Hoest’s and blue monkeys, and olive baboons. Bushbucks and mongooses can also be found here. The sanctuary was set up to preserve the exclusive environmental features along with the wetland and is managed by the local community.
Sebitoli Forest Camp
Kibale’s secondary tourism center in the north of the forest offers guided forest walks and a chance to encounter primates such as red colobus, black-and-white colobus, blue monkeys and vervet monkeys. Visitors may also spot a variety of aquatic, forest and savannah birds and enjoy views of the Mpanga River.
THINGS TO DO
Chimpanzee Habituation Experience
This activity allows the visitor to accompany Kibale’s researchers and Habituates as they follow Chimpanzees during their daily activity, thereby getting them used to human presence without altering their natural behavior. This is a whole day activity and early visitors may be able to see the spectacular scene of Chimps de- nesting, feeding, copulating, hunting, breast feeding, resting, patrolling and displaying until they build new nest and retire for the night around 7:00pm.
A typical day for a chimpanzee habituation experience starts early. You need to be up early, take an early breakfast. You are advised to pack lunch. You set off before dawn to meet your guide and then you chimpanzee adventure begins. Your guide will lead you to the chimpanzee nests for the night before.
The chimpanzees arise at the break dawn as you approach their nests. And your day of observing the chimpanzees begins. Chimpanzee habituation is aimed at getting the chimpanzees used to human presence and is a long process that can take up to two years before a group of chimpanzees can safely be considered habituated. As a visitor you are part of this experience for the day.
Your day will be interesting and memorable as you watch an episode in a whole season of habituation for the chimpanzee group you are visiting. You will get very nice camera shots of chimpanzees doing various things as the day goes on, identify the unique features and differences that set each one apart, and learn how to identify the different chimpanzees as individuals.
This is the commonly done activity in the park. The trek starts from kanyanchu visitor center, and the treks are done in the morning at 8am and evening treks which start at 2pm. The treks take between 2-4 hours depending on the location of the chimps that day. Trekkers are organized in groups of 6persons.
You will be expected to be at the park headquarters at 7am where you will be briefed by the park guide about the park and the park rules and regulations. You will set out into the forest to look for the chimps. You will expect to spot the chimps jumping from one tree branch to another as they go about their daily life. You will be allowed to spend some time with the chimps, as you observe them swing from one tree to another, feed, play about or progress speedily on the ground right in front of you.
Hikes/ Nature walks
This is an exploration of the park’s diverse habitats providing very close contact with nature. Nature walks and hikes abound in, near and around Kibale Forest National Park in Uganda. The walks with in and around the park start at 08:00am, 10:00am, and 02:00pm and takes between 2-3 hours and it starts from Kanyanchu visitor Centre. There is a hike that traverses the length of the park.
There are also plenty of day-hikes in or near the park and in the park for you to enjoy the various aspects of the Kibale Forest and the surrounding area. There is a great half-day hike during the dry seasons of 12 kilometers in length. Along with this hike, you can see the varied habitats found in the forest, rivers, swamp, grassland and the tropical rainforest all making up Kibale Forest. The most commonly done hike is the bigodi walk which leads to the bigodi swamp.
Along this trail, you will expect to spot some monkey species that live in the park as well as various bird species. On a lucky day, you might spot the rare shoebill. Also, there is Night Nature walk which allows visitors to track the unique species of birds, animals, and insects such as Bats, Owl, pottos, bush babies, Civets, Genet cat, and Eastern needle nailed, that are most active at night. This walk takes about 1.30hours.
With More than 370 living in the forest including the sought-after African pitta. Four bird species have not been recorded in any other National Park of Uganda: Cassin’s spinetail, blue-headed bee-eater, Nahan’s francolin and masked apalis, birding is a possible activity around the park. The best bird-watching spot is the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary which is a community project where experienced guides take you on a 4hour trail. Migratory birds are present from November to April.
GETTING TO THE PARK
The 795sq km park can be accessed from Uganda’s capital Kampala along a newly surfaced road via Kasese near Queen Elizabeth national park, The Park can also be accessed from Mubende-fort portal and takes 5-6 hours’ drive, Kibale National Park is located in western Uganda, 22km southeast of Fort Portal town. Kanyanchu River Camp, the primary center for tourism activities, can be reached from Kampala either from the north, via Mubende and Fort Portal, or the south through Mbarara and Kamwenge. The northern approach is shorter and quicker, with a 290km tarmac road running to Fort Portal followed by 32km on gravel to Kanyanchu.
A stop at the Ndali-Kasenda crater area offers a panoramic view of the tea estates and Kibale Forest to the east, the Rwenzori to the west and Lake George and the Rift Valley plains to the south. This area can be explored on foot or by car. Kibale National Park has access to two nearest airstrip Nyakisharara in Mbarara about 98km through Kamwengye and kasese airstrip.